Weekly Challenge: Be Not Afraid
Today’s Weekly Challenge comes to you courtesy of one of my dearest friends, Amy Stout. You may follow her photography on Absurd and Dignified or her blog at Meaculpa Mamma. I often wondered why Amy chose that blog title (the photography name is obvious) and here is her explanation: “I chose that pseudonym because I’m the mom of 3 boys and because it’s usually my fault (my fault, my most grievous fault.)” Fair enough, Ames. Happy Feast Day, JPII & Happy Birthday, Sister Claire! Thank you both for everything, Aunt Katie
Hi! I'm Amy. Aside from the typical identifying titles of my life: wife, mother of boys, Catholic and Cajun, If you ask those who know me they will tell you a few other, subsidiary but still fundamental, elements about who I am:
I love photography.
If by the sheer grace of God I ever do become a Saint one of my undesirable titles would be the patron Saint of Facebook. (come on you know the Saints don’t love ALL of their patronages. St. Anthony has GOT to be tired of finding things.)
And lastly but perhaps most importantly, I LOVE Saint John Paul II. I don’t just love him. He’s my person. Well, he’s my ‘heavenly’ person (love to my hubby!) JPII has been a companion and a guardian to me for my entire life. Don’t believe me? Here are some facts
I was born the day Pope John Paul II came to America for the first time.
In the Jubilee year 2000 I said a prayer that I could see JPII with my own eyes and 6 months later I was watching him process through Vatican square.
I got my Masters degree from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.
I have a son named after him: Charles Joseph (the Anglicized version of Karol Jozef which was his given).
My Charlie was born almost 6 weeks early and because of that was baptized on the day JPII was beatified. (It was also St. Joseph’s feast day (my other Saint Bae) and Divine Mercy Sunday)
All of my children now attend a school named after his patronage: John Paul the Great Academy.
So you could say he loves me. You could say I’m his “favorite.” It's whatever.
Saint JPII has taught me so much, through his writings and his legacy, through people who knew him personally and through his intercession. How could I pick one thing to share with you from a man who was and did so much?
He was a sportsman, a mountain climber, a kayaker, a hiker, a man who did rock work in a quarry, a man who dodged the Nazis to bring the theater to his friends, who studied underground to become a priest. He was a poet, a theologian, a scholar and a saint. His charisma charmed the masses and his bravery changed the world. I think that he would hope that His life’s work could all be summed up in the answer to the question: What does it mean to be human? In his very first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, John Paul II quoted a phrase from the Second Vatican Council that would come to be one of his most-used lines. (So much so that we used to joke in grad school that if the Popemobile had a vanity plate it would read GS22) “Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22). Only in light of this truth does man discover “the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity” (RH, no. 10).
We all want to know the meaning of life don’t we? But even more specifically, we want to know the meaning of our own life. Who am I? What is my purpose? And, in our search we turn in a lot of different directions to figure out our identity and are left wanting. John Paul II gives the answers to those questions in an ever-poignant way. We are children of God, made in His likeness. In Baptism we become sons and daughters participating in the sonship of Christ. A loving father willed us into existence out of sheer goodness and intended us to share eternally in His divine life. It is an identity that is unshakable because it doesn’t rely on where we live, or what we ‘do’ , how much we have or how many likes we get on social media. It’s not an identity that can be earned or lost. It simply is. Our creation is a gift. So, in honor of my friend Pope Saint John Paul the GREAT here are some CHALLENGES to make your week life filled with joy, confidence and ridiculous blessings. (1) Make eye contact and smile!
If you rely on Facebook as your sole connection with other humans it can be easy to think that people are the worst! It’s tempting to want to shut everyone out, lock our doors, turn on Netflix and pretend that Lorelai Gilmore is your next door neighbor.
JPII would want us to remember however, that “every person, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:26 28), is therefore radically oriented towards the Creator, and is constantly in relationship with those possessed of the same dignity.” Yep, that means your loud neighbor, your fussy coworker [Editor’s note: Amy has no fussy coworkers], the guy who makes your latte and the homeless woman you pass on the street all have an immutable God given dignity. Each and every one of them has a story, and that story starts with the same beginning as yours. Make an effort to connect with them for a second. It may be the only second you ever encounter that human being, so make it count. Look them in the eye and smile, and if you’re really feeling crazy say hello. Rinse, lather, repeat and see the difference it makes in your life and the lives of those in your path.
(2) Do something uniquely human.
Animals are awesome and we love the companionship they give us in life, but there are qualities and abilities that set us apart as uniquely human. Humans can reflect on the meaning of life; they can ‘choose’ to love someone who leaves toothpaste all over the sink; humans can be creative (proof: pinterest); and maybe most notable, humans can appreciate beauty.
John Paul II was, as I said before, a scholar, a theologian, a poet and an actor. So, my friends, be radically human! Go to the theater, read a great book, paint something or listen to a symphony orchestra. “The purpose of art is nothing less than the upliftment of the human spirit.” JPII
(3) Give a gift.
When we speak of the gift of our creation there are some attributes that go along with it. God gives out of pure gratuitousness. In other words the gifts we receive from Him are not earned or owed. Furthermore, though we may not have anticipated them, they are the desires of our heart and they bear within them reflections of the giver himself.
Have you ever been given that kind of gift from someone? – something you couldn’t have expected, didn’t ask for, didn’t earn, and made you feel known and loved? It’s amazing. THAT kind of gift is a fraction, a reflection of the gift of creation and the gift of life that we’ve been created in and given by God. This one might take a little more thought but I challenge you to give a great gift to someone that you love. “Man can only find himself by making a complete and total gift of himself.” JPII
Bonus points: Be grateful.“Remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence.” JPII I miss John Paul II’s presence on this earth but I can’t wait to see him in heaven. 17 years ago after I prayed that prayer to see Pope John Paul II with my own eyes, I found myself in a field at Tor Vergada in Rome with 3 million other young people at world youth day listening to Pope John Paul II say to me “Be not afraid.” His homily at that opening Mass changed my life. I leave you with those words:
It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.
Amy Stout is a certified JPII #fangirl with a Masters degree in Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage + Family. She has worked at Our Lady of Wisdom Church + Catholic Student Center for 10 years, currently serving as Media and Design Coordinator + Campus Minister Emeritus. Amy is a wife and mother of 3 very active, hilarious, stinky little boys, a very talented photographer (adigphotos.com), a social media maven, and at times a theology teacher. You can read more from Amy at meaculpamamma.com or find her on IG: meaculpamamma.