What We Leave Behind

October 26, 2017

Image: Wikipedia 

 

One of my favorite stories about Saint John Paul II was from one of his autobiographical works, Rise, Let Us Be On Our WayThis work talks about his life as a Polish priest and his ascendency to the episcopate. He tells the story thus... well, if you've read any of JPII you know that you need the abridged version:

 

The year was 1958. I'm on a train traveling toward Olsztyn with my group of canoeists. We are beginning the vacation schedule that we have been following since 1953: part of the vacation we are to spend in the mountains, most often in the Bieszczady mountains, and part on the lakes in the Masuria region... I say to the so-called admiral..."Zdzislaw, I'm going to have to leave the canoe because I have been summoned by the Primate and I must go to see him." {Here JPII describes what he packed in preparation to see the Primate, down to the detail of which cassock he was wearing...} 

 

So I set off, first in the canoe over the waves of the river, and then in the truck laden with sacks of flour, until I got to Olsztynek. The train for Warsaw left late at night. I had brought a sleeping bag with me, thinking that I might be able to catch a few winks in the station and ask someone to wake me when it was time to board the train. There was no need for that in any event, because I didn't sleep. {More musings about the trip....}

 

 

As I entered the office of the Primate, he told me that the Holy Father had named me an auxiliary bishop to the archdiocese of Krakow. {...} Upon hearing the words of the Primate informing me of the decision of the Holy See, I said "Your Eminence, I am too young; I'm only thirty-eight." But the Primate said, "That is a weakness which can soon be remedied. Please do not oppose the will of the Holy Father." {...they have lunch...}

 

At the conclusion of this audience, of such great importance for my life, I realized that I could not return immediately to my canoeing friends {because he had to go to Krakow to see the Archbishop... then he goes to Krakow...} When I said to the Archbishop that I would like to return to Masuria to join my friends who were canoeing on the Lyna River, he answered: "I don't think that would be appropriate."

 

Somewhat troubled by this reply, I went to the Church of the Franciscans and prayed the Way of the Cross. I often went there for this purpose {... he returns to the Archbishop and asks again... this time the Archbishop allows it...}  "Yes, yes, by all means. But I ask you, please," he added with a smile, "come back in time for the consecration." {He spends another page or so talking about going back to the river....}

 

I smiled and went to join my canoeing friends. When I took the paddle, I again felt somewhat strange. The coincidence of dates struck me: The date of my nomination was July fourth, the anniversary date of the blessing of Wawel Cathedral. It is an anniversary that I have always cherished in my heart. I thought this coincidence must have some special meaning. I also thought maybe this was the last time I could go canoeing. 

  

...and he was saddened because he thought he may never canoe again.

 

What humanity. 

What holiness.

 

Pope John Paul II had the second longest papal reign in the 2000 year history of the Church. He had the awesome responsibility and the awesome weight of being the Vicar of Christ for 26 years, 5 months and 18 days, from 1978 to 2005. "Heavy is the the head that wears the crown"... how heavy must it have been after over a quarter of a century. Especially if you'd rather be canoeing. 

 

The brilliance, joy, humility, simplicity of spirit, complexity of writing, beauty and depth of faith of Saint John Paul II shaped generations of Catholics, secular governments, and the future of Western Civilization. But he had to step away from the canoe.

 

How is God asking you to say YES this week? 

 

What does this YES mean? Heather King writes in Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese, "We can only hope to do the best we can with what we've been given. We can only understand that the opening is an incipient yes to a lifetime of hard inner work. And we can accept as well that the yes--transformative though the effect may be at the time--doesn't protect us from further troubles."

 

The Lord will ask us many things over the course our lives. Always with our best interest in mind. Only with the Good, our Good, in mind. Sometimes we will have to walk away from things we love. Activities. Habits. Sometimes even people. 

 

What are we willing to walk away from? to forgo? to leave behind?

 

Maybe we aren't being asked to become bishops, or end Communism, or get shot, or be bffs with Mother Teresa... but we may be asked to step out of the canoe for an even bigger adventure. Saint John Paul II reminds us to not be afraid... even if there is less canoeing in your future. 

 

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ's power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows "what is in man". He alone knows it.

 

So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

 

Saint John Paul II on the Inauguration of His Pontificate

October 22, 1978

 

Open wide the doors for Christ,

Aunt Katie

 

 

P.S. One final quote:

 

"I should mention, it turned out that there were many opportunities for me to go swimming and canoeing on the rivers and lakes at Masuria. As a matter of fact, I continued until the year 1978." --Saint John Paul II, from Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way

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