It was just a year ago that our beloved John Paul the Great (I said it, so there!) crossed the earthly finish line and bounded toward the gates of heaven.
A year later, it still hurts a little.
My kids never got to meet the Holy Father, but if you show them his picture, they will tell you without hesitation that he is “The Holy Father in heaven.” One of the most challenging aspects of parenting, I’ve found, is knowing when to jump on a particular teachable moment.
The only true “Father in Heaven,” of course, is the first Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who is God alone. As he stands before the Almighty (assuming that he is in fact in heaven, which I personally believe is the case but leave it to greater minds than mine to pronounce it absolutely), Karol Wojtyla is no more “Father,” but beloved son. Also, he is no holier than the myriad of souls who surround him: Clad in the light of heaven, where is no trace of earthly soil, his spotless garments have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and ironed in the fires of purgatory (both those of his earthly life and those that comprised his final steps toward heaven).
And yet, in another sense, John Paul II is every bit as much the father — even more so, in fact — as he was here on earth. He is praying for us. And he is watching over us, knowing that he did his very best to show us the path to God.
I recently read an article on Catholic Exchange in which the writer (who by all accounts is a knowledgeble Catholic) criticized those who in his estimation were premature in their proclamation of “John Paul the Great” or “St. John Paul II.” The second title, I’ll grant, is premature — only the Church can declare someone a saint.
But who is better able to assess the greatness of a man or his message: those who knew him personally, or those rendered “objective” by the inevitable distance of the passing years?
We consider the apostles (who knew Him personally) the most authoritative representatives of the Lord, the ones best able to communicate His message and His life with accuracy. Why should the life and words of His representative on earth be assessed any differently?
It is one thing to judge the goings-on in heaven, which we cannot see. It is quite another matter to acknowledge what we have seen with our own eyes and touched with our own hands: In the man of John Paul II, we were touched for a time with true greatness.