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Two Saintly Popes

AP Photo/Dominco Stinelles
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How John Paul II and John XXIII modeled virtue.

Next, it’s worth noting that George Weigel titled his magisterial biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, by identifying Karol Wojtyla with a theological virtue.  In October of 1978, the newly elected Pope John Paul II gave his inaugural speech to a packed St. Peter’s Square.  This man, who had witnessed at first hand the very worst of the twentieth century, who had intimate experience of how twisted and wicked human beings can be, spoke over and over again this exhortation:  “Be not afraid.”  There was, of course, absolutely no political or cultural warrant for that exhortation, no purely natural justification for it.  It could come only from a man whose heart was filled with the supernatural sense that the Holy Spirit is the Lord of history.

Finally, was Karol Wojtyla in possession of love, the greatest of the theological virtues?  The best evidence I can bring forward is the still breathtaking encounter that took place in a grimy Roman jail cell in December of 1983.  John Paul II sat down with Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who had, only a year and a half before, fired several bullets into the Pope.  John Paul spoke to him, embraced him, listened to him, and finally forgave him.  Love is not a feeling or a sentiment.  It is, Thomas Aquinas reminds us, an act of the will, more precisely, willing the good of the other.  This is why the love of one’s enemies—those who are not disposed to wish us well—is the great test of love.  Did John Paul II express love in a heroic way?  He forgave the man who tried to kill him; no further argument need be made.

Saints exist, not for themselves, but for the Church.  They are models and intercessors for the rest of us here below.  We can only give thanks to God who has provided the world with these two new heavenly friends.  Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us!

Fr. Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

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