Jason Evert’s “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves” is an up-close-and-personal journey through the life of Pope St. John Paul II. This book helped me encounter St. John Paul the Great in a deeper way and allowed me to reflect on how I could be more like him. Get a glimpse of this new title on the Catholic reading list with a preview of some of my favorite parts.
In the first half of the book, Evert gives an insightful biography on the life of this Holy Father.
Two stories captivated me.
The first was from Karol Wojtyła’s time as a university student during the German occupation:
“He began working at a quarry with some of his university classmates…his worksite was two miles from home, and he made the half-hour trek each morning in his wooden shoes. The temperature during the bitter Polish winters sometimes dropped to 30 degrees below Celsius [-22 F], making it necessary for Karol to coat his face with petroleum jelly in order to avoid suffering frostbite while working outside for eight hours at a time” (pg. 11).
It’s moments like these that help us understand how St. John Paul the Great became an amazing man. He didn’t flee from difficulties; rather, he worked and prayed through them — and that perseverance made him so much stronger.
The other story that captivated me was when, after he was asked to be a bishop, Karol Wojtyła stopped in a convent to pray. The nuns became worried when he didn’t come out:
“When he did not emerge for some time, they looked in on him. He lay prostrate on the ground. The sister stepped back, filled with respect…After another while, the sister looked into the chapel again. The priest still lay prostrate. But the hour was late. The sister went up to him and shyly asked, ‘Perhaps Father would be so kind to come to supper?’ — The stranger responded: My train to Kraków isn’t until midnight. Allow me to stay here. I have much to discuss with the Lord. Eight hours after his prayer began, he departed at 11:30 to catch his train” (pg. 39-40).
At the heart of St. John Paul the Great’s story is a life of tremendous prayer. Before all else, his relationship with God guided him every step of the way.
The second half of Evert’s book covers St. John Paul the Great’s five loves. Here is an excerpt from each love:
1. Young People
It is clear from the life of St. John Paul the Great that he loved young people. The book contains some great stories and quotes about young people and World Youth Day.
Here’s one quote:
“[Y]oung people are always searching for the beauty in love. They want their love to be beautiful…This is as true of boys as it is of girls. Ultimately, they know that only God can give them this love. As a result, they are willing to follow Christ, without caring about the sacrifices this may entail” (pg. 87).
2. Human Love
No pope has ever written more about human love than St. John Paul the Great. During his time as Cardinal, he wrote “Love and Responsibility”; as Pope, he gave several Wednesday audiences that eventually became “The Theology of the Body.” Here’s one quote from him regarding true love:
“If their love is a true gift of self, so that they belong to the other, it will not only survive but grow stronger, and sink deeper roots…We must never forget that only when love between human begins is put to the test can its true value be seen” (pg. 105).
3. The Blessed Sacrament
The Holy Father has such a great love for the Eucharist that, when people planned his trips, they tried to make sure he didn’t pass by a chapel — otherwise, he would stop to pray and disrupt the schedule. In Baltimore, the trip planner had the chapel door shut so as to not provoke the Holy Father to pray.
Here’s what happened next:
“When it was time to leave, he walked down the hall, which was lined with doors leading into various rooms, passed by the door of the chapel, then suddenly stopped. He looked back at the door, then looked at Father Tucci [the trip planner], and without saying a word, wagged his finger at him and shook his head. Father White recalled: ‘He’s never been in this place before, never set eyes on the place, and there was nothing about the door that distinguished it in any way as a chapel. It was just one more door in a corridor of doors. But he turned right back around, opened that door up, and he went into the chapel and he prayed’” (pg. 138).
4. The Virgin Mary
I can’t do the story full justice here, but I will say the story in the book about St. John Paul the Great, Our Lady of Fatima and the assassination attempt is incredible. You have to read it for yourself!
5. The Cross
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was dear to our Holy Father. Here’s one quote on how our suffering can be seen in light of His:
“[T]he weaknesses of human suffering are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ’s Cross…in him God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering” (pg. 176).
All in all, “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves” is an incredible book, filled with many quotes and stories like these that you can take to prayer. I highly recommend it!
You can order a copy of the book here.