You know the ones. The quotable movie lines, the Top 40 songs, the recent Apple launches you’re vaguely aware of and just nod along with when they come up, never having exactly experienced them yourself. Does this ever happen in your spiritual life, as well--a feeling that one day you should get around to a deeper look at some of the Church’s rich offerings you’ve only ever sort of known about?
As this new year unfolds, this opportunity to encounter the Lord in a new way, I encourage you to dive into a piece of spiritual reading or the life a particular saint, perhaps one you’ve long intended to get acquainted with, and let it lead your heart where it will.
For me, this happened with the writings of John Paul II. Growing up, I loved the idea of love, thanks to a steady diet of Disney magic and romantic comedies. My high school youth minister occasionally mentioned the Theology of the Body and its powerful message, yet I put away the basic catechesis on a mental shelf, not considering it compelling or relevant to my current life.
Fast forward to college, and I realized my younger self’s concept of romance was little more than infatuation when compared to what it could really be. Saint Pope John Paul II introduced me to another view, and I fell in love with love for real.
Along with my boyfriend at the time, I attended a summer retreat in Allenspark, Colorado, where the Pope stayed when he came to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993. On the outside, much about our relationship looked happy and holy. Yet my heart had never experienced deeper unrest, in everything from physical boundaries to problem-solving to the voice I could never quite silence; the one that questioned whether even sacrificial love should feel like a constant weight.
That relationship wasn’t meant to be, but I’m certain the Father’s hand led me to that holy ground in the Rockies. There, I was introduced for the first time to Love and Responsibility, the book on sexual ethics and human dignity that John Paul wrote during his years as a cardinal. The person, he wrote, is meant to be loved, and things are meant to be used, yet so often we get it backwards. His observations on romance, sacrifice, and the ways we stumble in them were like reading a narrative of my relationship. As I came to see it was built on sand, I grew aware of a hunger, an ache, I hadn’t even realized dwelled in my soul. It was a longing for authentic love, rooted in truth.
Months passed before I had the courage to end that relationship. All the while, though, I just couldn’t--and didn’t--want to put out that fire the Pope had lit in my heart. I started reading all I could about his take on love, sexuality, and chastity. It felt like putting on glasses I hadn’t known I needed. Here were the eternal, ancient truths of the Church, spoken in a language so immediate and insistent, so suited to the current culture and my own life. In my relationship, I’d been hiding so much from myself, my friends, and God. I was ready to become more fully alive; to take off the masks. One of JPII’s personal mottos, duc in altum, calls upon Jesus’ exhortation to “put out into the deep.”
A few years later, recently engaged, I found myself on a Theology of the Body retreat with my coworkers. I was familiar with the Pope’s series of audiences on creation, salvation, and the nuptial intimacy found in each vocation from a college study group, but had never delved deeply in.
For the second time in my life, everything I thought I knew about love fell away, replaced with John Paul’s blazingly beautiful vision of the human person; of love as a complete and unrestrained gift of self. His words were literally life-giving, and awakened in me a desire to live out that self-gift in all of my relationships, most especially in the one I’d have with my husband-to-be: the relationship that would sanctify me and bring me to Christ. I felt remade under this new lens.
Encountering this great saint’s writings and principles painted for me the clearest, most whole, most hopeful vision of who we, as humans, are: beloved daughters and sons; a revelation of the Father’s great love. His words have shown me to myself.
What about you? It’s become apparent in my personal prayer life that certain verses, prayers, and saints have seemingly chosen and pursued me at the times I most needed them. Some of those invitations have been whispers: constant, repeated mentions of a certain prayer, book, or person over months or years. And some have been shouts: instances where intercession and answered prayers ring clear and true. Who are the holy men and women who’ve been knocking at--or, alternatively, crashing through--the door of your heart lately?
Sit in the quiet and observe if any particular saints or writings surface. Consider whether any individuals, devotions, or books have been recommended to you more than once, from more than one person. Or perhaps there’s a particular aspect of the Catholic faith you’ve always wanted to dive into. As a new year unfolds, I sense an expanse of open space in my soul; a decluttered state of thirst. I desire to be filled. Satisfied. May my heart--and yours--find newness, discovery, and a deeper intimacy with Christ in these coming months.