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A Tale of Two Popes and Their Intimacy with the Holy Spirit

Updated on May 19, 2020

”The Holy Spirit is the master of the Christian life. It fills us with the graces, virtues and charisms we need to imitate Jesus.” ~ Saint John Paul II

We’ve got a busy day today in the Catholic Church, with much to celebrate and a coincidence or two thrown in to boot. With regard to my latter observation, today we memorialize the 1st Pope to choose the name John on the very same day that the last Pope to do so (Saint John Paul II) would’ve turned 100 years old, the man whose aptly appropriate quote kicks off today’s reflection. More on Saint John Paul II and his teachings pertaining to the Holy Spirit relative to today’s Gospel (John 15:26-16:4) in a moment.

John I is one of those unique Saints who as the result of his tumultuous life is doubly crowned in the Heavenly Kingdom as both Pope and Martyr. Imprisoned as a result of his defense of mistreated Christians in Constantinople, John I would ultimately succumb to illness and die in a squalid jail cell. Yesterday we reflected on Jesus’ words pertaining to the fate of those who are not of this world, those who choose to live a life rooted in the Spirit

In the case of this unlikely Pope turned inmate, the ultimate price was paid. In today’s Gospel, Jesus would again foreshadow the fate of Saint John I and all those who would be martyred in his name as he tells his disciples “the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.” (John 16:2-3).

Pope John Paul II was once asked “How does the Pope pray?,” to which he answered, “You would have to ask the Holy Spirit! The Pope prays as the Holy Spirit permits him to pray.” It’s clear that Saint John Paul II, arguably the most extraordinary man of our times, had developed an incredible intimacy with the Holy Spirit. He once told a group of people that he began the habit of offering a daily prayer to the Holy Spirit when he was 12 years old. Saint John Paul II’s devotion to the Holy Spirit was borne out of his ability to discern its transformative power at a remarkably young age. He took to heart Jesus‘ message in today’s Gospel that the Advocate was truly sent to us from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the Spirit that indeed testifies to the Son. This is the bedrock foundation of Trinitarian Theology.

In May of 1986, then-Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical “Dominum et vivificantem,“ a theological examination of the role of the Holy Spirit in the modern world and the use of spiritual prayer to renew one's spiritual life. Appropriately enough, this encyclical was introduced on the Feast of Pentecost. In this enlightening, comprehensive and joy-filled teaching, John Paul II calls the Holy Spirit an “uncreated, without limit, eternal, omnipotent, God, Lord. This Spirit of God ‘fills the universe,‘ and all that is created recognizes in him the source of its own identity, finds in him its own transcendent expression, turns to him and awaits him, invokes him with its own being. Man turns to him, as to the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth and of love, man who lives by truth and by love, and who without the source of truth and of love cannot live.” I encourage anyone who seeks a greater knowledge of the Holy Spirit to read and reflect upon the prolific writing from this Holy Spirit-infused Vicar of Christ:

The celebration of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus is rapidly approaching. As such, we the faithful are left to reflect upon Jesus’ words as he lovingly and painstakingly prepares his Apostles for this seminal moment, his departure from this Earth to assume his place at the right hand of the Father. He says to them “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7). Jesus assures his disciples with these words in an effort to address their grief surrounding his departure, reminding them that Scripture must be fulfilled and that the Holy Spirit must be unleashed on the world, this so that those who choose to live in the Spirit will secure eternal life, their eternal dwelling place in the Heavenly Kingdom, while those who do not, those who reject the Son of God, will be doomed to condemnation, death and hell.

Let us seek the Advocate with the fortitude and courage of Saint John I and the unadulterated faith and wisdom of Saint John Paul II as we too look to grow in our intimacy with the Holy Spirit.

For a reflection on today’s 1st Reading, please follow the link to the Essay below:

Saint John I, Pope & Martyr of our Church, pray for us!


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