You are the sum of God’s love for you
By Anna Krestyn
John Paul II was not four years into his pontificate when I was born. My experience of Catholicism has been inseparable from his presence as the father of my generation—the one who loved our lives better than we ourselves did.
Yet there is another factor to the impact he has had on my life.
My father came to the United States as a child, the son of immigrants who fled Communist Czechoslovakia. They were contemporaries of the pope whose faith was forged against the Nazis and the Soviets.
My grandfather, a twenty-four-year-old underground courier for Catholic priests, was warned by a friend to leave the country at once. He said goodbye to no one. In a letter his mother later wrote to him, she said that she remembered looking down from a window that day, watching him walk away with a bundle clutched under his arm, wondering if she would see him again. She did not.
My grandmother crossed the border into Austria with fellow nurses from the University Hospital in Prague. She survived near-discovery, waiting on a Russian soldier while he examined false papers before she could cross the Danube from the Russian to the American side. Once they had crossed, the priest helping them told them: “Now are free. You have no place to go, no food to eat. But you are free.”
My father did not suffer the upheaval experienced by my grandparents. He lived nearly his whole life in the United States. He attended good schools and got a good job. He married a good woman and had six children with her.
I am only half Czech, and have lived my whole life in the United States, so it might be argued that I bear only half the burden of that people’s recent history.
I found myself at age 25, the embodiment of my generation’s ambivalence toward life. I grew up in California, in a small town, riding my bike around the block and eating ice cream in the backyard.
Somewhere along the way, I walked into a bookstore and almost subconsciously went for a coffee table book full of photos of John Paul II. He had died only two years before.
I felt then, as never before, close to rejecting my faith. But, as I looked at the image of the pope, the sheer fact of him stayed the chaos inside me. His heart, through the glossy page, corresponded to mine.
I felt his words, rising from the page, striking at the depth of my sadness, cracking it apart: “You are not the sum of your weaknesses and failures. You are the sum of God’s love for you.”
Those words, accompanied by images of a man who had suffered at the hands of the same evil my family suffered, told me that the deepest and most lasting thing is joy. “Do not weep. I am happy and you should be happy too. Let us pray together with joy.”
I got a call from a woman I had recently asked John Paul to help me become a better friend to; she called to tell me I had inadvertently dropped a tiny rosary blessed by the pope, and with an image of him on it, outside her door.
When my godmother suffered a botched thyroid surgery, I prayed a novena to the pope for the success of her corrective surgery: the surgery happened on April 2, the anniversary of his death.
When my sister first got engaged, she told me that the wedding would be in April or September, but not in between, because there were no available dates. It occurred this past week, on April 30, the Eve of Divine Mercy, liturgically the day on which John Paul died, and the eve of his beatification.
About human history, John Paul said that hope is ever present, waiting to be seized by each new generation. He loved my generation because it was the one he was given.
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