Blessed Pope John Paul II is one of the reasons I’m Catholic today. And I’m in good company.
In early 1990, my Dad had an opportunity to visit the Vatican and stay for a week.
As a hobby, he had developed a computerized Bible that was searchable and could be used for biblical study and research. At the time, this was pretty innovative stuff, and somehow Dad’s European distributor had arranged a private audience with the Pope.
During their meeting, the Pope was presented with a computer loaded with several versions of the electronic Bible.
I will never forget my Dad’s impression of meeting now-Blessed John Paul.
“It was like meeting an old friend,” he said. As others have described, the Pope had a gift for focusing on the individual, and conveying a penetrating sense of honor and respect.
Did I mention that my Dad was a Presbyterian minister?
Well, not any more. The visit to Rome turned out to be the tipping point in my parents’ conversion to Catholicism, a process that took almost thirty years.
In contrast, my wife Kathi and I were relatively quick to convert. Including our education at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, the process took only ten years.
Throughout the papacy of John Paul II, we marveled at the depth of spirituality within the Catholic Church.
One man’s radical abandonment to the Gospel served as an inspiration to billions — and we were among them.
Viewing the Church from the outside, our noses pressed up against the glass to get a better look, we saw things we didn’t completely understand at the time. Yet whatever it was — a reflection of Christ himself, perhaps — we became ever more deeply attracted.
Once we came into full communion with the Church, the reflection continued to become clearer, like a picture gradually coming into focus. The concepts that had seemed so foreign previously began to make sense.
Conversion is by nature multifaceted. There are intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual elements. It’s a process, but not one that is particularly linear. Ours has been characterized by a series of discoveries, often found amidst the joys and struggles of everyday life.
In looking back, I recall snippets of the process that stick with me. A friend at Franciscan University gently chiding me not to make fun of Marian devotion. Years later, Scott Hahn giving me my first rosary. A priest welcoming us to the RCIA group at our local parish. Friends praying for us, consoling us, and encouraging us.
The common denominator: just like Blessed John Paul, these individuals gave of themselves and honored Kathi and me.
In practical terms, this is what the Pope often referred to as the “gift of self.”
Interestingly enough, this concept is precisely what gives rise to the multiplier effect — a concept I first learned in economics class. Our marriage, and our faith, led to our eight children. “Go forth and multiply,” indeed.
The multiplier effect will continue through our children, God willing. It will also give rise to spiritual children for the Lord.
We have never kept count, but that single encounter with Blessed John Paul gave rise to at least a dozen Catholics in our immediate family alone. So far.
That doesn’t count others we have encouraged or sponsored to become Catholic over the years, nor those they have touched in turn.
The gift of self results in children for God, and Blessed John Paul modeled this approach beautifully.
He liked to quote Vatican II’s “Gaudium et Spes,” which says “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for himself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.”
Thanks, Blessed John Paul, for your gift of self to my family. With God’s grace, we’ll do our best to follow your example.
Note: I’d like to gratefully acknowledge Catholic News Agency for originally publishing this post in May 2011.