Today on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis will canonize both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. These two great popes in history will become two great saints of the Catholic Church.
I have had a special devotion to Blessed John Paul II since he passed away in 2005. That year was a difficult one for me. In mid-July 2005, my daughter’s Godmother lost her battle with cancer and two weeks later, at the beginning of August, my husband moved out and ended our marriage.
Fear was one of those emotions that I experienced that I didn’t know what to do with and oftentimes couldn’t even recognize. In the beginning it was something I tried to run from. There are many things that I did in the first few months of my divorce that on the outside made no sense to me. When the girls were with their father, I would hang out in bars. I hadn’t gone to bars in years. It was like I was adrift in this new life and didn’t know where to go. It didn’t seem to take too long for me to revert back to that crazy college lifestyle—the one I had before I came back to the faith, grew up, had children. It was familiar and completely different from what I had been doing as a wife and mother.
Looking back on it now, I know this was a reaction to my fear. And what scared me more than anything about this new life was feeling like I had the entire responsibility of child-rearing, house-tending, job-juggling and home-schooling all to myself.
No longer did I have a partner to share in this day to day experience with me, with my girls. I found myself actually looking forward to the weekends the girls would spend with their father. I truly needed the mental break that comes with not being on call 24 hours a day. When I was married, I was able to dial back the stress of daily living when my spouse arrived home but since no one came to “relieve” me anymore, I was on-call all day, everyday, unless the girls were with their father. And I lived in constant concern about “getting it right.”
The only time I wasn’t worried about messing something up, or making the wrong decision was when I had this break from the girls. It wasn’t debilitating, this concern, but it was something I always carried with me – worry at not being enough; not making the right decisions; not having enough time, money, a clean enough house. It was a difficult position to find myself in and it took me a few years to truly come to peace with it.
All throughout these years of single-parenting, John Paul II was a constant source of encouragement for me. He had lost his entire family by the time he was 21. I thankfully still had my parents and my brother who were a great source of support for us during this time. They still are today.
I felt connected to John Paul II because I felt that he could relate to a life that wasn’t planned, one that happened outside of his control. He had no designs on the Papacy when he went into the conclave after the death of John Paul I. The outcome changed his life immediately and forever. He had to leave his home, his friends and everything he knew, to begin a new life, a different life.
This is how I felt after my divorce. My life was changed immediately and forever. Quite obviously, God guided the life of John Paul II—what happened to him was by design and God would be there for him. What happened to me however, was based on my own failings as a human but still, God allowed it to happen. It may not have been the design that God had for my life, but he would not abandon me. This gave me much peace and helped to calm the fears. And so, over the years, I would look to John Paul II and his great cry for trust in God: “Be not afraid!”