It’s hard to believe it’s been a month since I was blessed to be present at the canonization of St. John Paul II and St. Pope John XXIII! Despite my love for John Paul II and his amazing work, I wasn’t too excited about the massive crowds I’d been warned about by those who had attended his beatification. But I went, knowing I was meant to be there and trusting that John Paul II would work something out. In the end, after waiting, talking and praying through the night, my friend and I ended up in St. Peter’s Square, right along a barrier, with a great view! (As you may know, even getting into the square was a minor miracle!)
After a month I have had the opportunity to reflect on my trip and think about the events that really impacted me as a single Catholic. What struck me is that one of the points emphasized about St. John Paul II, both in Pope Francis’ homily at the canonization and at the Thanksgiving Mass the next day, is that St. John Paul II was “the Pope of the family.” For those of us who are single and would like to have a family of our own, but don’t, this point might be a cause of consternation rather than encouragement. But the question is—why did Pope Francis call him “the Pope of the family”?
St. John Paul II himself said that as a young priest, working with many engaged and married couples, he “fell in love with human love.” He wrote Love and Responsibility in 1960 and when pope, delivered a book he had written during a series of Wednesday audiences between 1979-1984 which has become known as the “Theology of the Body.”
As pope he issued the Apostolic Constitution Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) and his Letter to Families. The basic idea from these writings is that, being made in the image and likeness of God, who is love, we are called to love and to form a communion of persons. The family is called to be a “community of life and love” and its mission is “to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride” (Familiaris Consortio 17). It’s through the family that we are brought into the larger family of God, the Church.
The family is where we learn to love and to live in community. Whether or not we have our own spouses and children, we are called to actively participate in the family to which we all belong, the Church! We must not think that we can live our faith on our own. As singles we are called to love the families in which we were born, and to help and encourage others who have families of their own. By supporting families, even if they aren’t our “own,” we help build up a culture of love and life. We can be involved in the lives of our nieces and nephews, or the children of our married friends—for example, take them out for an afternoon or sit for an evening so their parents can have a break. Or we can volunteer in our parishes to help children by teaching or mentoring. I know, sometimes it’s tough to do because it can be a reminder that we don’t have our “own” families. But let’s not let that steal the delight and joy that children can bring us. In turn, the Church has not forgotten us as singles.
“We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live—often not of their choosing—are especially close to Jesus’ heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors… The doors of homes, the “domestic churches,” and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden’” (2231; 2233).
Lastly, in this season of Easter, Pope Francis made it clear that the joy of the Resurrection came after the suffering of the Cross—and this is what happens throughout our own lives as well. If we feel as if our lives are not currently in an “Easter” moment, let’s continue to hope. As Pope Francis reminded us in the canonization homily:
“In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.”