April 02, 2015

'Saint John Paul the Great' offers a fresh perspective on the new saint

By Chris Gilbert *

Can you sum up the life of a great saint who changed the world?  Can you adequately convey the impact of a man who preached, wrote, and taught for most of his eighty-five years?  What can be said about a young man who became a priest, a bishop, and then a pope, that hasn’t already been said?  You cannot reduce this man to a book, but you can explore his life by looking at what he loved.  The man is Karol Wojtyla – now immortalized as St. John Paul II - and the author who presents a peek into this beloved pope’s heart is Jason Evert. 

The biography Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves is an excellent read for someone already familiar with the life and teachings of John Paul II, while also serving as a wonderful introduction to this spiritual giant of our times. Evert’s simple and direct style draws the reader in while keeping the lofty subjects accessible. Yet, it is the author’s passion and personal insight that make the book so powerful and applicable. It comes across as the impact of one man’s heart and mind upon the heart and mind of another. The personal insights, testimonies, and conversions shared through encountering John Paul II do not lose their force. The reader may find himself constantly whispering, “Wow!” and finding the nearest person to share, “You gotta hear this…” 

Evert explores the life and influential events of this incredible man. From the tragic deaths of family members to narrow escapes from Nazis as a young seminarian to his fight against communism as a young Bishop to his attempted assassination in St. Peter's Square, Evert moves the reader through the marvels and miracles that marked Wojtyla's incredible life.

The reader will observe the pope’s prayer habits, mystical abilities, the inspiration for his famous Theology of the Body teachings, his continual embrace of personal poverty and detachment, and his insight into the purpose of pain backed by his own road of suffering. Amidst an intense life of prayer, writing, and pastoring, the Holy Father embraced a lifelong penchant for time spent hiking, skiing and praying in the great outdoors with those closest to his heart – the youth.

Perhaps most notably, the piercing sanctity and unusual brilliance of this man will not leave the reader despairing over his own futile chances at sainthood, but rather will inspire him to follow the model of the Holy Father as a beacon of hope for personal holiness.

Not only will the reader discover John Paul II’s numerous achievements throughout this volume, he will see the motivations that drove him and the power that enabled him to accomplish so much: a faith fortified by prayer and action. 

After a truly exhilarating tour of the life of young Lolek to the papacy of John Paul II in Part I, the author frames the life of the Holy Father around his five loves: young people, human love, the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Mary, and the Cross.  Each of these loves allows the reader interior access to the man himself, a narrative that goes beyond mere information or a nice story.  Evert's reflections deliver profound insights into how this saint viewed, embraced, and focused his life in light of these five loves.

Readers beware! Evert creates a dangerous encounter with Saint John Paul II, one powerful enough to effect real and lasting changes in a seeking human heart.

Chris Gilbert received his M.A. from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Theology with a specialization in catechetics.  He worked in youth and young adult ministry for seven years. Now, he and his wife own their own business from home and are blessed by their three children.  Chris also loves books because, for most of his life, he refused to read

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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