Pope John Paul II

Read the story of Pope John Paul II Vocation Story

As told by Archbishop Pietro Sambi

Apostolic Nuncio to the United States

The Priestly Vocation as “Gift” and “Mystery”:

The priestly vocation is ultimately a mystery and a gift. The Servant of God John Paul II recounted the story of his own vocation in his memoir written on his 50th Anniversary of Priestly Ordination: Gift and Mystery. I would like to share some points from that memoir with you today. The Holy Father’s reflections begin:

The story of my priestly vocation? It is known above all to God.At its deepest level, every vocation to the priesthood is a great mystery; it is a giftwhich infinitely transcends the individual. Every priest experiences this clearly throughout the course of his life. Faced with the greatness of the gift we sense our own inadequacy.

A vocation is a mystery of divine election: “You did no choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). “And one does not take this honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb 5:4). “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5). These inspired words cannot fail to move deeply the heart of every priest.

These words cannot fail to inspire your hearts and your work as vocation directors.

Pope John Paul II Story of his Vocation to the Priesthood

I. Vocational “Signs”:

A young Karol Wojtyla was chosen to give the welcome address in his secondary school for the metropolitan Archbishop of Krakow, Prince Adam Stefan Sapieha. When the Archbishop asked what the future Pope’s study would be after secondary school, his religion teacher said “Polish language and letters”. The archbishop replied “A pity it is not theology”.

However, as Karol began his studies in language at the Jagiellonian University, he discovered that the mystery of language brings us back to the inscrutable mystery of God himself. As he came to appreciate the power of the word in his literary and linguistic studies, he inevitably drew close to the mystery of the Word, that Word of which we speak every day in the Angelus: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Polish language and literature for him prepared the ground for an encounter with philosophy and theology

These studies came to an end with the German occupation and the outbreak of the Second World War. The former Holy Father began working as a laborer in a stone quarry to avoid deportation and forced labor in Germany. There he witnessed the death of a fellow laborer in a detonation. He wrote: “They took his body and walked in a silent line. Toil still lingered about him, a sense of wrong.”

When he became assistant to the rock blaster, his co-worker Franciszek said “Karol, you should be a priest. You have a good voice and will sing well; then you’ll be all set”. He said this in all simplicity expressing a view then widely held in society about how priests lived. Those words stuck in Karol’s memory.

In the Theater of the Living Word, he admits “the whole experience of the theater left a deep impression on me, even though at a certain point I came to realize that this was not my real vocation”.

Finally, he discovered his real vocation was to enter the seminary and become a priest. This was 1942, formation was clandestine, and seminarians were still working as laborers as well as studying. But through it all he recounts:

Today I think back with deep gratitude on all the superiors, spiritual directors, and professors who contributed to my formation during my time at the seminary. May the Lord repay their efforts and sacrifice!

II. Vocational “Influences”:

Pope John Paul recalls that there were many influences on his vocation. This influential priestly presence is something that you, as Diocesan Vocation Directors, are called to be for men discerning vocations today. Pope John Paul writes:

I have spoken at length about my seminary experience because this was the greatest influence on my priestly formation. But looking at the fuller picture, I clearly see that a number of other situations and individuals had a positive influence on me, and that God was using them to make his voice heard.

Among them were:

  • His Family: his parents and brother, especially his father who was a widower at an early age, and a deeply religious man. “We never spoke about a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary”.
  • The Solvay Plant: his experience was that of a worker-seminarian. H wrote: “I knew quite well the meaning of physical labor. Every day I had been with people who did heavy work. I came to know their living situations, their families, their interests, their human worth, and their dignity”.

It is extremely important this aspect one of the signs of vocation is when somebody through his prayer and conversation with Jesus Christ is capable to go out of himself. To think of the need of the others and to dedicate himself for this. The enemy of vocation is selfishness, his egoism. Why the capacity of dedication is a great sign that the spirit of the Lord entered in this person and can guide him very far.

  • His Parish in Cracow: the Salesian fathers and their work among the youth, headed by Jan Tyranowski, who created a network called The Living Rosary, engaging them in spiritual formation.
  • The Monastery of the Carmelite Fathers: making retreat with them.

It’s not bad. If I can say an experience of mine a few months before deaconate, I was troubled if to take forever. This is the season of my life. I was studying at the Roman Seminary and I went to a Trappist convent in Rome and a Father with an angelical face, use to silence and to prayer, came to receive me and I entrusted him with my interior troubles. And, he gave me a great serenity with his answer and I still remember, “Don’t worry to be Priest forever, because God loves you forever.”

  • His Confessor and Spiritual Director: Father Figlewicz.
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary: “In speaking of the origins of my priestly vocation, I cannot overlook its Marian Thread”.
  • Brother Saint Albert: the Polish tradition of radical Gospel idealism.
  • The Experience of the War: He writes: My priestly vocation took definitive shape at the time of the Second World War, during the Nazi occupation. Was this a mere coincidence or was there a more profound connection between what was developing within me and external historical events? It is hard to answer such a question. Certainly in God’s plan nothing happens by chance. All I can say is that the tragedy of the war had its effect on the gradual choice of a vocation.
  • The Sacrifices made by Polish Priests: the arrests and deportation to concentration camps of an immense number of Polish priests, in Dachau alone about 3000 were interned. I had the blessing of beatifying many of them.
  • Goodness: he experienced goodness and love even “amid the harshness of war”.

I can understand that after the sex scandal can be felt a little bit of difficulty to speak about vocations. And maybe you can imagine how the people in front of you can receive the message a new vocation will be new Priest who will violate our children. But I would say that as the Pope was encouraged to take a final decision by the great number of priests in Poland who were brought to the camp of concentration, you today, you should be pushed in your many strengths by the fact that so many priests have abandoned their mission or have been forced to abandon their mission. The church in America will pass through a difficult time of poverty of priests. But a new springtime will come. With more priests and better quality and you is the instrument of this springtime of Priesthood in the Church of America.

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