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St. John Paul II Kneeling

St. John Paul II Kneeling by Br. Mickey McGrath, OSFS

Artist Narrative:

Remember that you are never alone, Christ is with you on your journey every day of your lives! He has called you and chosen you to live in the freedom of the children of God. Turn to him in prayer and in love. Ask him to grant you the courage and strength to live in this freedom always. Walk with him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life!
—Saint John Paul II

His feast day is October 22.

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Between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. — and sometimes as early as 4:00 — Pope John Paul II would arise each morning, keeping virtually the same schedule he had as the bishop of Kraków. Although he enjoyed watching the sunrise, the main reason for his early start was to make time for prayer. He prayed the Rosary prostrate on the floor or kneeling, followed by his personal prayers, and would then go to the chapel in order to prepare for 7:30 Mass. According to his press secretary, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, his sixty to ninety minutes of private prayer before Mass were the best part of his day.

At the chapel, he would kneel before the Blessed Sacrament at his prie-dieu. The top of his wooden kneeler could be opened, and it was brimming with notes people had given to him, seeking his prayers for all kinds of petitions, including healings, the conversion of family members, or successful pregnancies. Perhaps thirty to forty new petitions were given to him each day, and he would pray specifically over every one. He said that they were kept there and were always present "in my consciousness, even if they cannot be literally repeated every day."

He told one of his biographers, "There was a time when I thought that one had to limit the 'prayer of petition.' That time has passed. The further I advance along the road mapped out for me by Providence, the more I feel the need to have recourse to this kind of prayer." Quite often, those who sent the petitions wrote back in thanksgiving for answered prayers. His assistant secretary noted that most of them expressed gratitude for the gift of parenthood. Not only did he intercede before the tabernacle for these individuals as if they were his most intimate friends, he routinely sought information about the progress of the cases. The liturgy would not begin until he had before him the petitions people had asked him to offer on their behalf.

After going to the sacristy to don his vestments for Mass, he would again kneel or sit for ten to twenty minutes.When visitors arrived to join him for Mass, they would always find him kneeling in prayer. Some said, "he looked like he was speaking with the Invisible." One of the masters of ceremonies added, "it seemed as if the Pope were not present among us." Bishop Andrew Wypych, who was ordained to the diaconate by Cardinal Karol Wojtya, added, "You could see that he physically was there, but one could sense that he was immersed in the love of the Lord. They were united in talking to each other."

During the celebration of the Eucharist, one observer noticed, "He lingered lovingly over every syllable that recalled the Last Supper as if the words were new to him." Then, after the moment of Consecration, he would genuflect before Christ's presence on the altar with tremendous reverence. Visitors to his private Masses noticed that you could hear the thud of his knee slamming down upon the marble floor when he became too weak to support himself as he genuflected. After Mass, a lengthy time of thanksgiving followed before the Holy Father greeted guests and gave each of them a Rosary.

The Eucharist was the principal reason for his priesthood. He said, "For me, the Mass constitutes the center of my life and my every day." He added, "nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God's people in the Church." John Paul didn't merely offer the Mass. He lived it. Like the Eucharist itself, he became an immolation of love — a living sacrifice offered to the Father for the salvation of mankind. Because of his deep faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he was adamant with priests and bishops about how the Mass ought to be celebrated.He told a group of American bishops, "This is why it is so important that liturgical law be respected. The priest, who is the servant of the liturgy, not its inventor or producer, has a particular responsibility in this regard, lest he empty liturgy of its true meaning or obscure its sacred character."

Prayer was the rhythm of the Holy Father's life. He made time to pray before and after his meals, and interspersed his Breviary prayers (the Liturgy of the Hours) throughout the day and night, calling it: "very important, very important." At six in the morning, at noon, and again at six in the evening, he would stop whatever he was doing to pray the Angelus, just as he had done while working in the chemical plant in Poland. He prayed several Rosaries each day, went to confession every week, and did not let a day pass without receiving Holy Communion. Each Friday (and every day in Lent), he prayed the Stations of the Cross, and preferred to do this in the garden on the roof of the Papal Apartments. During Lent, he would eat one complete meal a day, and always fasted on the eve of our Lady's feast days. He remarked, "If the bishop doesn't set an example by fasting, then who will?" The Holy Father knew that his first duty to the Church was his interior life.

He declared, "the shepherd should walk at the head and lay down his life for his sheep. He should be the first when it comes to sacrifice and devotion."

Each night, he looked out his window to Saint Peter's Square and to the whole world, and made the sign of the cross over it, blessing the world goodnight. For many years, he ascended to the roof of the Papal Apartments to offer this nightly blessing. Visitors standing in the square noticed that his light often went off between eleven and one in the morning. One of his biographers noted that he seldom went to bed before midnight. As a priest and bishop, and perhaps as pope, he sometimes slept on the bare floor. In Kraków, his housekeeper knew of this, and noticed that he would crumple his bed sheets to conceal it.