The following is a talk I gave at the conference Theology of the Body: Blessed John Paul II’s Anthropological Vision sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet on March 31, 2012 at the Chicago Marriott, Oak Brook, IL.
It is an enormous honor to be here with all of you today. It is an honor to be invited by Margie and the Respect Life Office and it is a particular honor to be asked to speak specifically on Blessed Pope John Paul II. My first memory of Pope John Paul II has always been a very powerful one for me. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and on September 16, 1987 I attended, with my family, the Pope’s mass at Dodger Stadium. The site of the pontiff in that sports arena sticks out so clearly in my memory: the sound of his accented English, his holy presence, the electric feel of the crowd. I also remember the incredibly long entrance procession (it was his mass with all the Bishops of the US) and wait for communion (you can imagine how long it takes the average Los Angeles priest to go from the altar at center field to the nose-bleeds, all the while reverently carrying the Blessed Sacrament for distribution.
I’m sorry to say, the other reason the day sticks out in my head so clearly is because (and I don’t remember the reason for this) we were running late that day and, after picking up my grandma, my dad decided he needed to make up the time by speeding right by a friendly LAPD cruiser. Needless to say, the officer was not particularly receptive to my dad’s excuse: “We’re late for our meeting with the Pope!”
My task today is to speak specifically to John Paul’s understanding of the human person and then connect that to the Pope’s teaching on economics and politics. While I will focus mostly on John Paul’s encyclicals, I would like to first draw your attention to that homily I heard as a little kid in Dodger Stadium almost 25 years ago. His words ring true today and reveal some of the Pope’s key themes for understanding the human person: unity and diversity, the common and the particular, the centrality of Christ and his redemptive work: