The Personalism of John Paul II (Book Reflection)

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” -St. John Paul II*

On my 42nd baptismal anniversary next spring, I am scheduled to begin the CPMAP Certification through the Catholic Psych Institute. As a lover of learning, anticipation builds anytime I am preparing to begin a new program. This time is a little bit unique in that I have a reading list in advance that I can begin while waiting. I just finished John F. Crosby’s The Personalism of John Paul II.

My decision to begin the CPMAP Certification was a little unexpected. I had taken a foundational course over the summer to begin a Master’s in Catholic Studies through Franciscan University of Steubenville. I loved the course and was excited to continue with the program. After taking fall semester off because it is my heaviest teaching load of the year, I intended to take a course spring semester. Nonetheless, I attended a town hall for the CPMAP Certification, thinking maybe I would layer in the coursework side by side – doing both programs concurrently but slowly. However, once I heard about the actual structure of the certification, I realized that it would need to be a choice of one or the other. I chose to begin with CPMAP (likely a 2 year process for me) and then would likely still love to begin the Master’s in Catholic Studies afterward. It seems like a natural fit to dive deeply into the human person through a Catholic lens with CPMAP and then broaden the scope to consider how the Catholic faith has impacted history and culture throughout a range of time periods – the impact of God working through so many lives individually and collectively.

As a wife, mom of 6 and teacher educator, it can be challenging to make choices about what I can commit to and when related to my learning. As I was praying through whether or not to begin the CPMAP Certification at this time, my prayer was that if it would help me to better love God (and better receive His love) and better love my family that my husband would be on board with making the financial commitment.

This year I have been listening to the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus of Los Angeles singing Glorious at least once each liturgical season as part of my Word for the Liturgical Year resource for 2022. The song is all about belonging and discovering who you were created to be – the patience of the process. One of the lines I love is, “And when you’re near it, you can almost hear it.” When I began reading The Personalism of John Paul II, it seemed like additional glimpses into God’s plans for me and affirmed the value in having the opportunity to do the certification. I was also reminded of the disciples talking about their experience on the Road to Emmaus, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

Concepts from the text spoke to my heart in multiple ways. For example, part of my journey has been navigating tensions between working in a secular context while desiring to work in an explicitly Christ-centered, Catholic context. I love Dr. Greg Bottaro’s story of pivoting from a secular career to re-envisioning through a distinctly and authentically Catholic lens when he created the Integrated Daily Dialogic Mentorship (IDDM) model and the CPMAP certification. Nonetheless, I have been hearing whispers along the way in my own journey that my story might continue unfolding by realizing that God’s plans for me are to stay within my secular context. I am beginning the CPMAP certification without knowing whether it will be a piece of my journey to make a pivot or whether it will be about using the concepts within and beyond my secular positioned career.

One of the first pages in Crosby’s book contained, “For when we Catholics address non-believers, we cannot begin by quoting the Bible and the magisterial teaching of the Church; we rather begin by first seeking out common ground with them by means of philosophical reason, which nonbelievers share with believers. It is on just this common ground of reason that Pope John Paul II stands when, for example, he addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations” (p. 3). This section of the text gave me hope and encouraged me that however my career continues to unfold, the CPMAP will be a valuable part of the journey because there will be insights into how the concepts will help me to better engage with people in general as I navigate my day to day life. This also provides support for the value of CPMAP for the context in which I am not limited by a secular context but the people with whom I am interacting are struggling with belief and not receptive to faith-based explanations.

Previously my spiritual director had provided me with guidance related to this when interacting with one of my adolescent daughters. The program is going to better equip me by providing a foundation in philosophical reason. As noted later in the book, “Hence the supreme pastoral importance of showing forth in a convincing way the truthfulness of the moral norms taught by the Church. John Paul takes the faithful seriously as persons by leading them beyond blind obedience and educating them to the rational obedience that makes them free. […] the faithful, if they want to live in freedom, should do everything they can to develop their understanding of the moral norms taught by the Church, and that the Church for her part should do all that she can to support this development of understanding” (p. 47), which also relates to the concept that “If we really believe in the truth that we profess, and really believe that it is knowable to all people of good will, then we are in a position to propose that truth gently and to abstain from all coercion” (p. 49). While I can see strengths and a foundation for me to engage in this work, I also acknowledge my capacity for growth and am excited about how CPMAP certification can be a powerful means to cultivate that on-going development.

Another tension within my career is that I have many reasons to be grateful for my career, while also acknowledging that the time I dedicate to my secular career means that I have less time to dedicate to explicitly Christ-centered resources focusing on the process of becoming. As a result, my website Beauty of Becoming and the associated work has mostly needed to fit into the category of a hobby when it comes to proper prioritization. However, I am coming to realize that if God doesn’t need it to be more than a hobby, then neither do I. Each time I have been willing to pivot into ministry but the doors don’t open (whether or not that ends up being that they are not going to open or they just haven’t opened yet), there has been an affirmation of there being value and blessings right where I am positioned.

The quote about St. John Paul II’s address within a secular context was interesting timing because I was preparing to present to my university community about a narrative inquiry into my own experiences with burnout. I acknowledged that in order to authentically share my journey, it would incorporate my faith and considered how to best frame it for audience that was within a secular context. It also reminded me back to a moment when I perceived in prayer, “I want these two to grow up alongside each other” referring to how the concept of Beauty of Becoming had come up in prayer previously related to both supporting my students (inservice teachers) with their ongoing process of becoming, as well as my website focusing on becoming who God created us to be. I was fascinated by thinking about how St. John Paul II would frame his thinking for different audiences. I am interested in further considering his craft and wonder to what degree better understanding him and his work and influence would give insight into my unique call, as well as providing further inspiration.

When I read the following lines, I paused to ponder – “His work in philosophy is not like a hobby, something he has pursued next to his work as pastor. […] it enters everywhere into his teaching as pope. He would not be the pope he is but for his deep formation in philosophy. His way of articulating the truth about the human person and of giving prophetic witness to the dignity of the person is profoundly formed by his philosophy of the person” (p. 7). I loved that description. It made me think about how Beauty of Becoming has needed to be categorized as a hobby as far as proper prioritization but about how there is also some gray area with my career in secular teacher education because of the way that part of our obligations link to scholarship and investing in our communities, as well as the ongoing recognition that my growth related to better understanding the process of becoming is shaping me as a person, which then impacts the way that I interact with my students.

I thought about the tension that I desire to make Beauty of Becoming “the work,” but then I have been positioned for it to be alongside my secular career in teacher education. It will be interesting to see how it all takes shape over time. The lines in the book reminded me of something I have already thought of frequently – God is creative. Even if it needs to be properly prioritized as a hobby, it can seep in deeply, take root, and shape my other work. We’ll see what He has in store.

Along the same lines, shortly after, another part that had me stopping in order to reread and prayerfully consider was some words that St. John Paul II wrote when he was an archbishop in a letter to a friend. He said, “I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and is devoted to the metaphysical sense and mystery of the person” (p. 9). I loved this encouragement about how powerful work can be, even when it needs to be confined to “very rare free moments” and the capacity that it still has to develop into a substantial contribution.

Later on in the book it talks about how his personalist philosophy shaped his papacy, and I thought about how the foundation had been forming all along. I loved this thinking because of knowing that something that he developed in his “very rare free moments” became so core to his work. It again helped me to think about how God can do His work in me at the rate He desires, and I just need to trust that He is finding pathways to do the work He desires and knows how He ultimately wants to use it. I don’t need to figure out (and try to force) all the details. Instead, I just need to remain in intimacy with Him, to delight in the on-going process of what is being cultivated, which links to abiding in Him, and then allow Him to reveal the fruits over time – even if He chooses to wait until I am in heaven to fully reveal how it was all used/what it will develop into.

Even though St. John Paul the II described it as something he was devoted to in his free moments, I imagine that it was actually much more than that – it would have been in the back of his mind, mulling it over as he engaged in the day to day interactions of life. At least that is what I have noticed with thinking related to Beauty of Becoming. I have the time that I focus on it and the layers that stick with me as I carry out my everyday duties – my personal vocation within my state in life vocation and career.

There were many other dimensions of the richness of St. John Paul II’s personalism that captured my attention. In many roles in life, but especially as a wife and mom, I loved the following line, “If you try to use a person as a mere instrument, then you deprive that person of the space he needs for the uniquely personal work of self-creation. If we are really going to respect persons, then we must step back from them, take our heavy hands off them, and let them be, that is, live as self-determining beings. In respecting them like this and in abstaining from all using, we treat persons as their own end” (pp. 11-12). This made me think about my girls and the desire to allow them this space, while also having the tension that sometimes the natural inclination is to control certain layers.

I also loved how this concept links to being an instrument in God’s hands but not a blind tool because of the role of our free will (pp. 12-13). These words captured it well, “As for the religious who talk of gladly being an instrument in the hands of God, Pope John Paul II suggests that we should interpret this as the unconditional readiness to serve God, but he reminds us that such unconditional service must be offered in a manner appropriate to our being persons, which means that our service must not include the readiness to ‘be a blind tool of someone else’s ends.’ God is the very last one who would ask for such a violation of the personhood that He Himself created” (p. 14).

When thinking about my interest in the process of becoming, I loved the sections on interiority, such as, “We know them all as objects of our experience, that is, as standing in front of us, as outside of us. But we know ourselves in a fundamentally different way; we do not just stand in front of ourselves, looking at ourselves from the outside. Rather, we first experience ourselves in the more intimate way of being present to ourselves, that is, we first experience ourselves not from without but from within, not as object but as subject, not as something presented to us but as a subject that is present to itself […] Of course, we can make an object of ourselves, as when we tell someone about our feelings, but our primary experience of ourselves is not from without as object but from within as subject, and so this self-experience is in a way hidden from our view” (p. 19). The additional chapters explore different facets, including a chapter on freedom noting, “Now Pope John Paul II wants to say that I do not really live as person when I endure that which happens in me; I am not revealed as the person I am by that which I passively undergo. Rather, it is only by acting through myself (perhaps in response to what I passively undergo) that I really live and thrive as a person” (p. 36).

I will conclude with a note that I wrote early on while reading, “This book is providing me a lot of encouragement with my life and how things have unfolded, as well as being really excited about the content.” I look forward to diving into the other readings with space to pause and contemplate the concepts. This book was relatively short (under 100 pages) but with a lot of richness. I am excited to continue going deeper.

*The quote at the top is from St. John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio and is also in The Personalism of John Paul II on p. 2.

Copyright 2022 Amanda Villagómez

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