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“The pope just died,” came the whisper. It was April 2, 2005, and I was in the midst of presenting the final talk of a seminar on the teaching of John Paul II. I shared the news with my audience. We all paused, prayed, and I somberly concluded the seminar.

Afterwards, amidst various condolences, someone wondered aloud: “Gee, waddaya gonna do now?” — as if my career as an exponent of John Paul II’s theology had just been issued the same death certificate. “This isn’t the end,” I responded emphatically. “This is just the beginning!”

As with all the great saint-theologians of history, I knew the Church would spend centuries unpacking John Paul II’s contributions. I could list a hundred ways St. John Paul II left his mark. Here are 10, in no particular order (except the first, of which I’m particularly fond).

1. Theology of the Body
It’s been called the “lone Everest among the hills” of John Paul II’s vast theological legacy. Its characterization as a teaching on married love and sexuality is not inaccurate, but to reduce it to that fails to recognize how a theology of the body offers us a lens through which to view the whole body of theology.

God comes in the flesh, the heavenly Bridegroom espousing himself to humanity, the Bride. The sexual difference and the call of the two to be “one flesh” thus offer a primordial icon of the Christian mystery itself. Hence, confusion about sexuality leads in itself to confusion about Christ and the Church.

Those willing to climb this “lone Everest” come to recognize the tragedy of the disease afflicting the modern world and discover its cure.

2. More than 480 canonizations

John Paul II canonized more saints in his 26 years as pope than all popes of the previous 1,000 years combined (482, according to the Vatican website).

What’s the message of all this saint-making? John Paul II canonized men and women, young and old, from all walks of life, and from all around the world to help us understand that saints aren’t ready-made angels who’ve fallen from heaven. In fact, they aren’t angels at all. They are human beings, just as broken as the rest of us, who encountered a Beauty that transformed them.

We, too, can encounter that Beauty and be transformed.

3. Peaceful resistance to communism
In a 2005 interview, Lech Walesa, co-founder of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, said, “For 20 years I could only find 10 people who wanted to fight [the Communist regime], from a nation of 40 million. Nobody, I repeat, nobody thought that Communism would end. Then, this incredible thing happened – a Pole became … the Pope. And within a year after his [1979] visit to Poland – in one year – it went from 10 people to a movement of 10 million.”

That movement would help bring down the Iron Curtain.

4. Inspirer of priestly vocations
They’re called “JPII priests.” And there are countless thousands of them around the world. As one who has lectured internationally in multiple seminaries, I can attest to the phenomenon.

5. The Pope of the Family

At John Paul II’s canonization, Pope Francis called him “the Pope of the Family,” a title by which John Paul himself hoped to be remembered. John Paul II wrote so extensively on marriage and family life that two-thirds of what the Church has ever officially said on the subject comes from him.

6. Authoritative interpretation of the Second Vatican Council
The renewal of the Church hoped for as the fruit of Vatican II (1962-1965) was stymied by the ideological debates that ensued among those who interpreted the Council differently. St. John Paul II steered the bark of St. Peter through treacherous post-conciliar waters, correcting the errors of those falling off on port and starboard, to arrive at an authoritative interpretation of the most important Catholic event in centuries.

7. Catechism of the Catholic Church
One of the greatest fruits of Vatican II, according to John Paul II himself, was the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In a world in which skepticism and cynicism ruled, and the very idea of “belief” was under attack, John Paul II took it upon himself to commission a thoroughly modern and comprehensive declaration of what the Catholic Church believes about the universe and the place of humanity within it.

8. Personalism
By focusing on subjective experience to the neglect of objective reality, modern thought divorced freedom from truth and embraced a radical subjectivism. John Paul II’s “personalism” affirms all that is good in the modern focus on the subject without sacrificing moral truths.

Through his explicit appeal to the inner-life of the person, John Paul II’s ethical approach demonstrates that the Church’s vision is not foisted upon us from “the outside,” but corresponds to our experience as people on “the inside.”

9. Totus Tuus Maria
While expressing some reservations about his “style,” John Paul II also credited St. Louis de Montfort with inspiring his deep devotion to Mary. His papal motto, “Totus Tuus” (“totally yours”), continues to inspire devotees around the world to de Montfort’s program of “total consecration” to Jesus through Mary.

10. Affirmation of the feminine genius
John Paul II’s letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, his Letter to Women, as well as various addresses on the “feminine genius” mark him as the pope of a new feminism.

Describing woman as “the representative and the archetype of the whole human race,” he said that “she represents the humanity which belongs to all human beings, both men and women.” It’s hard to imagine a more profound affirmation than that.

Christopher West is founder and president of The Cor Project. His global lecturing, best-selling books, courses, study programs, and media appearances have made him the world’s most recognized teacher of Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He will be leading a pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Poland in August.

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