This definitive compilation brings together the words that Pope John Paul II most urgently wanted the world to hear and embrace. Arranged by the themes he emphasized in his quarter century as pope—including prayer, forgiveness, family, suffering, the church, and Christ—Go in Peace gives the reader an up-close and personal look at this great churchman’s pastoral heart and passes along his vision for a vital life of Christian faith.
“Make time for study, meditation, and reflection. Use your intelligence well; make an effort to reach correct convictions; do not waste time; deepen the motives and foundations of faith in Christ and in the Church, so as to be firm now and in your future. We remain firm in our faith by means of prayer; remember St. Paul wrote: ‘Pray without ceasing.’”
—John Paul II, from Go in Peace
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About the Author
Born Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland, John Paul II lived through Nazi occupation during World War II, was ordained to the priesthood in 1946, and was appointed Archbishop of Krakow by Pope Paul VI.
On October 16, 1978, he ascended to the papacy and adopted the name John Paul II. Since that time, he has greeted an estimated 16 million pilgrims at the Vatican's General Audiences on Wednesdays and has touched millions of lives in his religious ceremonies, special audiences, and trips throughout the world.
Read an Excerpt
Introduction to the New Edition: Images of John Paul II
When we think of Pope John Paul II, a variety of images, many of them quite personal, come into our minds.
My favorite mental picture of him is as a young, vigorous man in a dazzling white cassock emerging from the convention center in Philadelphia in 1979. I was there in the crowd that day, standing on the sidewalk with hundreds of other excited fans. As John Paul greeted the cheers, he turned his head and suddenly caught sight of a long line of young children confined to wheelchairs in front of the nearby Children’s Hospital.
The new pope made his way to the children and spent nearly half an hour talking with them, embracing them, and blessing them. I can still see him, intently bending over their heads and gently touching each one of them as they looked up at him—with surprise and a little confusion. As I watched this, I wept—to my own surprise and a little confusion.
In 1979, I was a college student, and not a very religious one. Over the years, as my faith grew stronger and my relationship with the Church deepened, the figure of Pope John Paul II grew more distinct, like a slowly developing photo, taking on greater clarity in my life. I followed his exploits, as most Catholics did, and watched as the images changed: John Paul before throngs in Poland, John Paul with the poor in Africa, John Paul admonishing dictators, John Paul before the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Finally, I saw the bent and trembling John Paul, slowly dying before our sorrowful eyes as he labored through his final years of leading the Church.
Even as the images fade, we can begin to assess his enormous accomplishments. It is impossible in a few paragraphs to sum up the influence of Karol Wojtyla on the Church and the world. Any mere biographical sketch will mention a number of superlatives: the first-ever Polish pope, the first pope to visit a synagogue since the days of the early Church, the most widely traveled pope in history. Even the shortest biography will note how his astonishing involvement with the Solidarity movement in his native Poland helped pave the way for the dismantling of communism in Eastern Europe, then in the Soviet Union, and finally led to the end of the cold war. Any historical summary will point to his voluminous writings, most notably his powerful encyclicals on social justice, which challenge both socialist and capitalist systems to respect the essential dignity of every human person.
Assessments over, we are left with John Paul’s words. And that’s what you will find in this book: a collection of some of his most meaningful writings, arranged according to the themes he stressed again and again throughout his travels and in his many books, encyclicals, speeches, and letters.
This volume is a window into the marvelous humanity of Pope John Paul II, as well as into his obvious sanctity. As I read it, I was reminded of how arduous his long journey had been. He was a man whose faith was nurtured in the intensely pious atmosphere of early-twentieth-century Polish Catholicism, forged in the terrors of midcentury Nazi and communist regimes, and finally allowed to blossom fully, like a magnificent fruit tree, for the nourishment of the late-century world.
At the end of that journey, some reports said, John Paul’s final word was “Amen,” as if he had completed one great, long prayer—one that, like all human prayers, was imperfect and personal and incomplete, but always faithful to God.
For me, his most meaningful message wasn’t even his own, though he repeated it often enough that many thought it had originated with him. “Be not afraid!” he would say, over and over, echoing the message that Jesus repeated insistently to his disciples and that bracketed his earthly life (at the Annunciation, Gabriel tells Mary not to fear; at the Resurrection, the risen Lord tells his disciples not to fear). When John Paul uttered those words, the world understood that they were hearing from a man who not only believed in fearlessness but also had experienced things that were truly fearful.
On the day that John Paul died, I felt myself back in Philadelphia all those years ago, as a young man standing under the bright sun alongside hundreds of people cheering for Pope John Paul II—cheering for his dedication, cheering for his faithfulness, cheering for his service, and cheering, most of all, for the man who would be a saint.
James Martin, SJ
Editor’s Foreword to the New Edition
I immersed myself in the writings of Pope John Paul II for two reasons. First, like many millions of people, I was simply fascinated by the man. I was transfixed by his public persona. I was awestruck at his accomplishments. I wanted to study the words of one of the most influential public figures of our time.
The second reason was more personal. I delved into the writings of John Paul to find answers to questions that touched on my deepest convictions and hesitations: What does it mean to be a Catholic and a Christian today? Why do we believe as we do? Since I am a professional editor, and a compulsive reader, it made sense for me to seek answers in words. I certainly had many words to read. John Paul was perhaps the most prolific writer ever to be pope. His corpus includes fourteen encyclicals, forty-five apostolic letters, fifteen apostolic exhortations, eleven apostolic constitutions, hundreds of public addresses, numerous poems, five books, and a number of plays.
As I sifted through his words, I came to understand something surprising about John Paul. For all his magnificent accomplishments—world statesman, theologian, philosopher, Church leader—his fundamental role is that of a humble pastor. He knew something about how men and women can find God. He understood how the power of God can be released in our lives. His supreme desire was that we come to embrace a faith that transforms the way we work, the way we relate to other people, and the way we live in the world.
This book is the work of my immersion in the words of John Paul II. It contains what I believe to be his most personal words—those that seem most deeply felt, most compelling, and most clearly and passionately stated. In the many millions of words he wrote or spoke over the years of his papacy, I looked for the heart of John Paul II—the ideas that he seemed to communicate most urgently, and those that I believe will be his legacy.
The arrangement of this material reflects John Paul’s priorities. The twelve chapters correspond to themes that he returned to again and again in all his writings and talks, including faith, prayer, family, suffering, forgiveness, the Church, the Eucharist, and, most passionately, Christ—Christ as the answer to all life’s mysteries. You will find that John Paul II articulates an astonishingly powerful vision of what it means to be a Christian in our modern world. Through his words and ideas, you will also experience the compassion, the intellect, and the poetry of a great spiritual soul who has much to share with you about your journey to God.
I have framed each chapter with Scripture selections combined with John Paul’s quotations and prayers. By doing so, I have tried to create a reading experience modeled on the great art of lectio divina, or sacred reading. The overall intent is for you to deepen your understanding of John Paul’s mind and heart by allowing these words to penetrate your mind and heart.
My goal as editor of this collection was to provide a thematic presentation of John Paul’s ideas, in his own words, through which the reader could navigate smoothly and easily. To present harmonious prose, I applied a style and occasionally adjusted syntax. Following the form used by John Paul II in his later Vatican-authorized publications, I have not cited the sources of scriptural quotations within the text. It was my intention to present the words of John Paul II without interruption, thus preserving his inspirational tone. For readers who would like to further explore the Bible quotations included in the text, a list of verses and their sources appears at the back of the book.
Many people helped me in this task. Special thanks go to George Lane, SJ, and Terry Locke of Loyola Press, who opened the door to this project and made many valuable comments; to my colleagues Matthew Diener and Jim Manney, who offered gracious and welcome editorial support all along the way; and to Paul Thigpen and Bert Ghezzi of Servant Publications. I am also indebted to my “circle of first readers”: Carol Durepos, Cathy Danchisin, and Phyllis Tickle. I am especially grateful for the love and support of my wife, Betty, who always believes first.
Though the papacy of John Paul II has ended, his legacy lies tangibly before us in his writings. We can touch his books, hold his pages in our hands, take his words into our hearts. We should do this. He wanted us to. In so doing, we may discover that the secret to John Paul II’s immense popularity was that he really believed in a faith that could change the world for the better. His words will bear eloquent witness to this hope for many years to come.
The breath of divine life . . . , in its simplest and most common manner, expresses itself and makes itself felt in prayer.
—John Paul II
Lord, teach us to pray.
When, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, the apostles addressed Jesus with the words “Lord, teach us to pray,” they were not asking an ordinary question; they were expressing one of the deepest needs of the human heart.
To tell the truth, today’s world does not make much room for this need. The hectic pace of daily activity, combined with the noisy and often frivolous invasiveness of our means of communication,is certainly not conducive to the interior recollection required for prayer. Then, too, there is a deeper difficulty: modern people have an increasingly less religious view of the world and life. The secularization process seems to have persuaded them that the course of events can be sufficiently explained by the interplay of this world’s immanent forces, independent of higher intervention.
What we need to foster, in ourselves and in others, is a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a wonder. It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty, and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality, but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person their own living image.
Our difficult age has a special need for prayer. In the course of history—both in the past and in the present—many men and women have borne witness to the importance of prayer by consecrating themselves to the praise of God and to the life of prayer, especially in monasteries and convents. In recent years, we have seen a growth in the number of people who, in ever more widespread movements and groups, are giving first place to prayer and seeking in prayer a renewal of their spiritual life. This is a significant and comforting sign, for from this experience there is coming a real contribution to the revival of prayer among the faithful, who have been helped to gain a clearer idea of the Holy Spirit as He who inspires in hearts a profound yearning for holiness.
In many individuals and many communities, there is a growing awareness that—even with all the rapid progress of technological and scientific civilization, and despite the real conquests and goals attained—humanity is threatened. In the face of this danger—and while, indeed, they are already experiencing the frightful reality of humanity’s spiritual decadence—individuals and communities, guided by an inner sense of faith, are seeking the strength to raise humanity up again, to save us from ourselves, from our own errors and mistakes that often make harmful our very conquests. In this way, the times in which we are living are bringing the Holy Spirit closer to the many who are returning to prayer.
In some Christian circles, however, there is a widespread “functional” view of prayer that threatens to compromise its transcendent nature. Some claim that one can truly find God by being open to one’s neighbor. Therefore, prayer would not mean being removed from the world’s distractions in order to be recollected in conversation with God. It would rather be expressed in an unconditional commitment to charity for others. Authentic prayer, therefore, would be our works of charity alone.
In reality, however, because we are creatures—in and of ourselves incomplete and needy—we find ourselves spontaneously turning to Him who is the source of every gift, in order to praise Him, make intercession, and in Him seek to fulfill the tormenting desire which enflames our hearts. St. Augustine understood this quite well when he noted: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
For this very reason, the experience of prayer as a basic act of the believer is common to all religions, including those in which there is only a rather vague belief in a personal God.
In the spiritual realm, no one lives for oneself alone. And salutary concern for the salvation of one’s own soul is freed from fear and selfishness only when it becomes concern for the salvation of others as well. This is the reality of the communion of saints, of the mystery of “vicarious life,” and of prayer as the means of union with Christ and His saints.
This outlook does not give into discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast, or at death’s door. Instead, in all these situations, it feels challenged to find meaning; and precisely in the face of every person, it finds a call to encounter, dialogue, and solidarity.
It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and to rediscover, with deep spiritual awe, the ability to revere and honor every person. Inspired by this contemplative outlook, we cannot but respond with songs of joy, praise, and thanksgiving for the priceless gift of life and for the mystery of every individual’s call to share, through Christ, in the life of grace and in an existence of unending communion with God our Creator and Father.
Jesus urges us to “pray always without becoming weary.” Christians know that for them prayer is as essential as breathing; and once they have tasted the sweetness of intimate conversation with God, they do not hesitate to immerse themselves in it with trusting abandonment.
The Holy Spirit—the breath of the divine life—in its simplest and most common manner expresses itself and makes itself felt in prayer. Wherever people are praying in the world, there the Holy Spirit is, the living breath of prayer.
The Holy Spirit is the gift that comes into our hearts together with prayer. In prayer He manifests Himself first of all and above all as the gift that “helps us in our weakness.” This is the magnificent thought developed by St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans when he writes: “For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
Therefore, the Holy Spirit not only enables us to pray, but guides us from within in prayer: he is present in our prayer and gives it a divine dimension. Thus, “God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Prayer, through the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes the ever more mature expression of the new human, who by means of this prayer participates in the divine life.
Prayer is also the revelation of the abyss that is the heart of man: a depth that comes from God and that only God can fill, precisely with the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the voice of all those who have no voice. Prayer makes us aware that everything—even evil—finds its principal and definitive reference point in God.
Prayer is not simply one occupation among many, but is at the center of our life in Christ. It turns our attention away from ourselves and directs it to the Lord. Prayer fills the mind with truth and gives hope to the heart. Without a deep experience of prayer, growth in the moral life will be shallow.
Our Father who art in heaven . . .
According to these words—Christ’s answer to the apostle’s request “teach us to pray”—everything is reduced to this single concept: to learn to pray means “to learn the Father.” If we learn the Father in the full sense of the word, in its full dimension, we have learned everything.
To learn who the Father is means learning what absolute trust is. To learn the Father means acquiring the certainty that He does not refuse you even when everything—materially and psychologically—seems to indicate refusal. He never refuses you.
Prayer not only opens us up to a meeting with the Most High, but also disposes us to meeting with our neighbors, helping us to establish with everyone—without discrimination—relationships of respect, understanding, esteem, and love. Prayer is the bond that most effectively unites us all. It is through prayer that believers meet one another at a level where inequalities, misunderstandings, bitterness, and hostility are overcome; namely, before God. Prayer is the authentic expression of a right relationship with God and with others.
We need to reaffirm our need for intense, humble, confident, and persevering prayer, if the world is finally to become a dwelling place of peace.
Our relationship with God also demands times of explicit prayer in which the relationship becomes an intense dialogue involving every dimension of the person. “The Lord’s Day” is the day of this relationship, when men and women raise their song to God and become the voice of all creation. This is precisely why it is also the day of rest. Speaking as it does of renewal and detachment, the interruption of the often-oppressive rhythm of work expresses the dependence of humanity and the cosmos upon God. The Lord’s Day returns again and again to declare this principle within the weekly reckoning of time. The “Sabbath” has therefore been interpreted evocatively as a determining element in a kind of “sacred architecture” of time that marks biblical revelation. It recalls that the universe and history belong to God; and without a constant awareness of that truth, we cannot serve in the world as coworkers of the Creator.
All of us, through the different forms of spirituality by which we are inspired and that constitute the rich spiritual heritage of the Church and humanity, are trying to live truly Christian lives—as Christians “in the world” without being “of the world.” For the lay faithful, this apostolic life calls for effective openness to our various environments in order to cause the evangelical “leaven” to penetrate them. It involves assuming multiple activities and responsibilities in all areas of human life: the family, professions, society, culture, and politics. It is by assuming these responsibilities competently and in deep union with God that you will fulfill your vocation as laity and Christians: you will sanctify yourselves and sanctify the world.
To remain united with God in the accomplishment of these tasks incumbent upon you is a vital necessity to bear witness to His love. Only a sacramental life and a life of prayer will enable this intimacy with the Lord to grow.
So, to take time to pray and to nourish prayer and activities through biblical, theological, and doctrinal study; and to live by Christ and His grace by receiving assiduously the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist: such are the fundamental requirements of every deeply Christian life. Thus, the Holy Spirit will be the source both of our action and of our contemplation, which will then interpenetrate each other, support each other, and yield abundant fruit.
This deep unity between prayer and action is at the basis of all spiritual renewal. It is at the basis of the great enterprises of evangelization and construction of the world according to God’s plan.
We hear within us, as a resounding echo, the words that Jesus spoke: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” We feel not only the need, but even a categorical imperative, for great, intense, and growing prayer by all the faithful. Only prayer can prevent all our great succeeding tasks and difficulties from becoming a source of crisis, and make them instead the occasion and, as it were, the foundation for ever more mature achievements on the People of God’s march towards the Promised Land in this stage of history at the beginning of the third millennium.
Accordingly, and with a warm and humble call, I wish the Church and all its people to devote themselves in prayer—together with Mary the Mother of Jesus—as the apostles and disciples of the Lord did in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension. Above all, I implore Mary, the heavenly Mother of the Church, to be so good as to devote herself to a prayer for humanity’s new advent, together with us who make up the Church, that is to say the Mystical Body of her only Son. I hope that through this prayer we shall all be able to receive the Holy Spirit coming upon us, and thus become Christ’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth,” like those who went forth from Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Listen to Us, O Lord!
In the spirit of Christ, our Lord, let us pray for the Catholic Church,
for the other Churches, for the whole of mankind.
Listen to us, O Lord!
Let us pray for all those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice
and for those who are striving for freedom and peace.
Listen to us, O Lord!
Let us pray for those who exercise a ministry in the Church,
for those who have special responsibilities in social life,
and for all those who are in the service of the little and the weak.
Listen to us, O Lord!
Let us ask God for the courage to persevere
in our commitment for the realization of the unity of all Christians.
Listen to us, O Lord!
Lord God, we trust in You.
Grant that we may act in a way that is pleasing to You.
Grant that we may be faithful servants of Your glory.
—John Paul II
Table of Contents
Introduction to the New Edition xi
Editor’s Foreword to the New Edition xv
1. On Prayer 3
2. On Forgiveness and Reconciliation 19
3. On Jesus 35
4. On Faith and Belief 53
5. On Living in the World 69
6. On Morality and the Christian
7. On the Church 105
8. On the Eucharist and the Mass 125
9. On the Family 143
10. On Suffering 167
11. On Christian Vocation and Working
in the World 185
12. On God the Father 205
A Final Blessing 221
John Paul II: A Biographical Sketch 225
Scripture and Other Quotations 231