Since depositing my dissertation last month and accepting a job offer, I've had quite a bit of time to think in the last few weeks. I've also had time to read some of the books I've kept putting off, waiting for the day when I would have time to read them. One of these books, a very quick and beautiful read, is Gift and Mystery by Saint John Paul the Great. In this book, he discusses the events that influenced the maturation of his vocation for the priesthood. The stone quarry and the water purification facility are mentioned as two seminaries. He even goes so far as to clarify that these were not pre-seminaries, but true seminaries where his decision to enter the priesthood matured and where he learned the value of work and the dignity of physical laborers who were used to heavy work. He grew to understand their living situations and worth, remembering their needs and value later as a priest, Bishop, and even as Pope.
He talked about the "deep but quiet religiosity" of these workers and "their great wisdom of life." I could not help but recall the faith of my own parents, two blue collar workers that somehow instilled the faith in children in their own humble, quiet way. Their faith was present in every pain they felt as a result of long hours in construction or in the assembly line. Their faith was present as they shared their faith with coworkers who, in turn, shared their own faiths. My mom brought God's love to coworkers who struggled as she did, but faced struggles that she herself was fortunate enough to not experience. Then there's my dad who, as a construction worker, spent long days on his own meditating on matters of the faith as he waited for concrete to harden. This same man, a construction worker, was more than happy to discuss matters of the faith over lunch with friends, family, and any Jehovah's witness who had the good fortune to knock on our door as our family sat down for lunch. My parents were not priests, but their deep but quiet religiosity did enable them to evangelize (sans theology degree) and effectively bring God's love to others.
From what I've read in St. JPII's memoir, people like my parents appear to have influenced this Catholic great. Hard-working (and most likely poor) people showed him a culture of kindness, friendship, and faith that shaped him and ultimately allowed his vocation for priesthood to mature. The ability of Saint John Paul the Great to learn the unique needs of these hardworking people of faith certainly influenced his life as a priest and, in turn, influenced his role as the successor of Peter. I can't even begin to imagine how many programs, words, conversions, and missions were ultimately influenced by the years St. JPII spent as a laborer and the relationships he had with fellow laborers.
(latest Saint to be drawn now that I am back in art mode)