There Can Be Only One
People collect all kinds of things. Me, I guess you could say I collect Saints. I am a total Saint nerd. I became a Saint nerd when I was in RCIA and had to select a patron Saint. It took me months. Girl or boy? New or old? By the time Easter Vigil 2004 rolled around, I had finally settled on St. Brigid of Ireland. My husband, on the other hand, had it easy. He decided he wasn’t going to select a patron Saint, but just use his given name. His reasoning was simple: “If it’s good enough for the Pope,” he said, “it’s good enough for me.” His name is John Paul, too.
My admiration of John Paul II (the Pope, not my husband) goes back a long time. As a Protestant, I appreciated what John Paul II was doing to reach the world for Christ. Even after my parents were received into the Church, and I was wasting my breath telling them repeatedly I would never become a Catholic, even then, I still had great admiration for Pope John Paul II. And then God told me to Go Be Catholic. Literally. But I had no idea why.
One day in mid-August 2003 I saw something on television that profoundly changed me. By that time, Pope John Paul II was pretty frail and the secular media was on what I call “Pope Watch.” One day they showed some ceremony at St. Peter’s in Rome. Pope John Paul II was kneeling in front of a big gold thing, with a big white circle in the middle. (It was a monstrance and he was praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but I didn’t know that then. It was just a big gold thing with a big white thing.) I was mesmerized. I remember standing there, just staring at the television. My husband came home just then and together we stood there, watching this old man in white robes kneeling in front of the big gold thing. I remember telling John, “I want that. I don’t know what it is, or how he got it, but if I have to be Catholic to get it, then so be it.” I have known a lot of good Godly Protestant pastors. But I had never seen in them what I saw in Pope John Paul II that day. As of that moment, I became a card-carrying John Paul II geek. I was counting on him to show me how to be a Catholic. And then he died. And I cried. How was he going to teach me how to be a Catholic now? Little did I know how the Communion of Saints works.
When I was in RCIA, I had heard about Third, or Secular, Orders. I loved the idea, but couldn’t pursue it at that time. Not long after we moved to Mesa, I decided to look into becoming a Secular Franciscan. One Sunday, fairly early in my formation, the St. Claire Community was meeting with the community that meets at the St. Mary’s Basilica. We were going to begin with Mass. I got the Mass times mixed up and actually arrived about thirty minutes late instead of thirty minutes early. I rushed in and took the first seat I could find. When we knelt following Holy, holy, holy… I pulled down the kneeler and directly in front of me was a small plaque that read, “This is where Pope John Paul II knelt when he visited Phoenix.” I didn’t even know he had visited Phoenix. I had such a sense that he was guiding me in my desire to part of a Third Order. I just didn’t realize it wasn’t going to be the Franciscans. As time went on, through a series of events, including my mom being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, I came to realize I was experiencing what my good friend would call being in the right church, but the wrong pew. A Third Order was correct, but not the Franciscans.
In 2012, life had normalized to the point where I could look into a Third Order again. By that time we had settled into St. Timothy’s Catholic Church, which was my parents' home parish. The Lay Dominicans meet there every month. I went to the Inquiry sessions. I was a really bad Dominican. At that point, I still hadn’t figured out that the different spiritualities of the different orders really mattered. I just figured I was there, they were there, so they must be the correct order. Wrong again.
While I was in Inquiry for the Dominicans, just before Lent 2013, that I told my Spiritual Director I had decided to read The Ascent of Mt. Carmel by St. John of the Cross for Lent. Apparently, there is something odd about pursuing one spirituality — Dominican — and feeling led to read something from another — Carmelite — for Lent. She asked me if I had ever considered becoming Carmelite. Way back when I decided to try the Franciscans, I had looked at the Discalced Carmelites. I even went as far as to call both them and the Franciscans. The Franciscans called me back. And that was how I ended up there. And really, it was a good thing the Carmelites never got the message. I wasn’t ready then. And I would have had to stop formation when Mom got sick. With God, timing is everything. I told her all of that. I didn’t add that I was relieved to not have the Carmelites on the table for consideration. Frankly, they scared me. She suggested I might consider visiting the community. Fortunately they met the same time as the Dominicans, so that just wasn’t possible. But God, being God, had other plans.
There was one month when the Dominicans had no meeting. The Carmelites did. I had no good excuses. I told my Spiritual Director I would visit the Carmelites. That month the Carmelite Community meeting was held in the Diocesan Center instead. I walked in, and I was greeted by all of the vestments and everything from John Paul II’s visit to Phoenix. It’s odd, as I was typing this, I just realized that since he was beatified in 2011, all of those things were relics of his. Again, he was messing with me. By the end of the day, I knew I wanted to be a Carmelite. I was home. The triangular peg had finally found a triangular hole.
Formation for the Discalced Carmelites isn’t a short process. I began my Aspirancy year in 2013. A couple of months in, we were given paperwork to fill out for the Provincial Office. Included on that paperwork was a place for us to put our favorite saint. We were to begin to discern what our religious name would be. I had two questions: Did they have to be a saint? The answer was: “No, they could be a blessed.” My other question was: Did they have to be Carmelite? Again, the answer was “No”. I said, “There can be only one.” I quickly filled in the blank: John Paul II. My formator looked at my sheet and asked, “Did you know John Paul II was Carmelite?” I had no idea.
Long before he even entered the seminary, Karol Wojityla was exposed to Carmelite spirituality and began wearing the Brown Scapular. His dissertation was titled Doctrina de fide apud S. Ioannem a Cruce [The Doctrine of Faith According to St. John of the Cross]. His interest in the Carmelites was so great that in 1945 he asked the Prince Archbishop about entering the Discalced Carmelite monastery. He was told he needed to finish what he had started first. For which, I am grateful. The world would have been a lesser place had he not become Pope.
On April 27, 2014, just three weeks before I would be received into the novitiate, John Paul II was canonized. May 17, 2014, I was clothed in the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and entered the novitiate under the religious name, Kristina (Kris) of John Paul II. In just a couple of days I will celebrate my Carmelite Feast Day, the feast of St. John Paul II. I know my journey with him is just beginning. My Polish Papa will be beside me for the rest of my life. And when I enter eternity, after resting my head on Jesus’ shoulder for an eternity or two, I want to sit down with him and Sts. Peter and Paul, and St. John of the Cross and throw a giant party on the shores of St. Brigid’s lake of beer.