Acilia, Rome, April 21, 2014
On the occasion of the canonization of John Paul II, Father and Patron of our Religious Family, it seemed good to me to send you this circular letter in order to highlight an essential aspect of his sanctity in which he should be a model for each one of our religious: the perfect harmony between action and contemplation, in which contemplation takes the first place.
Over the course of his papacy, the Pope was a pilgrim in 129 countries during 104 apostolic visits, travelling 1,247,613 kilometers (775,230 miles) which is the equivalent of three trips from the earth to the moon. The Pope left the city of Rome for 822 days during which he visited 1,022 cities and delivered 3,288 discourses. His teachings are contained in 56 large volumes which occupy almost 4 meters (13 feet) of a library. John Paul II gave 1,164 general audiences in addition to 1,600 meetings with heads of state. He beatified 1,338 servants of God (of which 1,032 were martyrs) in the course of 147 ceremonies of beatification, and canonized 483 saints (of which 402 were martyrs).
However, the depth of the greatness of this Pope is not only revealed to us only or mainly by his incredible apostolic work. John Paul himself said once in regards to the attempts to tell his story, “You try to understand me from outside. But I can only be understood from inside.”
To John Paul II can be applied in a paradigmatic form the definition that he himself made of the priest in one of his general audiences: “the priest should be, like Christ Himself, a man of prayer.” John Paul II was the model of a man of prayer in spite of the colossal work he carried out. According to his own definition, one could rather say that his work was an effect that can be explained “from the inside” of the Pope. In other words, his work was mainly due to his contemplative spirit. He was a great saint and a great Pope.
In the audience mentioned above the Pope emphatically affirms that “Jesus teaches us that a fruitful exercise of the priesthood is not possible without prayer, which protects the priest from the danger of neglecting the interior life giving the primacy to action, and the temptation of being engaged to the point of losing oneself in activity.”
He then continues by saying that the priests “should devote themselves to the contemplation of the Word of God.” We should not be impressed by the word contemplation since “the invitation to listen to and meditate on the word of God with a contemplative spirit, and nourish the intelligence as well as the heart with the word is open to all. This favors the formation of a mentality in the priest, a way of contemplating the world with wisdom, in the perspective of the supreme end: God and His plan of salvation.”
“In that lies supernatural wisdom, above all as a gift of the Holy Spirit, which permits to judge eternal things well in the light of the ultimate reasons. Wisdom is thus converted in the principal assistance in order to think, judge, and value as Christ all things, big things as much as little things, so that the priest – as well and even more so than any other Christian- reflects in himself the light, adhesion to the Father, zeal for the apostolate, rhythm for prayer and action, and even the spiritual breath of Christ.”
“If the priest is assiduous in this meditation, he will more easily remain in a state of conscious joy, which comes from the perception of the intimate personal fulfillment of the word of God that he should teach to others. In effect, as the Council says, the priests ‘seek how they may better teach others what they have learned, they will better understand “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8) and the manifold wisdom of God’ (Presbyterorum ordinis, 13).”
To this effect Father Castellani points out that in the root of the decadence and of the great problems of the modern world, which involves even some sectors of religious life, is found precisely a wrong understanding of the relationship between contemplation and action – or a subordination of the first to the second – which implies a certain contempt for wisdom, understood as knowledge by the last causes.
In his Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Ineunte, speaking of the great importance of respecting the primacy of grace, the Pope posits a pastoral plan that gives prayer its due space. He teaches in an incisive form that the neglect of this leads to great evils: “It is prayer which roots us in this truth. It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and of holiness. When this principle is not respected, is it any wonder that pastoral plans come to nothing and leave us with a disheartening sense of frustration?”
These very essential truths that the Holy Father reminds us, valid for every priest, are even more so for us religious. The Code of Canon Law, making an echo of the teachings of the Council, establishes the absolute primacy of prayer for every religious: “The first and foremost duty of all religious is to be the contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer.” This essential necessity of prayer is indicated throughout our Constitutions, even having an entire article explicitly dedicated to this subject (#136-141).
“The primary reason for which a Christian becomes a religious is not to acquire a position in the Church, a responsibility, or a work, but to sanctify oneself,” said John Paul II said to religious. “This total consecration brings with it, as a consequence, a total availability. The Church has always proven, in the course of history, that it can count on the religious for the most delicate missions. From all the above, it can be deduced that a religious cannot afford not being a man of prayer, a great prayer.”
Thirteen days after his election, the Pope went with some of his colleagues close to Rome, in Mentorella where the shrine of The Mother of Grace is. He asked his companions as they travelled, “What is the most important thing for the Pope in his life, in his work?” They suggested to him, “Perhaps the unity of Christians, peace in the Middle East, the destruction of the Iron Curtain…?” But he responded, “For the Pope, prayer is the most important.”
This is what John Paul II taught us in his papal teaching. Moreover, it is what we learned from his personal example.
May we, through the example of John Paul II, the Great Pope and now a great Saint also!, deliver ourselves to what is first and principal, to that for which we became religious: the contemplation of the Word of God.
In the Incarnate Word and His Blessed Mother,
Fr. Carlos Walker, IVE
Institute of the Incarnate Word
 George Weigel, Witness to Hope, New York, 1999, p. 7.
 John Paul II, General Audience, June 2, 1993.
Cf. Leonardo Castellani, Un país de Jauja, Mendoza, 1999, Pp. 43-44.
Juan Pablo II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 38.
 Canon 663 § 1.
 John Paul II, Pastoral Visit to Brazil, Discourse to the Religious, July 3, 1980.
Konrad Krajewski, Ricordo di Giovanni Paolo II a sei anni dalla morte, Dove sta il centro del mondo, L’Osservatore Romano, April 2, 2011, quoted by Carlos M. Buela, Juan Pablo Magno, p. 605.