• Sarah Raad


“Love is something more stern and splendid than kindness.” (C.S. Lewis).

Pope Saint John Paul II

My father – God bless him – is the only person in his generation of my mother and father’s families who attended university. He is an engineer.

My mother – God bless her – left school in year 10 to become a kindergarten teacher and stopped working when she married, because people of her generation thought that girls did not need an education or to work.

There are eight children in my family and all eight of us are university graduates.

Once, when I was a little younger, my father asked me why it was that I thought we all made it to university and completed our studies. At the time I remember thinking that my answer would probably surprise him, but I committed to answer truthfully – in my opinion – anyway… And so, I said that I believed that we all graduated from university NOT because our father was a university graduate, but because our mother was NOT!

I know it sounds paradoxical and contrary-wise, but it is true.

My mother (not my father) was the person who ensured we finished our school work and it was Mum (and not Dad) who argued with us when we wanted to change degrees halfway through, and my mother (and not my father) ruled with a love that was firm and not always kind. Perhaps – though she never read much of his work – Mum understood something of the wisdom of the words of the Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, who said, “Love is something more stern and splendid than kindness.” (C.S. Lewis).

You see, my maternal grandmother did not attend school and is illiterate. When the time came for me to decide whether or not to continue my tertiary studies, I spoke to her about it. I expected that she would tell me that girls did not need an education and that I should start working straight away. Instead, she told me that since I was NOT a donkey and I still lived at home with no responsibilities, I would be very silly indeed not to continue with my studies…

I remember being shocked at that advice. After all, this was the same woman who had told my mother and all my aunts – her daughters – that it was a waste for them to continue attending school after year 10 and that she should instead go out and earn a living while she waited to meet a nice husband. And yet, I could see the knowledge of years and the burden of regret on my grandmother, who often – in her old age – berated herself for the younger inexperience and the decisions she had made as a younger mother.

I have been reflecting on this experience of regret, because there is a great deal of strength required to look back and admit mistakes… And as I have been thinking about this strength, I have also been thinking about another type of strength – the strength of being alone...

By the time Saint John Paul II became Pope, he had lost his older sister (before his birth), his mother (when he was 9), his brother (when he was 12), and his father (when he was 20). That means that by the time that Saint turned 20 years old, he had no family left and was alone in the world.

And then, when the Nazis and later the Communist Soviet Union occupied Poland, he lost friends as well. And during this time, he studied in secret in the seminary to follow his call to become a priest. Later, when he was 60 years-old he was shot in an assassination attempt and almost died.

But there was such strength in Pope Saint John Paul II. Being totally alone he accepted the role of Holy Father and he did it unflinchingly… And now, as I reflect on this, it occurs to me that perhaps Pope Saint John Paul II had such strength because he understood the words of Venerable Matt Talbot, who said, “Three things I cannot escape: the eye of God, the voice of conscience, the stroke of death. In company, guard your tongue. In your family, guard your temper. When alone, guard your thoughts.”

And in this way, by guarding his tongue, his temper and his thoughts, Pope Saint John Paul II set an example of love, as “something more stern and splendid than kindness.” (C.S. Lewis).

And that is just such an example that I wish to follow…

For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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