May 13th, 1981: JPII’s Good Friday | Our Pentecost

By: John Sohl

May 13, 2021



On May 13, 1981—Pope John Paul II was shot at point blank range by what was likely a hired assassin. That was 40 Years ago today. Forty years of time is a profound period of trial, longing, and endurance. It is a profound encounter with the thirst of human existence, with a longing for more. More beauty, more truth, more goodness—more strong catechesis, evangelization, and apologetics!

Indeed, we are made for more! In 1981 sadly, the Church didn’t have an adequate or easily accessible Catechism of the Catholic Church. It didn’t have the profound impact of World Youth Days. There wasn’t a Fr. Mike Schmitz or Bishop Barron on YouTube so accessible we take it for granted. People back then were lucky to catch a glimpse of holiness on their television sets, let alone their bedrooms!

In fact, the morning after the tragic shooting of our beloved Holy Father, a young woman all the way in America was having a hard time watching the news reels herself. Certainly, this difficulty was out of compassion and worry for the Holy Father’s well-being, but more practically speaking, she was struggling to see the television set at all, for her boyfriend had beaten her so severely the night before that her eyes had swollen shut. So, she did the one and only thing in that moment that could give her any comfort.

She offered up for suffering for the Holy Father’s miraculous recovery.

That is what changed the world forever, at least—it changed her world in ways she could never fully imagine. For in the weeks and months that took place after this tragic encounter with death, both the Holy Father and this woman had to share in a recovery of sorts, a rebaptism that would shake the foundations of Heaven and Earth. This woman would go on to become my own mother, and after getting away from that terrible relationship, she would find the man, my father, who would love her the way she deserved. Together, they brought me into this world and gave me the gift of life.

Back in 1981, there was no easy access to Theology of the Body, and so the world of domestic abuse overshadowed the domestic church—and sadly, for many people unaware of the antidote to our times, such suffering continues. Families are suffering, wounded, broken seemingly beyond repair.

The story and fate of this saving work of Theology of the Body though was caught up mysteriously in the very survival of the Holy Father, for on the day of this Assassination Attempt, John Paul II was supposed to establish the Pontifical Institute for Marriage and the Family that would serve as the main teaching arm to disseminate these weekly Wednesday audiences. Christopher West among many others is a graduate of this very Institute. That same day, May 13th, JPII was to deliver the beginning reflection on Chapter 3 of Part I in TOB titled “Christ Appeals to the Resurrection.”

Indeed, the day of his Assassination Attempt—May 13, 1981—was a Wednesday.

On May 6th the week before, he had finished his long reflections on our Origin and History, affirming the innocence of Eden and decrying the abuse of pornography in media. He invited us to rescue the artist’s perspective and approach the beauty and glory of the human body with purity, and yet just seven days later—it seemed the powers of darkness would consume him to thwart these very efforts.

So just as Christ entered into the depths of Hell itself to untwist and redeem our darkest moments of despair, addiction, or death, so too did the Holy Father share in the Good Friday of today’s Eclipsing Church.

Forty years later, the Church’s influence in society seems all but non-existent. Many people may not see that or believe that, but the dark days are coming. The “Springtime” of Evangelization to which JPII referred may not be the flowering or blooming of new Church membership and increasing RCIA attendance. Rather, the springtime of the Church, the birth of the Church which began on Pentecost ultimately led these infant and jubilant apostles 2,000 years ago to the bloodbath of courageous martyrdom, the Red Crown of Total Sacrifice.

Remember though, we are an Easter People, and St. Joseph’s great love for us is guiding us in these sacred weeks and months ahead! Just as Christ was raised from death—likely bringing forth his own earthly father St. Joseph from death as well (see Mt 27:52-53)—so too did Pope John Paul II make his own comeback, stronger and more determined than ever to guide the Church into the Second Millennium.

After all, the date of this shooting, May 13th was also the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, for in the words of JPII, “One hand fired the gun, another guided the bullet”. Our Lady of Fatima promised that “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph”. These are the days of triumph, for the very Cross of Christ is a symbol not of defeat but of victory! On November 11, 1981—JPII would resume his Wednesday audiences in the Theology of the Body starting with the ironic and humorous line, “After a rather long delay…”

Now all these years later, just like my own mom encountered in her own way, we too can be a follower of JPII. We too can follow him to Christ who guides us to His Heavenly Father. In JPII’s Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, he introduced this reality quite simply.

“Inspired by the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church from the earliest centuries stressed that just as St. Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, that is, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model. (1)”

As JPII loved us so dearly, God the Father loves us and cares for us infinitely more. Just as St. Joseph cares for us and strengthens our ability to see Jesus’ love for us more clearly—so too can we do the same for our families. Only through this love can we ever hope to follow Jesus to the Promised Land of Resurrection.

Forty years ought to do it, right?

Sharing the Father’s Love – 16th Anniversary of JPII’s Death

Sharing the Father’s Love

By: John Sohl


During the Year of St. Joseph, the FRP team like so many others is slowly working its way through the Consecration Prayers to Jesus through St. Joseph written by Jen Settle of the TOB Institute and Dr. Greg Bottaro of the CatholicPsych Institute. Fr. Donald Calloway’s book is of course another powerful option for Consecration to St. Joseph, and so my wife and I are reading through some of that as well during these days leading up to our Consecration. What this essentially means for the Church is that God the Father is preparing our hearts for a profound transformation in the world. The last 100 years have witnessed some intense changes in both good and bad ways. Modern conveniences like the microwave, central air and heating, indoor plumbing have all become staples of the developed world. Yet also in the name of convenience, other less neutral changes have taken place in society that deserves our attention and our outcry. Yet, it’s important to understand the how when going about seeking justice for the poor, marginalized, and dehumanized. The phrase “toxic masculinity” has been used in countless ways to degrade men and to make it seem that healthy leadership, real protection, and stable, reliable commitment isn’t possible for men today. Authority itself has been attacked quite brutally. In truth, the Father’s Love is real and is reliable! Our Dad loves us, even if we have never experienced that love from our earthly dad. St. Joseph is meant to guide us in being reparented in the most tangible, spiritual, emotional, and masculine way possible. St. Joseph is the man’s man! He guided and instructed and helped raise the most masculine man to ever live. Whenever Jesus would speak about the love of God the Father for each of us, who do you think came to mind as the visible presence who showed him such invisible love? His earthly father Joseph! Jesus felt invincible because of his earthly father’s strength. He was invincible because of His Heavenly Father’s powerful love. This same love was exuded in profound ways in the Holy Father John Paul II. During his pontificate, he traveled more than practically any human being in the history of humanity. He wrote enough books that an entire publishing house could dedicate its existence to his works. His opening words to us in St. Peter’s Square in 1978 were “Be not afraid!” and THAT phrase followed him all the way across the threshold of hope through his death 16 years ago. In fact, the anniversary of his death this year was on Good Friday, the very day in which the Father’s Love was most perfectly shared with the world in Jesus Christ. JPII’s entire life, his entire existence, his entire travel itinerary throughout civilization was to share the love and relationship with a man who never walked beyond the boundaries of what would be essentially Jefferson, Bullitt, or Oldham County. The saints JPII canonized, the feasts he established, the international festivals he inaugurated, the institutes he founded were all meant to bring us closer to St. Joseph’s foster-son and God, our loving Father’s only begotten Son Jesus! As we continue our petitions during this Way of Trust 54-Rosary Novena leading up to Pentecost, let us ask Mother Mary and her husband St. Joseph to pray for us intensely during this time. Come, Holy Spirit, let us speak your truth, your goodness, and your beauty to everyone we meet! Let us share your identity with the world. After all, the Holy Spirit IS the mutual Love that has always existed between the Father and the Son—and that love is the only love that truly satisfies our hungry hearts for passion, romance, encounter, nostalgia, and meaning. From wonder to wisdom, from life to love, from sorrow to joy, we will one day see the true Bridegroom in all his glory ready to meet us face to face in Heaven! In the words of our beloved Pope, let us “be not afraid” to go out into this world to meet Him in the faces of our families and friends. Let this Easter Joy, this Father’s Love, that is relived and re-experienced every year spill over into the hearts and minds of the whole world. May God bless each of you and your families during this Easter Season

The Power of Humility

The Power of Humility

By: John Sohl


Fatherhood and manhood are here to stay. They may be misunderstood or regarded as irrelevant in today’s age of social media and family confusion, but our link to the past cannot be deleted even if its forgotten or unknown. I know I’m very blessed to have a modern day superhero in my earthly dad, whose birthday (Mar 5) just happens to be in the same month of St. Joseph’s Feast Day. Happy birthday Dad!

However, whether we had a good dad growing up or not, we all have an original and perfect father who can, will, and does take care of us on a daily basis—and St. Joseph is meant to guide us to Him.

In December 2020, our Holy Father Pope Francis established this year as the Year of St. Joseph.

He said, “Often in life, things happen whose meaning we do not understand. Our first reaction is frequently one of disappointment and rebellion. Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history. Unless we are reconciled with our own history, we will be unable to take a single step forward, for we will always remain hostage to our expectations and the disappointments that follow…Joseph is certainly not passively resigned, but courageously and firmly proactive. In our own lives, acceptance and welcome can be an expression of the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments.” (Francis, Patris Corde, 4)

Hope of course is not being overly optimistic. It is simply having certainty that things will make sense eventually, no matter what happens. Family Renewal Project’s greatest hope is to bring a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude to our original dreams for lasting happiness. These dreams aren’t like nightmares or shadows of anxiety caused by toys or coats that only Mom or Dad can explain to us as frightened children. Rather, these original dreams for happiness stem directly from the affirmation, attentiveness, and approval of our mother and father themselves. After all, Mother Mary’s humanity can only be properly understood in her relation to her husband, St. Joseph—especially in how he received and responded to the Holy Spirit’s communication to him in his dreams.

As we near his Feast Day on March 19, there are many opportunities to renew or begin your relationship with this incredible and humble man of God, who doesn’t have a single spoken word written down in Scripture. Humility is linked quite closely with hope, for it makes sense to look outward from yourself into the hearts of other people! St. Joseph did this every day as he protected and cherished his wife Mary and the child Jesus who God the Father entrusted to him. His humility though was not in seeing less in himself, but in seeing more in other people and recognizing the truth of his gifts and limitations without fear of being proud of his accomplishments. After all, healthy pride in God IS humility, and channeling THAT spirit of love gave him true power. No wonder he’s been declared “Patron of the Universal Church”.

FRP is preparing for a Consecration to St. Joseph, and you’re invited to join us in your own way!

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Happy 41st Birthday TOB!

Forty-one years ago today, Pope John Paul II stepped onto his balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square and delivered his first Wednesday audience on the “Theology of the Body”. One year ago today –on the 40th Anniversary– I began recording myself as I read aloud the text of each Wednesday audience delivered by Saint Pope John Paul II in Vatican City. This is a dense text to traverse…as my friend DJ Heunemen at Ruah Woods said, “Reading the TOB Audiences is a bit like wading through concrete.”

Indeed! The text of TOB is certainly not something one might pick up and begin reading for pleasure. Should you be intrigued and decide to wade into the deep of this ocean of human anthropology, know that it took St. JPII five years to present this profound teaching to the world!  It was said that the Holy Father went to bed each night around 1am and awoke at 5am every day of his pontificate. Talk about discipline!

During his papacy JPII wrote an average of 3,000 pages per year. Yet, this masterpiece which he chose to begin his extraordinary legacy as our Holy Father was something he had planned to publish as a book while still a Cardinal Archbishop in Krakow, Poland.

He began writing the TOB text on December 8, 1974 –the Feast of the Immaculate Conception– with the words “Totus Tuus” [Totally Yours] dedicating the work to Our Lady. These were the same words he would enshrine as his papal motto, and his Theology of the Body came right along with it!

During the papal conclave that would elect John Paul I, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla brought with him the manuscript (a work in progress) which he hoped to work on should he have time during the conclave.

After the election of his predecessor, Cardinal Wojtyla returned to Poland and completed that manuscript; then, as my teacher Bill Donaghy once said, “It was almost like [while the final ink was still drying on the page] the Holy Spirit tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Come with me…'”

Just weeks later, in October of 1978, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II and within the first year of his papacy he began using that completed manuscript–not as a book, but as a teaching tool to evangelize the unbelieving world he had inherited.

Now, by God’s grace and the direction of the Holy Spirit, Family Renewal Project is honoring JPII’s commitment to Marriage and the Family. I’ve come to realize four main principals of FRP:  Family, Formation, Friendship, and Faith.

First, we want to become a trusted resource throughout the area for building strong Families.

Second, we hope to establish FRP as the area leader for Formation & Education in JPII’s Theology of the Body.

Third, to emphasize our friendship and collaborative spirit with our Families and Educators, we hope to establish Good Shepherd Institute of the Bluegrass as the trusted Catholic psychological services provider in the area.

Finally, and most importantly, none of this would be possible without the gift of Faith in Jesus Christ and His Church – ours and yours! Without the prayerful support, participation, and generosity of so many FRP would not exist. And my simple attempt at mimicking JPII’s TOB Wednesday audiences would’ve never gotten off the ground. Praise You Jesus Christ, now and Forever! We Trust in You!

John’s recordings of the TOB audiences can be found on the FRP YouTube Channel.