Friday, April 01, 2005

Pope John Paul the Great

In prayers. Seemed time to pull this out and recall all that he has done. "Totus tuus."

In one of the best
articles on JPII that I have read, George Weigel opens with dramatic intensity:

"At the height of Hollywood's infatuation with things Catholic, no screenwriter would have dared propose such a storyline: Months after his country regains its independence, a son is born to Polish parents in the small provincial own of Wadowice. His mother dies before he makes his First Communion. Raised by his father, a gentleman of the old school and a retired military officer of deep piety, the youngster is easily the best student in the town schools, an enthusiastic athlete, an amateur actor of note in a town that prides itself on its theatrical tradition. One of his close friends is the son of the leader of the local Jewish community.

"After moving to Krakow with his pensioner-father he enters the ancient Jagiellonian University, but his brilliant academic performance and his rapidly developing career as an actor in avant-garde theater are abruptly terminated by the Second World War.

"Amidst the brutalities of a Nazi occupation intended to eradicate Poland from history's map, he works as a quarryman, blaster, and manual laborer, often walking four kilometers to work in the freezing Polish winter, clad in jeans and wooden clogs, his face smeared with Vaseline to prevent his skin from freezing. At risk of his life he helps organize a resistance movement aimed at saving Polish culture through the power of the 'living word,' proclaimed in an underground theater; at the same time, he takes his first steps in Carmelite spirituality under the tutelage of a quirky lay mystic who forms young men into 'Living Rosary' groups after the priests of the local parish have been sent to Dachau.

"His father dies and the young man's vocational struggle intensifies: is his life to play itself out on the stage or in the sanctuary? When his decision to seek the priesthood matures, he enters a clandestine seminary run by the heroic archbishop of Krakow, who serves Hans Frank a meal of stale bread and acorn coffee when the haughty Nazi governor insists on being invited to dine at the episcopal manse. The surreptitious seminarian (one of whose classmates suddenly disappears, only to end up in front of a firing squad) studies philosophy and theology in the dim light of the chemical factory where he works the midnight shift; his books are pock-marked by the lime that splashes out of the water-purification machinery he tends.

"In the wake of the Warsaw Uprising, the Nazis try to forestall a similar eruption of resistance by arresting every young man in Krakow; our protagonist dodges Gestapo patrols, makes his way across town, and enters the bishop's residence where the clandestine seminary is reformed. He lives in a makeshift dormitory that was once the archbishop's drawing room; after Poland's 'liberation' by the Red Army in 1945, he engages a Soviet soldier in a long, earnest conversation about the possibility of God.

"After priestly ordination, graduate studies in Rome, and a sympathetic look at the worker-priest movement in France, he returns to Krakow and, after a year in a country parish, begins an intense ministry to university students at St. Florian's Church. While Stalinist orthodoxy is being ruthlessly enforced in Polish intellectual life, liturgical innovation, a pastoral strategy of 'accompaniment,' and thousands of hours in the confessional distinguish his approach to the university chaplaincy. Completing a second doctoral degree, he joins the faculty of the only Catholic university in the communist world; there, he and his philosophy department colleagues conduct a bold experiment aimed at nothing less than the reconfiguration of post-Cartesian intellectual life. While commuting back and forth by overnight train to his teaching position he continues his pastoral ministry in Krakow and works to develop a modern Catholic sexual ethic in conversation with his former parishioners, now preparing for marriage or starting their families.

"One of the last episcopal nominations of Pius XII, he is consecrated bishop at thirty-eight and within four years is elected administrator of the archdiocese when the incumbent ordinary dies and the Church and the government deadlock on a new appointment. One of the intellectual leaders of the Second Vatican Council, he makes crucial contributions to its Declaration on Religious Freedom and, above all, to its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Proving that Providence has a wicked sense of humor, he is nominated archbishop of Krakow with the enthusiastic support of the communist government and is created cardinal at forty-seven.

"As archbishop he conducts the most extensive implementation of Vatican II of any diocese in the world, all the while refusing to behave as cardinals are supposed to behave: he skis, he kayaks, he vacations with lay people. A working intellectual, he continues to teach at the Catholic University of Lublin and spends two hours every day in his chapel, writing at a desk before the Blessed Sacrament. To the intense chagrin of the communist authorities, he pursues a relentless, sophisticated, and increasingly vocal defense of religious freedom: demanding church-building permits, defending youth movements, clandestinely ordaining underground priests for work in Czechoslovakia.

"Invited to preach the papal Lenten retreat in 1976, he prepares a series of meditations in which Holy Scripture, St. Augustine, and the German philosopher Heidegger are the first three references. Two years later he is elected the 264th bishop of Rome, the first non-Italian in 455 years, and the first Slavic pope ever. KGB leader Yuri Andropov warns the Politburo of grave troubles ahead, and is vindicated when the Polish pope returns to his homeland in June 1979 and sets in motion the revolution of conscience that eventually produces the nonviolent revolution of 1989, the collapse of European communism-and the end of the Soviet Union Andropov served.

"The Slav pope revamps the practice of the papacy through pastoral pilgrimages to every corner of the world and through a magisterium that addresses virtually every large question involved in the ongoing implementation of Vatican II, to whose completion he has pledged his pontificate. Surviving an assassination attempt, he redefines the Catholic encounter with Judaism, invites Orthodox and Protestant Christians to help conceive a papacy that could serve them, preaches to sixty thousand raptly attentive Muslim teenagers in a Casablanca stadium, and describes marital intimacy as an icon of the inner life of the Trinity.

"After a bout with cancer and sundry other medical difficulties, the world press pronounces him a dying has-been; within the next six months, he publishes an international bestseller translated into fifty-five languages and gathers the largest crowd in human history in Manila, shortly after changing the course of the Cairo World Conference on Population and Development. When he addresses the United Nations in October 1995, the world, whether it likes what it hears or not, knows that it is listening to its moral leader. Two days later, the irrepressible pontiff does a credible imitation of Jack Benny during Mass in Central Park and the preternaturally cynical New York media loves it....

"Man of the Century?"

"As I say, the story, as fiction, is simply too much. But it is not fiction. All of this really happened. But what does it mean? What truth about the human condition, the Church, the modern world, is disclosed by this extraordinary personal epic?

"It is difficult to imagine a twentieth-century life more fraught with dramatic tension than that of Karol Jozef Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. Jonathan Kwitny, in a new biography, dubs the pope 'the man of the century' — and Kwitny is right about this, if wrong about many, many other things. But to grasp the kernel of Wojtyla's life and papal project (the two are intimately related), it has to be understood that John Paul II as 'man of the century' is not a matter of Catholic special pleading. John Paul II is not the man of the Catholic twentieth century; he is the man of the century, period."

For the rest of this captivating article, check it out here.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is really cool that you had the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand.