A Man for All Seasons - OT from the Wall Street Journal
Not intending to start a discussion on religion, politics, or anything else
controversial here.... as always, I will continue to keep my opinions to
myself. Besides, I can't afford to send you all candy and flowers :)
That said, I felt this was a good article and decided to pass it along here.
FWIW, a friend was in Rome right before he got ill and brought back a lovely
cross necklace for me which as it turns out, was one of the last things he
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
A Man for All Seasons
The very modern papacy of John Paul II.
April 2, 2005
When the white smoke curled up from the Sistine Chapel on that October
evening back in 1978, it signaled that a new Pope had been chosen. His name
was Karol Wojtyla. He came, as he said, from a distant land, and as he
looked upon the faithful who had gathered on St. Peter's Square he offered
words that would sum up his pastoral mission: "Be not afraid."
Pope John Paul II died today. In the post-Berlin Wall world this man did so
much to shape, it's difficult to recall the much different circumstances
that obtained when he assumed the chair of St. Peter. Former Italian prime
minister Aldo Moro had been kidnapped and executed by terrorists. In Iran
bloody protests were brewing that would within months pull down the Shah and
usher in the ayatollahs. In the Soviet Union the dissident Anatoly
Shcharansky (now the Israeli Natan
Sharansky) was dispatched to the gulag, while Afghanistan had already
endured the leftist coup that would, in short order, lead to a full-fledged
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were still in the future, and so was a
workers' strike called by an unknown Pole named Lech Walesa. Everywhere one
looked, the truth of the Brezhnev Doctrine seemed brutally self-evident:
Once Communist, always Communist. Oh, yes: The Catholic Church which this
first Slavic pope found himself bequeathed was thought by many to be
hopelessly irrelevant to the crises of modern times.
The bishop from Krakow knew all this--better than his critics. For this was
a man eminently comfortable with modernity--even while he refused to accept
modernity's most shallow assumptions. Just as he offered his first public
words as pope in Italian to make himself understood by those below his
balcony, he held that ultimate truths about man and his relationship with
his Creator are never outdated, however much they require constant
expression in new languages and new circumstances. As he never ceased to
declare, Communism's core failure was not economic. It was anthropological,
stemming from its false understanding of human nature.
Karol Wojtyla did not learn this from textbooks. He was old enough to recall
how the twin totalitarianisms of our age--fascism and communism--were each
once lauded by intellectuals as the inevitable destination and promise of
the future. In Poland he tasted them both, yet he remained unintimidated.
This experience would shape his entire papacy, a testament to his conviction
that moral truth has its own legions.
And so he set that splendid Polish jaw against all the prevailing winds and
. . . well, we know the rest of the story. Ironically, better than even some
of his allies, the Communists themselves grasped the threat posed by a man
whose only power was to expose the moral hollowness at the core of their
claim. When the leader of Communist Poland tried to explain to the leader of
the Communist U.S.S.R. that, as a fellow Pole, he knew how best to handle
this new pope, Leonid Brezhnev responded prophetically. If the church
weren't dealt with, Brezhnev retorted, "sooner or later it would gag in our
throats, it would suffocate us." It did.
From today's vantage, even that victory has quickly receded into history. In
the years since the Berlin Wall was pulled down, the new take on the Bishop
of Rome was to try to distinguish between two popes: The liberal Cold
Warrior who took on totalitarianism and the social scold who would replace
it with a Christian authoritarianism of his own.
We had our own disagreements with this pope, notably over America's efforts
in Iraq in two wars. But even in disagreement we have always understood that
this pope was no schizophrenic. It is possible, as many who otherwise admire
him do, to disagree with Pope John Paul's teachings on marriage and
homosexuality, on abortion, and so on. But it impossible to understand him
without conceding the coherency of his argument: that the attempt to
liberate oneself from one's nature is the road to enslavement, not freedom.
In progressive circles in the West, religion in general and Christianity in
particular tend to find themselves caricatured as a series of Thou Shalt
Nots, particularly when they touch on human sexuality. But it is no
coincidence that George Weigel entitled his biography of John Paul "Witness
to Hope." For billions of people around the world--non-Catholics
included--that's exactly what he was. Perhaps this explains why China, where
only a tiny fraction of its people are Catholic, remained to the very end
fearful of allowing a visit from this frail, physically suffering man,
fearing what he might inspire.
We don't expect the secularalists who dominate our intelligentsia ever to
understand how a man rooted in orthodox Christianity could ever reconcile
himself with modernity, much less establish himself on the vanguard of world
history. But many years ago, when the same question was put to France's
Cardinal Lustiger by a reporter, he gave the answer. "You're confusing a
modern man with an American liberal," the cardinal replied. It was a
confusion that Pope John Paul II, may he rest in peace, never made.
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