Monday, April 03, 2006

Johannes Paulus Magnus



Spent the evening playing EWTN's DVD of John Paul II's funeral. Toward the end, one of the commentators remarks, noting his failing health: "Nobody wanted him to live five years more than he did."

I did.

I had a grandmother who lived to six months shy of her one hundredth birthday; and I thought and hoped that John Paul II would continue to lead the Catholic Church into his nineties.

Rumors of poor health had swirled around the pope for years, and his Parkinson's was obvious to all. But so too was the will, the stamina, the determination, the perserverance.

He had early in his pontificate set his heart on leading the Church in the millenium celebrations. Often when an older man has a goal like that, after he achieves it, the will to live goes too. As the year 2000 drew to a close, I worried that we would lose John Paul II in 2001. But when he survived that awful year, as indomitable as ever, I was certain he would be with us for many years to come. Only in the last few weeks before his death did I slowly realize that we would not have him with us much longer.

Sometimes the most beautiful and most deeply understood insights into this man came from unexpected places.

From The Tablet came a remarkable obituary, punctuated by a stunning poem:


A prophecy of the style of his papacy could be heard in the words of the Polish romantic poet Juliusz Slowacki, who in the nineteenth century had criticised the conduct of Pius IX and prophesied the coming of a Slav pope:

This one will not - Italian-like - take flight
At cannon's roar or sabre thrust
But brave as God himself stand and give fight
Counting the world as dust.


That Polish poem was familiar to Karol Wojtyla from boyhood.
Yes. That's the man who stared down the Nazis and the Communists with equal faith and fearlesness.

And PBS Frontline produced an amazing article that cut to the heart of John Paul II with greater power than almost anything in the religious press:

There is a fiery, mystical core to the young Wojtyla's faith. It is the deepest, darkest layer of the soil which has nourished him throughout his life. All his early heroes are passionate visionaries: the strange, otherworldly Jan Tyranowski; the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross; the stigmatic faith healer, Padre Pio. Their emotional, poetic view of the world has sustained him throughout his life. This is a man for whom the great religious truths are viscerally experienced. Christ is alive and walks the earth; the Virgin is a real woman; the Devil is a person not an abstraction. Good and evil are powerful autonomous forces battling each other--the powers of darkness and light. As Pope, he has attended exorcisms, and even officiated at one.

Read, pray, believe.

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