A new set of reflections by John Paul II: further insight into a faith-filled soul
RISE, LET US BE ON OUR WAY
Pope John Paul II
(Warner Books, 2004, 230pp, $29.95, hardback. Available from AD Books)
These reflections by Pope John Paul II, written on the occasion of the forty-fifth anniversary of his ordination as a bishop, give a further insight into the rich personality and faith-filled soul of this extraordinary man.
On reading and study, John Paul II says, "I always tried to achieve a harmony between faith, reason and the heart. These are not separate areas, but are profoundly interconnected, each giving life to the other. This coming together of faith, reason and the heart is strongly influenced by our sense of wonder at the miracle of a human person - at man's likeness to the Triune God, at the immensely profound bond between love and truth, at the mystery of mutual self-giving and the life that it generates, at our reflections on the succession of human generations."
This is Fides et Ratio, the Pope's document on faith and reason, along with his Theology of the Body packed densely but charmingly into just one paragraph.
A "sense of wonder at the miracle of a human person" has informed every aspect of Karol Woytyla's ministry as a priest, bishop and Pope: "I never felt that I was meeting an excessive number of people. Nonetheless, I was always concerned to safeguard the personal quality of each relationship. Every person is a chapter to himself É I simply pray for everyone every day. As soon as I meet people, I pray for them, and this helps me in all my relationships - I welcome everyone as a person sent to me and entrusted to me by Christ."
The Pope also reflects on his encounters with particular groups and individuals.
On the sick, John Paul II recalls: "I remember that at the beginning the sick intimidated me. I needed a lot of courage to stand before a sick person and enter, so to speak, into his physical and spiritual pain, not to betray discomfort, and to show at least a little loving compassion. Only later did I grasp the profound meaning of the mystery of human suffering. In the weakness of the sick, I saw emerging ever more clearly a new strength - the strength of mercy. Through their prayers and sacrifices, they not only ask for mercy but open up spaces for mercy. I used to entrust the needs of the Church to the prayers of the sick, and the results were always positive."
After recounting the Christological, ecclesiological and eschatological motives for priestly celibacy, he remarks: "Some, seeking to argue against the discipline of celibacy, draw attention to the loneliness of a priest or a bishop. On the basis of my own experience, I firmly reject this argument. Personally, I have never felt lonely. Aside from constant awareness that the Lord is close at hand, I have always been surrounded by people, and I have maintained cordial relations with priests and with all kinds of lay people."
Love and truth
The Pope speaks of an "immensely profound bond between love and truth". He cites Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski's thoughts on truth and courage: "Lack of courage in a bishop is the beginning of disaster. Can he still be an apostle? Witnessing to the truth is essential for an apostle. And this always demands courage."
Identifying with his predecessor in the See of Krakow, Saint Stanislaus, who was martyred in Wawel Cathedral, John Paul II insists: "We have to bear witness to the truth, even at the cost of persecutions, even to the shedding of our blood." This is only one of many references to the saints and to the Holy Father's vivid sense of communion with these holy men and women.
In perhaps the only note of self- criticism in these reflections, John Paul II admits: "Another responsibility that certainly forms part of a pastor's role is admonition. I think that in this regard I did too little. There is always a problem in achieving a balance between authority and service. Maybe I should have been more assertive. I think this is partly a matter of my temperament. Yet it could also be related to the will of Christ, who asked His Apostles not to dominate but to serve.
"Obviously a bishop has authority, but much depends on the way he exercises it. If a bishop stresses his authority too much, then the people think all he can do is issue commands. On the other hand, if he adopts an attitude of service, the faithful spontaneously listen to him and willingly submit to his authority. So a certain balance is needed. I do think, though, that despite my reluctance to rebuke others, I made all the necessary decisions."
Whether John Paul II got the balance right is likely to be vigorously debated now and in future histories of the Church at the beginning of the Third Millennium.
In the meantime there are plenty of nuggets of wisdom and light in this volume to inspire each of us to live more fully our own vocation as a human person "made in the likeness of the Triune God" and called to live out the "profound bond between truth and love" in own particular circumstances and responsibilities.