Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 13, 2003
John Paul - - a saint for all people
Over the past 25 years, Pope John Paul has spoken to and celebrated Mass for some of the largest crowds in human history. Those crowds gave him enormous adulation. Yet the pope has never shown the slightest sign of demagoguery, despite the opportunity those crowds have given him. He has never manipulated a crowd, except perhaps to share a moment of fun. The pope has always respected the conscience of the individual person.
This refusal to take advantage of personal adulation is perhaps the clearest sign of Pope John Paul's saintliness. He is a man who is driven by not the slightest shred of self-gain or power-seeking. While others may legitimately call him John Paul the Great, in his own mind he is John Paul, the servant of the servants of God.
He is a man of such deep and all-encompassing faith, no attempt to understand him from "the outside" - from a secular perspective - will come close to the truth of the man. His life embraces much more than a secular life ever could. He is a witness to love and hope and faith. But what a witness! His is a witness that has lifted up humanity, which has inspired untold numbers of women and men to make something better of their lives than they otherwise would have.
In doing so, he has changed the course of history. Many people have left their mark on history by their quest for power or financial gain. Others have made a mark by scientific discovery or technological invention. But what is good about our society comes from those who have had a largeness of purpose, a goal or a dream that encompasses much more than themselves. The ultimate source of goodness is God himself and it is those devoted most fully to God who leave the greatest legacy of lasting good.
Pope John Paul did not set out to topple Soviet communism. Rather, he went to Poland in 1979 to encourage people to live by the truth, not to let themselves be compromised by cozying up to the lies of the Communists. He called them to live in solidarity, not as isolated objects of Communist repression.
His words ignited an explosive celebration, a celebration that reawakened the consciences of millions. It was this reawakening of consciences, this renewal of belief in the solidarity of humanity, that led to the downfall of an outwardly strong but inwardly weak system of domination.
Pope John Paul's accomplishments have been legion. He single-handedly redefined Catholicism's relationship with Judaism. He ushered the Church out of the era of self-destructiveness in which it found itself in the period after the Second Vatican Council. He has been a prophet of peace when others wanted war. He showed the youth of the world that while Catholicism is an ancient faith, it is always new.
Pope John Paul changed us with the spoken word, the written word and the well-timed gesture. An actor in his youth, he saw that culture, not politics or economics, is the primary engine for positive societal change. He revitalized the papacy in a way that no one had envisioned. From the start, he saw the papacy as a public office.
He was not content to stay in the Vatican and let others come to him. He saw his responsibility as going forth and being an actor on the world stage. In doing so, he restored the spiritual dimension to history.
Pope John Paul unfortunately has had less effect on the Western world than he has had in other regions where the Church is strong or growing. Consumerism has not bent in the face of his articulation of the truth that the deepest truth about the human person is that he and she have a transcendent dignity.
But if we are to have a hopeful future, we will have to heed that message. How that can happen remains to be seen. But we will have to choose between a future of greed, environmental destruction and human exploitation on one hand and human dignity on the other.
Pope John Paul has spelled out the stakes. It is up to us to choose the path of life.
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