Saint John Paul II
April 27, 2014 9 Comments
So, today we get that rare thing – two canonizations – John XXIII and John Paul II. A lot of hot air will be generated about Vatican II, child abuse and the whole business of having saints, but if we were looking here simply at the idea of a ‘great man’, then I don’t see how there would be any controversy over John Paul II. Great men don’t have to be perfect, indeed, no less an authority than Lord Acton once said that most great men were bad men; but John Paul II was one of a trio of great figures who helped end the Cold War – President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher being the other two.
We have had quite a bit here about the President and the Prime Minister, but less about the Pope. He was already Pope when I was born, and until is death, I knew no other, and I guess that he will always be the measure against which I will judge his successors.
Now we are on our third non-Italian Pope in succession, it is hard to remember the frisson of surprise when John Paul became Pope – the first non-Italian since the Middle Ages. He became Pope when the Cold War seemed an entrenched part of the world order; not one of those well-paid Kremlinologists or Sovietologists foresaw what was to come. Stalin had famously asked how many divisions the Pope had, meaning it as a symbol of worldly power and domination as against the Church which, in his view, had none. But the world was to see a lesson in the reality of power.
Not even the Kremlin could stop John Paul going to Poland, and once he did, the power that would end Soviet rule was unleashed – the power of people wanting to be free and believing that it could yet be possible. It was a long and a hard road for the Poles, but they did not let their hand drop from the plough or turn aside. Even the attempt to kill the Pope failed, and provided John Paul with a chance to show the true spirit of Christ in forgiving the would-be assassin.
The Soviet regime had no weapons which could prevail against this spirit. President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher matched them with the weapons of this world, and made it clear to the Soviets that they had the determination to resist them; but John Paul II brought something beyond that. Unbowed, himself, by the sufferings he had been through, knowing, from the experience, the nature of the Godless regime which faced Him, John Paul posited against it the Spirit of Hope that comes from Christ.
The spirit of freedom, once kindled, proved unextinguishable.
John Paul II is, like every great man, a figure about whom strong opinions are held. The secular media never quite understood him. They loved his charisma and his openness, but they could not understand how such a man could also abide faithfully by Catholic teaching on the things which this world wants. They almost seemed surprised that he would not approve of contraception, abortion and easy divorce; goodness, the Pope was a Catholic; we see it again now with Pope Francis.
But this was an essential part of John Paul II. He knew what the eternal verities were. Truth was the Risen Christ. There was no compromise with the kingdom of this world. Those who approved of his stand against communism could not, sometimes, understand his opposition to those elements of liberal capitalism which stood against the values of the Church He stood not for the age, but for all ages, and his values were not just those of his time, but for all time. He belongs to the ages now. All of us, Catholic or not, can stand back at this special moment and say: ‘There was a man!”