Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Ode for John Paul II.

Yesterday was the centenary of the birth of St. John Paul II, a milestone that marks the putative 'relaunch' of this blog after several months of inactivity. For many people, the Covid-19 pandemic and the experience of more-or-less strict confinement have privileged new and perhaps unaccustomed forms of reflection; the novel situation in which many of us find ourselves has inspired me to start writing here a little more regularly (or at least to attempt to do so).

The last couple of months have seen both the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II and the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth. These two anniversaries invite reflection on the legacy of John Paul II and his gifts to the Church: a recent letter by his successor Benedict XVI offers a contribution to that important project. For my part, as I approach middle age I become ever more conscious of my Polishness and, in consequence, more sentimentally attached to the saint who was pope for the first quarter-century of my life. As I contemplate the centenary of the birth of Karol Wojtyła, I think of an excellent lecture by the late Father Raymond Gawronski on 'Pope John Paul II and the Polish Hermeneutic,' a lecture that I have shared here before. At the end of that lecture, Father Gawronski cites a poem that Czesław Miłosz wrote in 2000 for the eightieth birthday of Pope John Paul II. The Polish text of the poem, published in the Gazeta Wyborcza, may be found here. The English translation is reproduced below:
We come to you, men of weak faith,
So that you might fortify us with the example of your life
And liberate us from anxiety
About tomorrow and next year. Your twentieth century
Was made famous by the names of powerful tyrants
And by the annihilation of their rapacious states.
You knew it must happen. You taught hope:
For only Christ is the lord and master of history.

Foreigners could not guess from whence came the hidden strength
Of a cleric from Wadowice. The prayers and prophecies
Of poets, whom money and progress scorned,
Even though they were the equals of kings, waited for you
So that you, not they, could announce, urbi et orbi,
That the centuries are not absurd but a vast order.

Shepherd given us when the gods depart!
In the fog above the cities the Golden Calf shines,
The defenseless crowds race to offer the sacrifice
Of their own children to the bloody screens of Moloch.
In the air, fear, a lament without words:
Since a desire for faith is not the same as faith.

Then, suddenly, like the clear sound of the bell for matins,
Your sign of dissent, which is like a miracle.
People ask, not comprehending, how it’s possible
That the young of the unbelieving countries
Gather in public squares, shoulder to shoulder,
Waiting for news from two thousand years ago
And throw themselves at the feet of the Vicar
Who embraced with his love the whole human tribe.

You are with us and will be with us henceforth.
When the forces of chaos raise their voice
And the owners of truth lock themselves in churches
And only the doubters remain faithful,
Your portrait in our homes every day reminds us
How much one man can accomplish and how sainthood works.
St. John Paul II, pray to God for us!


At 5/23/2020 8:32 AM, Blogger Mary said...

In August, 1979 I was 11 years old and visited Rome with my family. We attended the Wednesday audience. I felt distinctly that from across the piazza that the Holy Father was looking intently at my brothers and I, and I realized that he saw us, and I sensed his presence in relationship. Pope John Paul II had the ability to transmit presence and relationship from afar, to multitudes. I then entered teenage years shortly after listening for his words and taking note of his actions on the world stage. A simple gesture impacted our lives greatly.

At 6/28/2020 11:48 PM, Blogger David said...

Long overdue response from me, Joe, but I wanted to thank you for writing and posting this. He was truly "great," as a popular title denotes, and deserves remembrances like this to keep his memory fresh in the world and to foster taking up his truly incredible (and challenging) example and witness in our own daily life and faith lives.


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