In Memory of Pope John Paul II (Mar-Apr 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

Remembering Pope John Paul II

by Darryl Tippens
March – April, 2005

I went to mass this week at Our Lady of Malibu. Three of our Pepperdine faculty members gave speeches on the importance of Pope John Paul II. They emphasized his insistence upon moral absolutes. For instance, one cannot kill the innocent in the name of a ‘good cause.’ One cannot abuse the weak or the powerless with impugnity.

John Paul II was a great soul, regardless of what one thinks of his particular faith tradition. One must honestly say that he modeled important dimensions of Christlikeness that we should all imitate. Two examples come to mind: his charitable spirit, evident when he forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him. Another key moment was when he stood at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and placed a prayer written on a small sheet of paper in the seam between the stones. That prayer of contrition for the way Christians had historically persecuted Jews was a great and noble act, and it dramatically altered Christian-Jewish relations forever. He was a man of peace. The examples could be multiplied, but these illustrate the point.

My particular appreciation for this man rests in the fact that John Paul II was a great intellectual, a wise philosopher, and a considerable theologian. Non-Catholics need to pay attention to his writings because he provides considerable intellectual support for the Christian enterprise in a postmodern world. He offered powerful arguments for moral absolutes and the foundations of moral philosophy (in Veritas Splendor). He celebrated intellect as a gift from God and argued eloquently for the relation of faith to reason in Fides et ratio. Protestants have our Francis Schaeffers and John Stotts, but John Paul II may have been their equal or superior in his case for faith (though many of us in the “Protestant” quarters have not availed ourselves of his wisdom).

In his April 4, 1999, letter to artists John Paul provided one of the finest arguments for the spiritual significance of the arts of which I am aware. In that letter, he wrote:

Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!”(26)

Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy. May you be guided and inspired by the mystery of the Risen Christ, whom the Church in these days contemplates with joy …. “From chaos there rises the world of the spirit.” These words of Adam Mickiewicz, written at a time of great hardship for his Polish homeland,(28) prompt my hope for you: may your art help to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the Spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal.”

As one who has tried to do my own little part in encourage Christian artists to heed their call, I am thankful for someone who so eloquently supports such a worthy endeavor.

Just as Christians who are not Anglican can celebrate the good work and brilliant thought of a C. S. Lewis, so can Christians who are not Catholic can celebrate the good work and brilliant thought of John Paul II. Truth is truth, wherever it emanates, whoever speaks it, whether it come out of Nashville, Abilene, Oxford, or Rome.New Wineskins

Related
Greg Taylor blogs on the life of John Paul II and visiting the Vatican.


On the importance of Pope John Paul II

by Todd Bouldin
March – April, 2005

John Paul II was the first pope of my formative years, and so I watched him with fascination as he spoke with moral clarity and shocking inclusivity. The other Popes had seemed so removed, so untouchable, so sectarian, so out of touch with the problems and sufferings of the contemporary world. John Paul II was anything but removed. He can be credited along with others for the downfall of communism. He spoke out against genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia. He interacted with world leaders. Rather than disdain a media culture, he embraced it and brought his message to billions all over the world.

What I personally most admired was that he wrote and spoke with consistency and clarity about a “culture of life” in which the church becomes the voice for life in a world of increasing violence, war and hunger. He championed the cause of the voiceless—the poor, the worker, the hungry, the victims of war. Unlike many, including myself, who call themselves pro-life but are selectively so, this pope was consistently pro-life: he was against abortion, he opposed stem cell research, he was against war, he spoke out against the death penalty. While we might disagree with his position on particular matters, it is hard to criticize his consistency. This pope understood that the church must stand on the side of those who are poor, the hungry, and those Jesus called “the least of these,” or it should not claim to be “pro-life” or to follow after Jesus. The cancellation of Third World debt by developing nations can in large part be accredited to his effort, along with Bono of the rock group U2.

More than the popes of recent years, this Pope communicated his humanity and authenticity well. His heart was filled with love and compassion. Though he took hard and conservative stands on sexual and moral issues, young people loved him. Older people found in him a passion for the orthodox teachings of the church of their youth. At the same time, Jews and non-Catholics felt his genuine desire to engage in dialogue and to repent for the sins of the church’s past.

John Paul wrote a book in the early 1990’s that I have found worthwhile and considerable, titled, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. In that book, he reflected on the command of Jesus that has now become his motto: “Be not afraid.” I’ll remember this most about him because his life exhibited the kind of openness and courage that is the result of perfect love rather than fear. He understood that once we give up fear, we then can enter into a great conversation with the world, with our culture and with those who do not share our faith—and at the same time not lose our faith or the courage and truth of our convictions. Too often we are presented with the choice between grace and truth, between welcome and isolation, between ecumenicism and sectarianism. This pope showed us that there is a third way—to so hold to the power and truth of our convictions without fear so that we welcome the whole world and every person into conversation with us about life, about faith, and death.

For a church tradition, that like the Catholic church, has traditionally and historically seen itself as the repository of truth and doctrinal correctness, I believe we could learn much from this pope about how to hold to our convictions in such a way that the world feels embraced and not estranged from us. John Paul II showed us that we may cling to our convictions about Scripture, the church, about baptism, about worship, but we can do so while inviting conversation, not cutting it off, so others feel loved and not judged, so truth is communicated with grace. That all begins by not being afraid of others or of the world—by speaking boldly but with embrace as God speaks and welcomes us (John 3:16; John 4).

As you watch the funeral of John Paul II on Friday, 4 a.m. ET, you may be tempted to judge, criticize, or distinguish your own beliefs from those of the pope or the Catholic Church. I want to call us into another experience as we watch the millions who throng to Vatican City to say goodbye. I pray for the coming kingdom of God as billions of people around the world reflect for a few moments on the meaning of life, the purpose of suffering, and the hope of resurrection.

I see the hunger in their eyes for a clear, consistent, and life-affirming gospel. As we reflect on this pope and his legacy, may we commit ourselves to being the kind of Christians that speak with boldness, conviction, and compassion to a world desperate for hope. May we become a community of faith that will see the opportunity and welcome the challenge. The hungry, the poor, the victims of violence, the persecuted, those without Jesus—they wait for the embrace of Christ. The pope famously said, “Christ, Christ is the answer,” and in that Jesus we find life and truth.

Be not afraid.New Wineskins


Resources

To review the considerable corpus of John Paul’s writings, go to the Vatican web site. There, one will find listings of John Paul’s books, encyclicals, and letters—a considerable body of literature. While some of it speaks to specifically Catholic doctrine and issues, much of his work is ‘catholic’ in the true sense—written for all the world.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1581 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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