I read an article the other day that mentioned the draw of the youth to our Holy Father Pope John Paul II. "Youth" is a is a broad category in terms of the church, seeing as I still fit into it at 29 years young…but are we not all children in the eyes of God?
The article made great pains (as does all the secular media in these interesting past few days) to mention that these young people they spoke to were drawn to the man’s "charisma", "Holiness" and "greatness", but that they chose to disagree with him on his "sexual morals".
Are we so naïve to believe that the great things that this servant of God accomplished on this earth are somehow disconnected from the moral ethics he chose to uphold?
If he were not such a sign of contradiction, a pillar of truth in a world that has ceased to acknowledge that the concept of truth even exists, would we really have much to say right now?
If he somehow had been able to change 2000 years of Church Doctrine and bowed to the whims of a dying society, would we still be "drawn" to him?
Jesus was the ultimate contradiction. As Christians we believe He was the embodiment of truth, and so naturally rubbed many the wrong way. Despite our personal stances on the Man, we can certainly not deny that he was "great", that he changed the course of history.
Let us say, then, that Christ bowed to the whims and expectations of the Jewish people he had come to set free. Let us say that he wrestled the Nations of Israel and Judah from the hands of the Roman Empire, served worldly ambitions and did what he was expected to do in the eyes of the culture of his day. What would we have to say about him today? Would we even know his name?
Had Pope John Paul II not been the sign of contradiction in these days, when sexual ethics appears to be everyone’s business, do you think there would be as many as there were at his funeral?
Here sat the leaders of our world’s nations, who, under other circumstances, would have been hurling sanctions, accusations and perhaps even grenades at each other, united under the banner of sorrow and respect. Here sat the leaders of many religions, united in the acknowledgement of holiness.
This world recognizes that someone great has left our midst, but can’t quite put its finger on why he was so great.
Many point to his social justice and human dignity stances: Those are pretty broad terms…sure, we agreed with him on THOSE, so those must be what made him so great.
I ask you: From whence does our dignity come? Where does the very idea of "justice" come from? Are these concepts that are pliable and moldable in the hands of man? Can we really make these in our image? I propose that they are not, for we have seen what happens to culture when ideas of human justice and dignity are messed with. So did Pope John Paul II. He himself lived in the misery of the Nazi invasion, an invasion which, at it’s heart, had the "highest ideals" of human dignity: that of the "perfect" human being.
There is a holistic understanding of human dignity in the light of being created in the image and likeness of God. It is this same understanding of dignity that Pope John Paul understood and wrote about: Holistic in the sense that our dignity is tied to being human.
This is what motivated our beloved papa in his social action, in his desire to know and understand the people of his flock more intimately and personally. This is what drove his desire for the downfall of communism. This is what drove his hatred of abortion and Euthanasia.
How can we, then, make the unfounded leap that the motivations that drove his social justice stances and his pleas for the respect of human dignity are somehow removed from his motivations in the sexual morality realm?
They are not.
As he was not cowed by the communist dictatorships of his time, and instead proclaimed the Gospel of Truth, of humanity deserving of freedom in all social spheres, so he was not cowed by the liberal agenda of his day, and instead proclaimed the very same theme: Freedom! Freedom from the false ideas of what "human freedom" actually is.
Many point to the Catholic Church’s stance on Artificial Birth Control, and to our Pope as the champion of that ideal and cry "Foul! You deny the people they very thing that would give them freedom in HIV-ravaged areas of the world! You should be held accountable because of these teachings you uphold!".
In response to this accusation, the church simply responds (in the words of an African Cardinal whose name escapes me at the moment): "Chastity never killed anyone."
Are we really free? When we are not chaste and self-sacrificing with each other, whose good are we seeking? Are we really "free" to be able to see each other possessing the dignity we all deserve, because we are human?
When my ultimate good is my comfort, or even my pleasure, have I not relegated other human persons to the realm of a means to my own selfish ends? Are we then really free?…or are we not rather slaves to each others selfish ambitions and desires?
This is why our Pope proclaimed these truths in the books he wrote and from pulpits of the world! Just as Poland was enslaved to a misguided ideology, so our modern world is enslaved to a misguided concept of human freedom.
Being this champion of freedom, in all social spheres, is what made this Pope great.
Real human freedom is impossible without Truth. We can only be truly great when we are truly free.
Greatness, then, comes from being subservient to the truth. Only because Karol Wojtyła was a servant to the Truth was he truly great, and truly free.
So when we say we are "drawn to his greatness" but choose to disagree with his stands on certain aspects of morality, then the Church’s answer is this: Then you will never be truly free. Nor will you ever understand why this man seemed so great, only that he was so.
We would be wise to listen to the words he has left us in the wake of such a powerful, prayerful and amazing papacy. We would be wise to allow them to challenge us and change us: "Rise, let us be on our way!"
We have witnessed the passing of one of the greatest servants of truth. May God grant him eternal rest in the presence of the one whom he gave his whole life to: Jesus Christ.