Click here to
March 27, 2008
Click Here to Order!
Return to Home Page Return to Old Archive Home Page Doctrine, Scripture, Morality, Vocation, Community Identity, Sexuality, Family, Healing, Work Art, Ideas, Technology, Science, Business Politics, Bioethics, Ecology, Justice, Peace Spirituality, Prayers, Poems, and Witness Archive of top news from around the web Columns, Reviews and Personal Essays What is Godspy?
faith article
A Portrait of the Pope as a Young Artist by David Scott
It should not be forgotten that Pope John Paul was a significant religious poet and a lifelong man of the theater.

John Paul II: Prophet of Freedom, by Harold Fickett
When he became Peter’s successor, Karol Wojtyla did not forget the Church’s commitment—and his own—at Vatican II to ground the Church’s witness in the freedom of conscience. And on The Day of Pardon, May 12, 2000, the prophet Pope John Paul II led the Catholic Church to an unprecedented act of self-examination, and closer to ‘the glorious freedom of the children of God.’

The Pope at the Garden, by John Zmirak
I was a 14-year-old Catholic high school freshman when I first saw John Paul II at Madison Square Garden in 1979. I remember thinking: 'What a charming man. A pity he has such old-fashioned ideas.’ Little did I know…

John Paul II: Disciple of Christ, by J. Fraser Field
While paying homage to the Pope, the secular media has been careful to separate the greatness of the man from the faith he held and from the ideas he preached.

Bush vs Kerry or Holding My Nose in November, by Debra Murphy
For ex-Democrat, non-Republican Catholics like me, it’s time for that quadrennial exercise in masochism known as “the lesser-of-two-evils vote.”

Her Saving Grace, by David Scott
The dramatic story of the Immaculate Conception, defined 150 years ago this week, is the story of a new creation—for the world and for the human race.

Letters From Rome: A Young Priest’s Day-by-Day Witness to the Death and Burial of Pope John Paul II, by Father Peter Mitchell
Father Peter Mitchell—a young priest from Nebraska studying in Rome—found himself immersed in the events surrounding the death and burial of Pope John Paul II.  In a series of remarkable email letters he sent to friends and family he gave testimony to the Pope’s influence on his life, and captured the details and emotions of that amazing week, when the world stopped to mourn the passing of a saint.

Pretty as a Picture: A Review of the Therese movie, by Debra Murphy
The 'Thérèse' movie is as pretty as a Thomas Kinkaide painting—and that’s the problem. Thérèse Martin’s spiritual battle against ravenous emptiness was anything but pretty.

Click here to buy the movie...
Click here to see the video!
Click here to buy!
Click Here to Order!
Click here to buy!

John Paul, the Great: The Misunderstood Pope

Media pundits who've been harping all week on the Pope’s ‘strict adherence to traditional Catholic morality and doctrine’ have it wrong. The fact is, John Paul II forged one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries.

Pope John Paul II

"...what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet."
(Matthew 11: 8-9)

As I write, rivers of people from all over the world continue to stream—fly, drive, train, bus, bike, and hikeinto Rome to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II. One stunned CNN reporter described it as the "largest gathering of people in human history."

Not even Mother Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul’s contemporary female alter-ego, drew such devotion.
Echoing Christ's words about the crowds gathering around John the Baptist, one might ask: What have they come to see? Not even Mother Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul's contemporary female alter-ego, drew such devotion.

A few grumpy souls on both Left and Right remain steadfastly aloof. The Left, as ever afflicted with the disease that Chesterton, in the context of H.G. Wells' dreadful History of the World, referred to as "presentism," maintains that Karol Wotjyla stood in the way of Progress—that irresistible force which will in due time bring about the inevitable Advent, not of the Second Coming, but of women priests, gay marriages, and a Catholic license to contracept. A progressive's idea of heaven on earth.

Some on the Right, meanwhile, not to be outdone in condescension by their counterparts ad sinistra, cannot summon enthusiasm for a pope who failed to prevent folk masses in their IKEA-designed sanctuaries, or gays in their seminaries. If John Paul had spent half as much time excommunicating heretics as he did rubbing shoulders with rabbis and imams, they opine, the Church wouldn't be in the mess it's in today. (Both sides typically persist in confusing the American Church with the Universal Church; contrary to both positions, the Church in South America, Africa, and Asia is not only largely orthodox, but growing by leaps and bounds.)

Flummoxed by the outpouring of grief and love in the streets of Rome, particularly from young people, certain post-mortem critics of John Paul II have even taken to grumbling about a "cult of personality," as if Karol Wotjyla's obvious impact on a surprisingly large chunk of humanity was all about charm and wit, about charisma and a knack for baby-kissing without looking like an idiotno small gift, to be sure, and one that John Paul unquestionably possessed to a remarkable degree. Bishop John Magee, former master of papal ceremonies, called it a genius for the symbolic gesture.

The Left maintains that Karol Wotjyla stood in the way of Progress.
In a generation whose life-long over-exposure to every manner of media spin has endowed it with a highly sensitive bullshit detector, charisma, and even holiness, cannot explain what we are witnessing in this historic papal interregnum: the beginnings of a vox populi declaration—vox populi is the only way it occurs, and it has only occurred twice in two thousand yearsthat John Paul II, along with Popes Gregory I and Leo I, was perhaps one of "the Greats."

Why? Why now, and why John Paul II?

A quick look at the precedents may shed some light.

Leo the Great, Saint and Doctor, who reigned AD 440-461, is credited with keeping the barque of Peter afloat in the sea of heresies, from Pelagianism to Manichaeism to Monophysitism. These errors nearly flooded the Church in the wake of barbarian depredations and the ongoing collapse of the Roman empire. Leo the Great personally outfaced Attila the Hun, who threatened to invade Rome in 452.

Gregory the Great, Saint and Doctor, who reigned AD 590-604, likewise fought off heresies and secured the Church against his barbarian hordes—different tribes, same difference. He also sent out missionaries to the far reaches of the known world, reformed the liturgy, and centralized ecclesial finances, administration, and Christian doctrine. Gregory's Herculean efforts enabled the Church to transition through violent times into a new era, the so-called "Middle Ages"all while suffering a host of ailments that have felled men with far fewer cares.

The Right cannot summon enthusiasm for a pope who failed to prevent folk masses in their IKEA-designed sanctuaries, or gays in their seminaries.
Since Divine Mercy Sunday, a few critics notwithstanding, news analysts, men and women in the streets, and heads of state have all been sounding similar notes in their eulogies of John Paul II. For his fans, Karol Wotjyla is the prophetic figure who, at the close of the bloodiest and most barbaric century in human history, in spite of an assassin's bullet and Parkinson's disease, missionized the world in an exhausting and unprecedented series of travels; inoculated the Church against mutated strains of the same heresies Leo and Gregory combated centuries ago; began the painful process of reconciliation with both the Jewish people and separated Christian brethren; and played a decisive and perhaps pivotal role in the defeat of that twentieth century version of barbarism known as Soviet communism. That the latter happened, in our Strangelovian age, with nary a shot being fired might well be regarded as an event only modestly less miraculous than the Resurrection.

A wise priest, deeply concerned about the crisis in the American Church after Vatican II (post hoc, not propter hoc), commented to me some twenty years ago that it usually takes about four hundred years for the Church to fully absorb and incorporate the move of the Spirit after a major Ecumenical Council. It is my own firm belief that because of John Paul II this difficult process, which Cardinal Newman once described as the development of doctrine, will take a century or two less. To suggest that the sorry state of the fat-and-sassy American Church is due to Karol Wojtyla's failure to lead, rather than our own American prideful, selfish, church-of-what's-happening-now refusal to be led, seems comparable to faulting Christ for "failing" the Rich Young Man.

For as we stumble into the third millennium, there is one more, perhaps less appreciated aspect to the papacy of John Paul II that may yet prove the most critical of all. One media reporter described John Paul II's "strict adherence to traditional Catholic morality and theology." That's one point of view. In reality, John Paul II forged a new synthesis of Catholic teaching that papal biographer George Weigel called "one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries." In the vernacular, it was a paradigm shift.

This "reconfiguration" is the post-Vatican II "Communio" school of theology often called "Christian personalism." At the heart of this new philosophical and theological synthesis, and of Karol Wotjyla's pastoral message, stands the dignity of the human person—a human dignity so great and mysterious, made in the image and likeness of God, that the only proper response to it is a self-giving exchange of love. Conversely, the greatest sin against this human dignity is not so much hate (which is essentially an emotion) as usetreating the human subject like an "object," an "it" instead of a "thou."

Here at last was a man with ‘traditional’ views on sexuality that weren’t, well, traditional.
The implications of such an orientation extend well beyond the realms of theology and philosophical anthropology: into politics, economics, the arts, social and familial relationships, and cultural norms generally. This vital thesis about the human person as a living, enfleshed icon of God will, doubtless, spawn innumerable treatises and doctoral dissertations for generations to come.

Given the oft-noted popularity of John Paul II with young people, let's for a moment consider the implications of Christian personalism for a subject of profoundest interest and concern to both youth and the Church: sex. Christian personalism undergirds the Pope's "theology of the body"a phrase which until this week I had never before heard on television outside of EWTN—and has the potential of giving young people, the shapers of tomorrow's world, exactly the weapons they need to overcome the culture of death. The fully grasped dignity of the human person is the cornerstone of the culture of life.

For countless thousands of youth, capable of spotting a hypocrite at a thousand paces, John Paul II was the "Real Deal"; the pope who gave true, vigorous, and (for lack of a better word) manly witness to the Gospel of Life. Here at last was a man with "traditional" views on sexuality that weren't, well, traditional. He drew the lines in all the old places, but for new and suddenly exciting reasons; John Paul's reasons made sense from a holistic and even ecological point of view.

The sexual revolution finally come-a-cropper in a rich harvest of diseases, abortions, divorces, and personal miseries of every description. Now, the age-old moral stances on sexuality can no longer be dismissed as a "because the Church says so" form of patriarchal reductionism. Our very bodies, John Paul II has taught us, exhibit a nuptial meaning; our bodies, enfleshed spirits, show us that the Creator has designed us to give ourselves as Gift to the Other; they have destined us to live in relationship, as God Himself lives in relationship, Three in One.

This new synthesis may prove, as was the work of Thomas Aquinas to the High Middle Ages, to be the foundation of a new ‘civilization of love.’
The seed of this understanding was planted from the beginning, of course, in Genesis, and given almost poetic shape in the Song of Songs, the Gospels, and writings of Paul about the Church as Bride of Christ. John Paul II pulled all these strands of truth into a tapestry of truth—faith in search of reason—in a way that makes thoroughgoing and incarnational common sense.

George Weigel has called the theology of the body a "theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church."

In the vacuum left by the exploded "isms" of the twentieth century, this new synthesis of Christian personalism, if embraced by the generation of youth that's now winding through the streets of Rome, may prove, as was the work of Aquinas to the High Middle Ages, to be the foundation of a new "civilization of love."

I will be praying daily for the complete "incarnation" and inculturation of John Paul's synthesis of faith and life, expressed wonderfully in his Christian personalism and his many teachings and gestures that echo it. May it be so... through the intercession of Saint and Doctor, Pope John Paul the Great, more than a prophet. Amen.

April 8, 2005

DEBRA MURPHY has written articles, with her husband Daniel, on family culture and spirituality for the Catholic press in the U.S. and the U.K. Her short story, "Yardsticks," won the 1998 Kay Snow award, and appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of "Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion." Debra is also author of "The Mystery of Things," (Idylls Press). She lives in Oregon with her husband and six children.

Copyright © 2005, Debra Murphy. All rights reserved.

Email A Friend
04.12.05   TonyC says:
I agree with the author's assessment of Pope John Paul II. However, I believe the roots of his theology of the body lie in his strong personal friendships with so many laypersons, particularly youth, while he was parish priest, and as bishop teaching at the university level. George Weigel emphasizes how this pope's vision, particularly in terms of his theology of the body, was formed by his strong friendships with laypersons. He learned from them, he genuinely befriended them and listened to them, and in a sense, their place in his life became like that of a kind of family. He had the personal and spiritual maturity for this, and never seems to have forgotten who he was in the process as a priest, yet through it all, I think it would be fair to say he was a friend. I think this sense of friendship and learning from genuine relationships with the laity needs to be brought more to the fore if people are to hold up Pope John Paul II as a kind of model for priests (which I believe he is). His theology of the body emerged out of a very deep love for real people contextualized in real friendship. It wasn't a platonic, philosophical, arms-length consideration of an issue; it was real love, real friendship, real human personal care for the well-being of another. If there's one thing that Pope John Paul witnessed for me, it was that he was someone who didn't let bureaucracy, position, and ecclesiastical protocol get in the way of his genuine, person-to-person love for people; at times, he simply went around it. And this for me is what grounds his theology with real credibility. It took shape in the heart of a mystic who was not afraid to walk with others as a friend. Yes, even in this sense, he was way ahead of his time, much as Vatican II, particularly with respect to its vision of the role of the Laity in the Church. A lot of people talk about love; John Paul just did it. This is why he's my hero, and I miss him.

04.09.05   Kathryn says:
You said it, Debra, and I couldn't agree more. John Paul the Great. I have no doubt in my mind - not one shadow of doubt - that this will be how we refer to him forever.I could go on and on, as we all could, about what this amazing life, this gift of God, has meant for us; how this man has shaped the world spiritually, politically, philosophically, socially, intellectually, even emotionally. He has indeed provided a new frame of reference, outlined the great conversation for decades to come. In so many ways, he has defined us. So, I propose that Generation X is misnamed. I will from now on refer to us as "the John Paul Generation" as I have for some time among my friends. We have been fathered by him, and we should take his name.Kathryn Mulderink

04.08.05   Godspy says:
Media pundits who've been harping all week on the Pope’s ‘strict adherence to traditional Catholic morality and doctrine’ have it wrong. The fact is, John Paul II forged one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries.

Click to buy at Amazon.com!
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Advertise | About Us