Pope John Paul II has encouraged the new Anglican leader to defy secular pressures and remain true to traditional Christian teaching on faith and morals.
In his first meeting with Dr. Rowan Williams, the Holy Father alluded to the appointment of a practicing gay bishop in the United States, a decision which threatens to split the worldwide Anglican communion.
He said: “As we give thanks for the progress that has already been made we must also recognize that new and serious difficulties have arisen on the path to unity. These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature; some extend to essential matters of faith and morals.
“In light of this, we must reaffirm our obligation to listen attentively and honestly to the voice of Christ as it comes to us through the Gospel and the Church’s Apostolic tradition. Faced with the increasing secularism of today’s world, the Church must ensure that the deposit of faith is proclaimed in its integrity and preserved from erroneous and misguided interpretations.”
Dr. Williams told the Pope that he was glad to reaffirm his commitment to the “full, visible unity of the Church”.
As the audience drew to a close, the Archbishop of Canterbury knelt down and gently took the Pope’s right hand and kissed his ring.
Let us preach the peace of Christ as he did. He went about doing good; he did not stop his works of charity because the Pharisees and others hated him or tried to spoil his Father’s work. He just went about doing good. Cardinal Newman wrote, “Help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go; let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example…”
If you give to the people a broken Christ, a lame Christ, a crooked Christ, deformed by you, that is all they will have. If you want them to love him, they must know him first. Therefore, give the whole Christ first to each other then to the people in the slums: Christ full of zeal, love, joy, and sunshine. Do I come up to the mark? Am I a dark light, a false light, a bulb without the connection, having no current, therefore shedding no radiance? Put your heart into being a bright light. Say to Christ, “Help me to shed your fragrance everywhere I go.” Our very name explains this rule. Servants of the slums, carriers of Christ’s love.
By the summer of 1978, as the deeply tested man, Pope Paul VI, entered eternal life, the Church he had headed for 15 years had changed dramatically from the one he assumed control of in 1963. Perhaps nowhere was this difference more obvious than in the U.S., where the post-WWII Catholic Church had loomed so big, bold, and triumphant. By the ‘70s, Mass attendance and numbers of priests and religious had plummeted, many Catholic schools had closed, and may others—especially Catholic colleges—were content to take their clues from the secular culture around them.
Meanwhile, a majority of Catholic couples were practicing contraception, abortion was legal in the U.S., and Kennedy-style Catholic politicians were pushing the “personally opposed, but” politics of accommodation. The “national malaise” that President Jimmy Carter blamed for his unpopularity in office seemed to be replicated on an international scale by a Catholic malaise characterized by a stalling out of a sense of mission and purpose.
Then, in October of that “year of the three popes,” a little-known Polish survivor of Nazi and Soviet occupation strode onto the balcony of St. Peter’s and pronounced what we would soon recognize as his signature phrase: “Be not afraid.”
Twenty-five years later, still confronted with serious challenges within and without the Church, an accelerating culture of death, heartbreakingly large numbers of Catholic children of divorce, an aging clergy and religious population and still-unsatisfactory numbers of vocations in the developed world, American Catholics are not tempted to resume ‘50s-style triumphalism.
But neither are we afraid, Jimmy Carter’s malaise exercises no hold over today’s faithful Catholics. Lay religious movements of all kinds are burgeoning, new and vibrant religious orders are demonstrating the attraction of self-sacrifice, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been a rock to draw on and makes slow but steady progress in inching CCD catechisms back towards “full disclosure” of the faith. World Youth Days and their local and national offspring attract enthusiastic mobs of young people. Eucharistic devotion is growing and Marian devotions are experiencing a rebirth. Most of higher Catholic education in America remains demoralized and demoralizing, but radical Catholic experiences are available at small but growing numbers of places like Thomas Aquinas, Christendom College, Franciscan University of Steubenville, the University of Dallas. Catholic home-schoolers are producing not only large families but solid vocations. Experiments in distance learning—including on-line learning—toward degree programs, religious education licenses, and continuing adult education promise much more content-rich choices for the future.
And John Paul II’s theology of the body is not only a present-day life-affirming antidote to our sex-and-death-drenched culture; it is also (as George Weigel and others have predicted) a time-bomb for our 21st century. Theologians, teachers, and spiritual shepherds will be unpacking and contemplating and disseminating its riches for generations.
The past 25 years have been a gift from God to his guilty, often under-achieving, but hard-pressed Church. The 22 years following the failed assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square have been an even greater gift of divine mercy, mediated by the mother of the Redeemer John Paul credits with saving his life. And this last decade of courageous perseverance under conditions of pain, failing health, and disability have been a joint gift from the providential God who arranges everything for our good, and the pope who loves our Lord too much to shrink from his cross.
When Karol Wojtyla took on the job of servant of the servants of God, this published poet told a friend that poetry was “a closed chapter of my life.” But earlier this month, John Paul’s reflective trio of poems connected with the Sistine Chapel appeared in English translation. Opening each of the three extended poems is a reproduction of John Paul’s handwritten first page. At the top right hand corner of each page appear the words John Paul includes at the beginning of everything he writes: “Totus tuus ego sum”: “I am all yours,” his consecration to Jesus through Mary. In the hands of such a pope, in the hands of such a God, what’s to be afraid of?
All over the world, Catholics are preparing to give thanks for the achievements of a remarkable pontificate—perhaps one of the most remarkable of all the Christian centuries—on October 16, the 25th anniversary of the election of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.
The Pope’s biographer, George Weigel, concluded that John Paul’s pontificate has been the most consequential since the Protestant Reformation. In a lecture (sponsored by The Catholic Herald) he listed the following as the Pope’s greatest achievements: the renovation of the papacy, the full implementation of Vatican II, the collapse of communism, the clarification of the moral challenges facing a free society, the insertion of ecumenism into the heart of Catholicism, the new dialogue with Judaism, the redefinition of inter-religious dialogue, a fresh approach to the sexual revolution with his theology of the body, the Catechism and what it represents, and the personal inspiration that has changed countless personal lives.
The list is certainly incomplete: most notably, it fails to register the Pope’s powerful support for the new ecclesial movements, a support which, as the Reverend Dr. Ian Ker writes—in John Paul the Great, a forthcoming collection of essays on the Pope’s ministry—”is firmly in the tradition of the popes who, at critical times in the Church’s life, have discerned dramatic new ways in which the Spirit has raised up new charismatic movements for the renewal and the propagation of the Christian faith”.
Non-believers, too, have come to see that this has been a Pope of remarkable and many-faceted achievements: the atheist A. N. Wilson, indeed, described him as “unique, infinitely the most striking and interesting figure of our times”.
“In Him we live and move and have our being.”
Is He merely a space for the existence of all that exists?
He is the Creator.
He embraces all things, creating them and sustaining them in being.
He brings about likeness.
When the Apostle Paul preached on the Areopagus, his words reflected the full tradition of the Covenant, where each day concluded with
the words: “And God saw that it was good.”
He saw, and He found a trace of His Being—
He found a reflection of Himself in all things visible.
The Eternal Word is, as it were, the threshold beyond which we live and move and have our being .