By Fr. George Welzbacher
February 6, 2011
The imminent beatification (on May the first) of Pope John Paul the Great prompts remembrance of just how crucially important was this charismatic and courageous Pontiff's reign for more than a quarter of a century in restoring confidence and order and strong morale to a Church that for the previous decade and a half had been reeling from straight-in-the-face revolt on the part of many priests, theologians and scripture scholars in matters of faith and morals and from consequent confusion among the laity, abetted by the widespread chaos in the liturgy that was the product of improvisations as unauthorized as they were grotesque. All of this had come in the aftermath of - but with no warrant whatsoever from - the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). This time of troubles - from 1965 to 1978 - took as its charter NOT the DOCUMENTS of the Council but the revolutionary impetus of a free-wheeling, amorphous and thus irresponsible "SPIRIT of Vatican II", a "Spirit" whose link with a certain Dark Spirit is easy enough to discern. Great damage was done to the Church in the score or so of years that followed the Council, damage from which it will take at best a generation or two to recover, though in the recovery, as always in the Catholic past, new advances will be made. One need look only at the state of the Faith in today's Western Europe, and for that matter in the U. S. A. (as compared with the strength of the Catholic faith in the America of the 1950's) to see the wreckage that this rampant untrammeled "SPIRIT of Vatican II" rather like a tornado has left behind. But had it not been for John Paul II, the situation today would be vastly worse. With him began the new, and on important fronts very promising, "Counter - Reformation." The new Catechism of the Catholic Faith, the new Code of Canon Law, the reform of the seminaries, the beginnings of a corrective liturgical reform (whose issue will be apparent starting this Advent) and a whole new cadre of young priests and bishops who, inspired by John Paul, are not in the least afraid to speak out against a hostile culture (and against turncoat Catholic politicians) in defense of the healing and saving eternal truths taught by Christ and His Church - these are among the visible early fruits of John Paul II's Counter-Reformation. And to that Counter-Reformation Pope Benedict is making important contributions of his own.
A thoughtful tribute to the achievement of Pope John Paul the Great, written by Paul Likoudis, with citations from a speech by George Weigel, John Paul's premier biographer, appeared in the January 27, 2011 issue of The Wanderer. May I share it with you here.
* * * * *Miracles of John Paul II Are to be Seen Everywhere
The Wanderer, January 27, 2011
Pope Bendict XVI's announcement that he would beatify his predecessor, John Paul II, on Sunday, May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday, has provoked numerous reactions from all sides of the Catholic and non-Catholic world....
Within days of the January 14 announcement, officials in Rome began planning the logistics for an anticipated crowd of two million-plus for the beatification ceremony. Pope Benedict has been roundly criticized for "fast-tracking" the Polish Pope, who died in April 2005, and for waiving the Church's normal requirement of a five-year waiting period before a cause for canonization can be opened; yet those looking for a miracle attributed to John Paul II need not look far, for miracles abound.
When John Paul II was elected in October 1978, the Church was in the midst of a total revolution on every front around the world. The late Msgr. George Kelly's The Battle for the American Church, published in 1979, opened with these lines:
"A guerrilla-type warfare is going on inside the Church and its outcome is clearly doubtful. The Pope and the Roman Curia are fending off with mixed success the attacks of their own theologians who, in the name of scholarship, demand more radical accommodation with Protestant and secular thought. The issues at stake are the correctness of Catholic doctrine and the survival of the Catholic Church as a significant influence in the lives of her own communicants."
Some of the first items on the crowded agenda John Paul II inherited from Pope Paul VI were the resolution of a potential schism with the Church in Holland, investigations for heresy among some of the Church's leading theologians and biblical scholars, the curtailing of liturgical abuses, widespread defections from the priesthood and religious life, the growing power of a counter-magisterium in episcopal conferences and diocesan chanceries.
The amazing thing, to a reporter who covered John Paul II from the beginning to the end of his 26-year papacy, is the steadiness and perseverance it took for ONE man to accomplish so much amidst so many difficulties.
Consider a couple of reports from the time:
In February 1980, Time Magazine reported under the headline, "Dutch Defeat: Bishops Back Vatican Line," on John Paul II's routing of the Dutch bishops. This was no small matter, for it was DUTCH priests and theologians who had SPEARHEADED THE MODERNIST MOVEMENT in the Church in the West on all fronts, especially liturgical and catechetical.
The Time report opened:
"For each of the 15 days of deliberations, a white-robed Pope John Paul II sat sphinx-like, jotting down notes but never saying a word. Or so went the official version of the extraordinary synod of Dutch bishops at the Vatican, an account intended to play down the Pope's role. But as the synod ended last week the truth leaked out. John Paul had spoken often and, it was obvious, decisively, to persuade the bishops to enforce Vatican policy in their rebellious land. "At the closing Mass in the Sistine Chapel, John Paul said he took satisfaction in the bishops' 'clearer awareness' of the UNIVERSAL church. Translation: The Vatican had won on each of its eight major complaints."
At the end of the meeting, the Dutch bishops had agreed to remove ex-priests from seminary teaching positions; agreed to stop pushing for an end to clerical celibacy; agreed to stop the growing practice of women concelebrating Mass and other sacraments; agreed to revise the notorious Dutch Catechism to conform to Catholic Doctrine; agreed to end the practice of Protestant-Catholic intercommunion; agreed to stop experimenting with the liturgy.
In this same period, bear in mind, the Holy Father was confronted by an American hierarchy intent on DISTANCING itself from Rome. Twice he would confront the American hierarchy; in 1979, when it was largely DEFERENTIAL and again in 1987, when the bishops, represented by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, ArchbishopDaniel Pilarezyk, Archbishop John Quinn, and Archbishop Rembert Weakland, had the impudence to lecture the Holy Father.
In a notable RESPONSE to the U.S. bishops' SANCTIONING OF DISSENT on the grounds that American Catholics are the most educated in history, the Holy Father reminded them:
"It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally COMPATIBLE with being 'a good Catholic' and poses NO obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a GRAVE ERROR that challenges the teaching of the office of bishops of the United States and elsewhere."
Ten years later, in July 1997, John Paul II issued his apostolic letter, Apostolos Suos, on the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences - a document sometimes seen as a rebuke to the U. S. episcopal conference for issuing, without consulting the majority of American bishops, the embarrassingly pro-"gay" letter Always Our Children.
On the First Sunday of Advent 2011, Catholics in the U. S. will savor another of John Paul II's victories, as the new Roman Missal is heard at Mass, a stunning achievement for the late Holy Father [and for Pope Benedict], considering the decades of opposition he faced from hierarchies across the English-speaking world.
Reaching the young
Despite the Holy See's accelerated pace under John Paul II, from the beginning, to rein in dissenting theologians, such as Charles Curran, Bernard Haring, and Hans Küng, the revolution in the Church marched on, especially in the United States.
In the June 1984 New York Review of Books, Stanford religious studies professor Thomas Sheehan observed in a review of Hans Küng's Eternal Life? Life After Death as a medical Philosophical, and Theological Problem:
"The DISMANTLING of traditional Roman Catholic theology, by Catholics themselves, is by now a fait accompli. In their most vigorous intellectual renaissance since the High Middle Ages, Catholic theologians and exegetes have awakened from a long hibernation and in scarcely two decades have marshaled the most advanced scriptural scholarship - until recently the work mainly of Protestants - and put it at the service of a radical rethinking of their faith. The consequences for the Catholic Church as it approaches its third millennium are both immensely promising and, for some, deeply disturbing....
"[T]he fact remains that a new and revolutionary approach dominates Catholic theology today....
"Many of the conclusions of the 'liberal consensus' CONFLICT SHARPLY with TRADITIONAL Catholic doctrine...."
It was, perhaps, this tragic reality that prompted John Paul II to convoke the World Youth Day in 1984, to go ABOVE the heads of the deconstructors who had so much influence in Catholic colleges and secondary schools.
Looking back, is it fair to say that John Paul II had a greater world-wide influence as an evangelist and catechist than two continents full of liberal exegetes?
The Holy Father's idea for the World Youth Day went back to his time as a young priest in Poland, where he brought together adolescents and young married couples into a milieu where they could grow in holiness and/or discern their vocation.
In 1984, at the close of the Holy Year of Redemption, over 300,000 young people from around the world responded to the invitation of His Holiness John Paul II for an International Jubilee of Youth on Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square. Looking out to the crowds who answered his invitation, he said, "What a fantastic spectacle is presented on this stage by your gathering here today! Who claimed that today's youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?"
The first official World Youth Day was held in Rome in 1986, the second in Buenos Aires in 1987, and since then, ten others have been held in every part of the world.
The largest crowd ever for a World Youth Day event was when more than five million of our youth representing 140 nations gathered in Manila in 1995.
Culture Comes First
Over the course of his pontificate, John Paul II set many records: He was the most traveled pope (129 countries); he was the most prolific in terms of output of encyclicals, apostolic letters, speeches, and in the number of saints and blessed proclaimed; and he was likely seen and heard by more people in person than any other figure in history.
Given his "constitution of an ox," as one reporter described him on his first visit to the United States in October 1979 [before the assassination attempt], John Paul II was, essentially, a missionary to the whole world.
This dimension of his pontificate was beautifully described by Catholic commentator, George Weigel in a speech he gave in February 2000. "Pope John Paul II and the Dynamics Of History."
Explaining the "considerable impact" John Paul II has made on contemporary history, Weigel said:
"To understand John Paul II's concept of the dynamics of international relations, indeed, the dynamics of history itself, requires us to go back to the small town of Wadowice, c. 1928. There, a young Polish boy named Karol Wojtyla learned the great lesson of modern Polish history: that it was through its CULTURE - its language, its literature, its religion - that Poland the NATION survived when Poland the STATE was erased for 123 years from the map of Europe.
"History viewed from the Vistula River basin looks different; it has a tangible spiritual dimension. Looking at history from that distinctive angle-of-vision teaches the observant that overwhelming material force can be resisted successfully through the resources of the human spirit - through culture - and that culture is the most dynamic, enduring factor in human affairs, at least over the long haul.
"Karol Wojtyla, whom the world would later know as Pope John Paul II, applied this lesson of the priority of culture in history in resistance to the two great totalitarian powers that sought to subjugate Poland between 1939 and 1989....
"As a priest and bishop in Krakow, he applied a similar 'culture first' strategy to resistance against the Communist effort to rewrite Poland's history and redefine Poland's culture. Wojtyla had no direct 'political' involvement between 1948 and 1978; he could NOT have cared less about the internal politics of the Polish Communist Party. But his efforts to nurture an informed, intelligent Catholic laity were examples of what a later generation would call 'building civil society' and thus laying the groundwork for an active resistance movement with political traction....
"John Paul shaped the politics of east central Europe in the 1980s as a pastor, evangelist, and witness to basic human rights. Primary-source evidence for this is found in the texts of the Pope's epic June 1979 pilgrimage to his homeland, nine days on which the history of the 20th century pivoted. In those 40-some sermons, addresses, lectures, and impromptu remarks, the Pope told his fellow countrymen, in so many words: "You are not who THEY say you are. Let me remind you who you ARE.'
"By restoring to the Polish people their authentic history and culture, John Paul created a revolution of conscience that, 14 months later, produced the non-violent Solidarity resistance movement, a unique hybrid of workers and intellectuals....
"In terms of the history of ideas, his 'culture-first' reading of history is a sharp challenge to the regnant notions that politics runs history, or economics runs history."
If John Paul II's DISCIPLES do, in fact, successfully challenge those "regnant notions," the miracle will be there for the whole world to see.
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