George Weigel holding a copy of "The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II - The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy" in Rome in January 2011 (CNS photo/Paul Haring). Pope John Paul II blesses a baby in the Sistine Chapel on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in 2002 (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo).
Homiletic & Pastoral Review recently posted a number of new articles, including an excellent, must-read essay, "Images of the Priest in the Life and Thought of John Paul II", by George Weigel, author of the two-volume biography, John Paul II: Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning. The central theme of the piece is summed up in this concluding statement:
if there is one great truth to be learned from the 58 years, five
months, and one day of the luminous, world-transforming priestly
ministry that Karol Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II, gave to the Church, it
is this: a true priestly vocation begins with a commitment to radical
Weigel begins, however, with a series of memories from the pontiff's final years and then of his death:
When a pope is buried, a legal document called the rogito,
which summarizes his life and accomplishments, is buried with him.
Sealed in a metal tube, and placed inside the cypress coffin of John
Paul II on the morning of April 8, the rogito for the late Pope
ended in these fitting terms: “John Paul II has left to all an
admirable testament of piety, of a holy life, and of universal
This “universal fatherhood” was not generic, however, but quite specific: it was a distinctly priestly
form of paternity, a form of paternity based on Christian fearlessness.
“Be not afraid!” that familiar antiphon of the pontificate which first
rang out at the Pope’s installation on October 22, 1978, is a paternal
admonition, an expression of priestly encouragement. John Paul II lived
a form of paternity that took its strength from Jesus Christ, priest
and victim: Jesus Christ, who carried all the world’s fear to the Cross,
and by immolating that fear in the perfect sacrifice of the Son to the
salvific plan of the Father, enabled all who are incorporated into him
to live, not without fear, but beyond fear.
essay examines some of the sources of John Paul II's understanding of
fatherhood and priesthood, and in doing so, takes on a widespead
misunderstanding about John Paul II, one I've encountered many times:
What were the sources of this priestly paternity, this distinctively priestly form of fatherhood, in John Paul II?
first inspiration came from his father. There has been a lot of
rubbish written about John Paul II and his mother, who died when he was a
young boy; psychobabblers have long contended that the Pope’s Marian
piety was displaced maternal affection, and so forth and so on. The fact
of the matter is that Karol Wojtyła didn’t remember his mother terribly
well. It was his father, Karol Wojtyła, Sr., who was the defining
figure in his life as a boy, as an adolescent, and as a young man. A
rather reserved gentleman, whose formal education ended in elementary
school, a retired military officer of granite-like integrity, he was
also, as his son later wrote, a man of “constant prayer” who taught his
son by example that the Church is more than a visible institution of
which one is a “member.” For, John Paul II put it in Gift and Mystery,
his vocational memoir, Karol Wojtyła, Sr.’s ascetic and spiritual life
taught the future pope that the mystery of the mystery of the Church,
its invisible dimension, extends beyond the structure or organization of
the Churchstructures, as John Paul would later put it, are “at the
service of the mystery.”
Weigel later notes this fact, which might be surprising to some readers:
"It’s interesting to note that this most priestly of priests, Karol
Wojtyła, was the first pope, in centuries, who had originally intended
to live his Christian vocation as a layman." As Weigel points out, "Most
of the other popes of recent centuries put on their first cassock in an
Italian seminary at age 11 or 12, emerging at age 22, ordained. John
Paul II was different."
There is much, much more, and I highly recommend the piece to those readers who wants some real insights into the person and thought of Saint John Paul II.