Why I Miss Karol Wojtyla
the passing of John Paul II meant they lost one Pope - a beloved
and popular one. But they know that they will soon have another.
There is a long (and complicated) chain of succession going back
to the early days of Christianity, and that sense of continuity
will sustain them.
is gone, but Mother Church continues.
But I'm not
a Catholic. According to my beliefs, the office of Pope holds
no particular authority; I have no stake in the succession; Pope
John Paul II was never the leader of my church.
And yet ...
I find that I mourn him and miss him.
Is No Tragedy
These feelings are not because of his fame or his common touch.
He is not Princess Di, a celebrity we liked who died tragically
He died as
a very old man, after a lifetime of real achievement. How can
we grieve for a long life well-lived?
Yet I find,
to my surprise, that his death moves me the way I was moved by
the deaths of Anwar Sadat and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Winston
Churchill. I realized, with his passing, that he was a hero of
mine. That I felt better and safer about the world because he
was in it, and I feel that we are just a little worse off, in
a little more danger, because he's gone.
love conflict, and so he is being labeled by some as "divisive"
or "polarizing." And it's certainly true that many of his actions
caused controversy, and some people became very angry because
of what he said and did.
was not a divider. Not a revolutionary. He didn't try to
stir things up. The people who were angry at him were the revolutionaries
and the dividers. All he did was to stand against them.
He gave a
name to the complex of "modern" changes that embraced sin and
favored destruction of civilized values and civilizing institutions.
"The Culture of Death," he called it, and he was right.
needed to say it, but who dared, who was listened to, until he
II was a protector. He was Beowulf standing up to the dragon.
He died with the battle unwon, but he helped us find our own courage
to stand with him, and to continue standing, even without him.
The title the Pope is given is "his holiness." But in my faith,
this title does not belong to an office.
I know too
much history. Popes have been called by that name who did not
deserve it by any acceptable meaning of the word "holy."
Karol Wojtyla was given that title, he restored meaning to it,
because he was indeed a holy man.
cannot be conferred; it can only be discovered in a life of sacrifice
and courage and honor.
God is what makes a man holy. Even if I disagree with him about
who God is and how he should be worshipped, when a man lives by
his faith, sacrifices for his faith, courageously stands against
evil and unrighteousness, speaks truth to power, reckless of his
own danger, unconcerned about repercussions, then I feel his holiness
in the eyes of my God as well as his.
none of us can possibly understand God, and even if some of us
might approach that understanding a little more than others, it
is hardly a cause for us to reject any who serve him unstintingly.
I find far
more holiness in someone who does not share my faith, but lives
truly by his own, than in one who does share my doctrine, but
lives by it no better than I.
In no sense that I can think of were any of the previous Popes
of my lifetime spokesmen for Christianity as a whole. I saw them
entirely as spokesmen for one particular church - a large and
influential one, a historically important one, but they were apart
Nor did I
think it remotely possible that I would ever feel any other way.
But very soon after his accession, I began to realize that this
man - this Karol Wojtyla, this John Paul II - was declaring boldly
the stand of Christianity as a whole against the new and godless
religions that were becoming the state churches of the traditionally
dominant Christian nations.
said made me want to become a Catholic. But most of the things
he said and did made me think of myself as one of the Christians
he was speaking for. At times I even found myself wishing that
the leader of my church would speak to the rest of the world as
boldly and clearly. (Then we got a leader who did; but that's
I had little patience with the so-called "ecumenical movement."
As far as I could see, the only way for any Protestant church
to rejoin the Catholic Church and share communion and baptism
with Catholics was to accept the authority of the Pope. If they
were accepted without doing that, then Catholicism was admitting
its own illegitimacy; and if they did accept the authority of
the Pope, they were repudiating their whole history as Protestants.
Nor did I
see the point.
II showed the way toward a real ecumenism. He did not try to pretend
that Christianity was not divided into different streams of authority
and different doctrines. Instead, he spoke with the authority
he had, as if he spoke for all Christians, and then let Christians
sort themselves out into the groups that agreed with, believed
in, and lived by the bold statements he made; and those that didn't.
What I saw
was that many a Protestant came closer to being in John Paul II's
flock than many a Catholic who clearly stood outside it. The Christian
world re-sorted itself into those who adhered to a faith centered
in a divine resurrected Christ and a literal New Testament, and
those who thought that "modern thought" should trump the core
doctrines of Christianity.
division in Christianity today - and in other religions too, I
might add - is between the churches and congregations and individuals
who are accommodating themselves to the new secularity, abandoning
doctrines and commandments in the process, and those that believe
that God still requires us to live by faith and by obedience to
his commandments, now as much as ever.
Here is one
simple truth, borne out by statistics over many decades and generations:
The religions that demand of their members some real and rational
degree of sacrifice, obedience, and adherence to faith are growing
stronger and stronger; while the ones that say, in effect, that
you can do what you want and God doesn't expect much of us anymore,
except to be vaguely nice - they are losing members rapidly.
it doesn't matter what you do, then why would you bother to belong?
II, more than any other Pope, united, in feeling if not in fact,
Christians who take the divine Redeemer seriously.
"ecumenical movement" that means something, in my opinion.
of the Man
"John Paul II" was the name he chose for himself when he was entrusted
with the office that to him was most sacred, and whose holiness
he improved. I am not denying that name when I say that it was
Karol Wojtyla that I loved and honored, for his entire life's
work, under all his names and titles. And it is Karol Wojtyla
that I will miss.
that he will stand someday in the presence of God as a resurrected
man; and I believe Christ will receive him on his right hand,
and say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
all who stand in that place will have resolved our differences
of opinion about doctrine, since our eyes will be opened and we
will see our own errors of understanding and forgive others for
in this life, I hope we can learn to judge others by what they
have done with the light they received, and honor faith even when
we think it partly or wholly misguided. It is not correctness
of opinion that determines the value of a person, but whether
they live by what they believe, and accord others respect for
So let the
media have their punditfests and roundtables and stir up their
controversies and give their learned evaluations.
But let us
who believe in Christ as the Savior of the world and the Son of
God - and even those who do not - give due honor to Karol Wojtyla,
a man who lived his life by his faith, and served his Master well.
Scott Card is a columnist for the Rhinoceros
Times in Greensboro, NC. and the proprietor of the web site
The Ornery American.
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