John Paul the Great

By Deal W. Hudson

The Catholic Church in 1978 was marked by confusion and conflict. In October of that year, the conclave voted and gave us Pope John Paul II. More than 26 years later there are two dominant views of his papacy. One argues that he renewed the Church and saved it from dissent and the encroachment of modern secularism. The other portrays him as a reactionary, a pope who ignored modernity and the vision of Vatican II. One commentator, Thomas Cahill, said that history may view John Paul II as having destroyed the Catholic Church.

John Paul II understood modernity from the inside out. He lived under the two great political movements of modernity—Nazism and Communism. He studied and wrote his dissertation on phenomenology—the major philosophical school of the 20th century. He employed the tools of modernity when they could be put to the service of the Church, exploiting the power of the media to communicate the truth about human life to millions around the world. But he never let “chronolatry,” to use a term coined by Jacques Maritain, dictate his point of view. For John Paul II, the truth about human existence had already been revealed, and everything else was simply commentary—whether the interpretive tools were modern or ancient was irrelevant.

In his funeral homily, then–Cardinal Ratzinger talked about the pope’s ability to portray the “beauty of the truth.” That comment, I think, gets to the heart of his universal appeal and effectiveness more than anything else, apart from his sanctity. When you read his writings or listened to his speeches you were not simply convinced intellectually, you were struck by his vision. The Christian life, as he described it, was something he made you desire to lead, not something you felt obliged to follow. He made you want to follow Christ out of love rather than fear of punishment or loss of eternal life. His ability to make visible the beauty of the Truth will be at least one part of his ongoing legacy.

I was privileged in 1997 to hand him a copy of Crisis with his picture on the cover and the inscription “John Paul the Great.” The issue was created to celebrate the 15th anniversary issue of the magazine. We thought that nothing less than a tribute to the Holy Father would be appropriate for the occasion. When I suggested to the staff that we put “John Paul the Great” on the cover, there was a moment of hesitation. Someone asked whether we should give such a name to the Holy Father. While I understood the concern, I replied that such titles are always bestowed by the laity and that one day John Paul II would surely be called by that name. All agreed.

It was clear even then that he would come to be known by this title. What I wrote then in “Sed Contra” became even more true over the next eight years: “He has taught Catholics once again to think beyond the headlines, to retain their confidence in the restless heart of mankind, and to serve the deepest needs of the human heart rather than the manipulators of popular opinion. In doing so, John Paul II has given us the agenda for the next century.”

Published in Crisis Magazine, January 1, 2005

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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