Sed Contra: John Paul the Great

Deal W. Hudson
November 1, 1997

It has been a great privilege to edit the pages that follow. Imagine having dozens of reflections on our Holy Father, written by the best Catholic minds of our age, with which to arrange a fitting tribute to this Man of the Century. We at Crisis dedicate this issue to him for what his leadership, in fifty years as a priest and nineteen as pope, have meant to the Church.

“Courage” is the word that came up most often in the contributions to our symposium on the papacy of John Paul II. “Be not afraid,” he told us at the beginning of his reign, and fearlessness has characterized his nineteen-year pontificate. John Paul II has shown us that courage combined with wisdom can move what seems immovable. He did not set his course with studied calculation for satisfying the predictions of professional pundits. The man who discovered his vocation under the shadow of Nazi occupation has no fear of wrathful elites anxious to protect the prerogatives of their delusional autonomy.

Courage, as we all learned in school, is the willingness to do good in the face of danger, even death. Courage does not cling to comfort. Courage does not blindly assert itself but pursues its object with clarity of purpose. Courage can be costly, but it can be glorious. How many men would so generously forgive their own paid assassin? The courage of our Holy Father has enlarged the limits of the possible for all of us. Before John Paul II many assumed we were destined to suffer a gradual eclipse of orthodox Catholicism, but he has shown us the way to evangelize in modernity: Call God’s people back to the simple truths that anchor our faith, the truths that everyone, in spite of their complaints, is hungry to hear.

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, and strong and effective tools to implement it.

Nothing could be more fitting that this pope leading us toward the next millennium. Unmoved by fanatics awaiting the end times, John Paul quietly but firmly instructs us to reflect upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He directs us, for the sake of renewal, to ponder the foundations of our faith. He ignores those who place their bets on ideological solutions to human problems. John Paul II knows that wisdom, like courage, comes from constant prayer: a prayer in union with the Church and the communion of saints. Confident in the power of that prayer, the Holy Father’s example is our shield from the spiritual exotica of our time.

Professional dissenters in the Church are already trying to label this papacy an aberration in the development of a “new” church. Despite his great popularity, there remains a constant undertone of criticism towards John Paul’s papacy in the mainstream media. It is often insinuated that John Paul II is overly traditional, even reactionary, in his affirmation of the Church’s authority and moral teaching. For example, the declaration that the Church has no authority to confer priestly ordination on women has been dismissed as a mere delaying tactic in the inexorable march toward a redefinition of the priesthood. In addition, his writings on sexual morality, his devotion to Mary, and his rejection of liberation theology are regarded as out-of-step with the Church emerging from the reforms of Vatican II. Our symposium contributors respond to this question: Is the leadership of the Holy Father merely holding back the tide of inevitable changes in the form and content of the Catholic faith, or do you envision a different future?

Like so many lay initiatives obedient to the Magisterium, Crisis was born just after Karol Wojtyla was elected Bishop of Rome. The late ’70s was a time of great uncertainty for Catholics: old institutions, co-opted by activists more interested in carrying out the social agendas of the ’60s, lost sight of the Church’s perennial work. The Holy Father’s papacy has strengthened the visibility of the invisible Church. The Catechism, the Code of Canon Law, his unmatched series of letters and encyclicals: all these great gifts to the Church will continue to bear their fruit. New institutions—colleges, publications, associations—born in the era of John Paul the Great, are now coming to maturity as leaders of the Catholic faithful. The next generation will deliver a wake-up call to the secularized Catholic establishment: the period of willful cooperation with the culture of death is over.

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