Thursday, August 11, 2005

John Paul II's humanism

In some of my class readings, I came across this very apt synopsis of the outlook prior to Vatican Council II, and the view that Bishop Karol Wojtyla (whom we all know and love as John Paul II) had in regard to the questions the council should address:
In June 1959, the Ante-Preparatory Commission established by John XXIII had written to all the world's Catholic bishops, superiors of men's religious orders, and theological faculties, asking their suggestions for the Council's agenda. Many bishops submitted outlines of internal Church matters they wanted to discuss. Bishop Karol Wojtyla sent the commissioners an essay - the work of a thinker, not a canon lawyer. Rather than beginning with what the Church needed to do to reform its own house, he adopted a quite different starting point. What, he asked, is the human condition today? What do the men and women of this age expect to hear from the Church?

The crucial issue of the times, he suggested, was the human person: a unique being, who lived in a material world but had intense spiritual longings, a mystery to himself and to others, a creature whose dignity emerged from an interior life imprinted with the image and likeness of God. The world wanted to hear what the Church had to say about the human person and the human condition, particularly in light of other proposals - "scientific, positivist, dialectical" - that imagined themselves humanistic and presented themselves as roads to liberation. At the end of 2,000 years of Christian history, the world had a question to put to the Church: What was Christian humanism and how was it different from the sundry other humanisms on offer in late modernity? What was the Church's answer to modernity's widespread "despair [about] any and all human existence"?

The crisis of humanism at the midpoint of a century that prided itself on its humanism should be the organizing framework for the Council's deliberations, Bishop Wojtyla proposed. The Church did not exist for itself. The Church existed for the salvation of a world in which the promise of the world's humanization through material means had led, time and again, to dehumanization and degradation.
What was singular and, to use an abused term in its proper sense, prophetic about Wojtyla's proposal was its insistence that the question of a humanism adequate to the aspirations of the men and women of the age had to be the epicenter of the Council's concerns. There would be much talk before, during, and after the Council about "reading the signs of the times." Here was a thirty-nine-year-old bishop who, having done precisely that, had put his finger on the deepest wound of his century so that it could be healed by a more compelling proclamation of the Gospel.

-George Weigel, Witness to Hope. The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York: Cliff Street Books, HarperCollins, 1999), 158-160
While reading the above passage, something clicked in my mind: John Paul II's absolute favorite passage (which he quoted all the time) from Vatican II is in bold below:
For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.
-Gaudium et Spes, 22

There's a lot that can be reflected upon here. This is exactly the humanism that Karol Wojtyla was hoping would be the fruit of the council, and which ultimately was. He was prophetic, for sure.

Once he became Pope, he kept referring back to this point, so as to drive it further home. It is by meditating upon our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we not only learn about God, but we truly learn more about ourselves, and what it means to be human. We learn that God loves us, so much so that He sent His only Son to reveal His love for us and to die for us. And that the ultimate destiny to which God calls us is heaven, where we will be in communion with God forever. This is the source of the innate human dignity which we all have, and which is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

If that isn't a beautiful insight, I don't know what is.
John Paul the Great, indeed!


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