Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A pope's unworldly diaries

Exactly 40 years ago today, the Polish archbishop Karol Józef Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II, the first non Italian pope in more than four centuries. His was a globetrotting papacy - he preached the Catholic religion in many parts of the world never visited by a pope before, often to huge crowds. After his death, two spiritual diaries came to light, and these have recently been published in English. Although they might offer the initiated insight into his inner religious life, there is nothing in them to shed light on his worldly existence.

Karol Józef Wojtyła was born in the Polish town of Wadowice in 1920, the youngest of three children. His mother died when he was eight. He went to a local school in which there was a significant Jewish presence. Aged 18, he moved with his father to Krakow where he enrolled in the university to study languages, for which he had a natural talent. He volunteered as a librarian, and enjoyed sports and the theatre. He served two months military training but, famously, would not hold or fire a weapon. During the war, he worked for a restaurant, a quarry, and a chemical factory, determined not to be sent to Germany. In early 1944, he was in a traffic accident, and spent two weeks in hospital, during which time he decided to become a priest. He hid in the house of an archbishop for the rest of the war. He was ordained as a priest in November 1946, and then moved to Rome for doctoral studies at the Pontifical University.

Wojtyła returned to Poland in 1948, serving in various parishes, teaching at university level, writing for the Catholic press, and even taking students on leisure expeditions (even though priests were not allowed to accompany groups of students during the Stalinist era). In 1958, he was created a bishop, the youngest in Poland. He took part in the Second Vatican Council, making important contributions, and participated in assemblies of Synod of Bishops. In 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Kraków, and three years later he was further promoted to the Sacred College of Cardinals. When Pope Paul VI died in 1978, the subsequent papal conclave elected Pope John Paul I, however he died a month later; a second conclave met in October. A split vote between two strong candidates led to a compromise in favour of Wojtyła, who won on the eighth ballot on the third day (16 October) - taking the name John Paul II in tribute to his predecessor. Thus he became the first non Italian pope in over 400 years.

John Paul II liked to travel, and to use his many languages. He made over 100 trips to over 100 countries, always attracting large crowds. Early on in his papacy, his visit to Poland, where he  encouraged opposition to Communism - soon after the Solidarity movement was launched. He was the first pope to visit many countries, including the UK and Cuba, and the first to pray in an Islamic mosque. He did much to foster relations with the Jewish world, and he set up the annual World Youth Day
 celebration - during its tenth anniversary he offered mass to a crowd of over four million people in Manila, Philippines. In 1981, he was badly wounded in an assassination attempt. A year later, a second attempt led to him using a bullet-proof trailer known as the ‘popemobile’. He died in April 2005. Subsequently he was made venerable, then beatified and canonised - creating him a saint, with his saint day celebrated on the anniversary of his papal inauguration. Online biographical resources include Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Vatican, the BBC, John Paul II National Shrine, Biography.com, and Catholic Online.

From his early years as a priest until two years before his death, Wojtyła intermittently kept a spiritual diary. This was first published in Poland in 2014, and was quickly translated into other languages, but only into English in 2017. The English edition - translated by Joanna Rzepa - was published by William Collins as Pope St John Paul II - Karol Wojtyła: In God’s Hands, The spiritual diaries 1962-2003. ‘Not since the publication of Journal of a Soul, the spiritual autobiography of Pope John XXIII, have we had such privileged access into the spirituality of a pope,’ says George Stack, Archbishop of Cardiff, in his introduction. (For more on Pope John XXIII’s diaries see A pope’s view of Mussolini.)

In a preface (first published in the Polish edition), the then Archbishop of Krakow, Stanisław Dziwisz, explains that John Paul II left instructions for his two notebooks to be burned. However, Dziwisz adds, he did not ‘dare’ do so: ‘I did not burn John Paul’s notes because they are a key to understanding his spirituality, that is, what is innermost in a person: his relationship to God, to other men and to himself. They reveal, so to speak, another side of the person whom we knew as the Bishop of Kraków and Rome, the Peter of our times, the Shepherd of the universal Church. [. . .] They allow us to get a glimpse of the intimate, personal relationship of faith with God the Creator, the Giver of life, the Master and Teacher. At the same time, they present the sources of his spirituality - his inner strength and his determined will to serve Christ until the last breath of life.’

Almost all the entries in the two notebooks were written 
by Wojtyła during retreats (as listed in the book). Here are several extracts, which, unfortunately, for the non-spiritual among us, give little insight into the man’s worldly thoughts or existence.

8 July 1962
‘The following key inner topics have been put together and discussed with the father:
1. death
2. power
3. creativity
4. people.’

2 September 1962
‘The recollection of these topics and novum [novelty] (as if a common denominator was found for all the experiences and reflections): I am very much in Gods hands - the content of this ‘Totus Tuus’ [‘Entirely Yours’] opened, so to speak, in a new place. When any concern ‘of mine’ becomes in this way Mary’s, it can be undertaken, even if it involves an element of risk (though one must not overdo it: in human terms, i.e. on the human side, the issue needs to be dealt with thoroughly). At a certain point, however, one needs to abandon human calculations and somehow grasp the Godly dimensions of every difficult issue. A peculiar iunctim [junction] of issue 4 with issue 2 begins to emerge here.

I discussed all this with the father too.’

18 August 1965
‘Morning prayers [illegible]; (Rosary); Lauds; Holy Mass; thanksgiving; Matins; Prime; Act of Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Meditation: Referring back to the retreat of 1963,1 wish to expand on the topic of ‘justification’. I find this topic academically (theologically) appealing and at the same time internally, personally important. The topic develops into a reflection on theological virtues, i.e. divine virtues.

Faith. The catechisms definition: ‘to accept as true all that God has revealed to us and that holy Church proposes for our belief’ can be interpreted and even experienced in different ways. The intellectualist (ideological) interpretation is different from the personalist (charitological) interpretation. It is not only about the sum of truths (propositions) which the mind accepts through the authority of ‘God who reveals them’ - and more directly: Christ, the Church (cf. motiva credibilitatis [compare motives of credibility]). It is about the specific supernatural relationship of man - a person - with the personal God (Trinitas SS [the Holy Trinity]). The nearer foundation of this relationship is the mind (reason). The proper subject matter of this human faculty is truth. Faith is a readiness, indeed, it is an act of reason which is ready to accept God’s truth as its own truth. Communicatio in veritate cum Deo [Communion with God in truth]. It is probably the highest act - one of the highest acts - in a relationship of a person to a person. This readiness to communicate in truth becomes, in a particular way, renewed through revelation, and in general with its help (in its extension lies theology). Faith consists in the acceptance of revelation, but it is possible thanks to the readiness of the mind mentioned above, which revelation takes for granted and simultaneously makes fully possible.

The Way of the Cross: main theme ‘viator - comprehensor’ (‘wayfarer - comprehensor’]; The Little Hours; Reading the schemas; Vespers for Wednesday

Adoration: it somehow provides me with topics for the afternoon meditation

Meditation on practical issues: dialogue, the Church of dialogue, others separately Matins; Spiritual reading; Compline’

24 February 1985
‘6.00 p.m.: Vespers; Veni Creator [Come, Creator (Spirit)]

Talk. Meditation (1): We form a retreat community. In the centre: Christ. The Holy Spirit, who speaks ‘inside us’.

We are at the core of the Church: in Rome - and in the world. The Church prepares for Passover.

Lent - is a calling!

Topic: The symbol of faith.

In unity with the Mother of the Church from Lourdes: St Bernadette’s words: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner.

Eucharistic Adoration; Rosary (III); Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Blessed Virgin Mary, St Joseph; Compline; Reading’

25 February 1985

Meditation: ‘I am in the midst of them’.

Holy Mass; Thanksgiving; Daily prayers; Act of Consecration to Virgin Mary; Prayer to the Holy Spirit; Litany of the Polish Nation; Lauds

Talk. Meditation (2):

(Credo [Creed]) Only God can properly speak of God: many times and in various ways. . . God spoke ..., in the last days He has spoken by a Son.’

Symbolus Apostolorum [The Apostles’ Creed]: the Trinitarian structure - symbolus baptismalis [the baptismal creed].

(The ecumenical meeting near Trent:)’

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