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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

JPII and Ecumenism

It's important to keep in mind that the pope stands as "the servant of the servants of God". And, there are many servants of God! Many who have been legitimately baptized into Christ Jesus and have a share in his life. Therefore, JPII came among all of the servants "as one who serves" and not as one who lords over (Mt. 20:25-26).

The best evidence for his attitude of service toward the unity of all Christians comes from his encyclical letter "Ut Unum Sint". Like St. Peter, JPII pleads with all members of the body of Christ to recognize him as the one "visible sign and guarantor of unity" (World Council of Churches in Geneva 06/12/84). Not for his own glory did he make such a plea, but rather, for the sake of a more effective sign of unity among Christians in these last days.

JPII goes so far as to ask forgiveness from Christian brethren for all the wounds caused by himself or past popes (Section 89). He cites Jesus' rebuke of St. Peter, "you are a hindrance to me" (Mt. 16:23), as proof that not even Peter was perfectly aligned with Christ's mission. Yet, Jesus chose him as the Rock who would "be sifted life wheat" only to "return and strengthen his brothers"(Lk 22:31). So too, the servant of the servants of God strengthens all the brethren.

Karol Wojtyla learned this well when he had to attend clandestine seminary. He returned as a priest to a country infected by atheistic communism. To combat it, he saw to the preservation of literature and culture in Poland and abroad--teaching on subjects like Shakespeare, Sophocles, and more. Further evidence of his commitment to ecumenical dialogue and respect for man's conscience shows up in his lectures on Shakespeare to students in Poland:

After becoming a priest, as auxiliary bishop of Krakow, WojtyÅ‚a delivered a meditation to university students on the theme of conscience and conversion—one that included a brief, though telling, assessment of Shakespeare. In that meditation the future pontiff observed, 'We know that most of the major works of world literature center around the question of the conscience. . . . Shakespeare's plays are all concerned with the conscience, because this force of nature is such a characteristic human feature.' http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/log/summary/v010/10.1curtright.html.

Shakespeare was not the only Anglican that JPII made mention of to others. C.S. Lewis was also admired by the Pope, as seen in his interview with Englishman Walter Hoover:

In November 1994, I myself was asked to go to Rome to talk with John Paul II about Lewis. I met him after his general audience and he explained that he had greatly valued Lewis' 1960 study, The Four Loves. He also asked me a very pastoral question: "Do you still love your old friend?" I replied that I did, "both with storge [familial affection] and philia [friendship]." I did my best to answer his questions, thinking all the time how alike these two men were. At the end, the pope said something I found deeply moving: "C.S. Lewis knew what his apostolate was, and he did it!"...One could say the same about John Paul II, who appeared to know more about Lewis' works than I realized. I believe he was personally behind their translation into Polish. http://ncronline.org/news/art-media/cs-lewis-couldnt-touch-anything-without-illuminating-it

Karol Wojtyla's respect for man's conscience is the most crucial component to his ecumenical thought. As pope, he could not "lord over" the servants of God. Instead, he appealed to the conscience of every man by presenting him with the very truth of Christ--as found in his many profound writings, prayers, poetry and travels. Even if one could deny his way of Christo-centric thinking, one would be hard-pressed to refuse to believe the suffering JPII endured for the sake of the Gospel. Therefore, between his appeals for forgiveness and comradery in "Ut Unum Sint", and his broad-reaching influence on members of the body of Christ around the world--it is good and right to say that JPII was a true servant of God and bridge-builder(pontiff) for Christianity.