WORLD OF THE TEXT INTRODUCTION Pope John Paul II was a mystic. His poetry reveals to us some glimpse of his mystical personality. He composed poetry when he was a young man and even when he was already a priest. Many of these poems are fruits of his contemplation about the stormy events in his life, of his nation, and of humanity. Nevertheless, what separates him from the pessimists of his time was that he sees things, good or bad; in the light of God’s love for him.
With that background, we now explore the poem that concerns us in this work, and take a glimpse of the young John Paul II who wrote it while in the midst of an explosive event in church history. The newly ordained priest, “Lolek”, assigned as students’ chaplain in St. Florian’s Parish in Krakow (March 17, 1949) composed a poem-cycle entitled “Song of the Brightness of Water” Piesn o blasku wody (May 7, 1950) using the pen name Andrzej Jawien. The late Pope’s mysticism can be perceived in a part of this poem-cycle entitled “Later Recollection of the Meeting” (Pozniejsze rozpamietywanie spotkania).
When this poem was written, his native Poland was in the transition stage from Nazi occupation into a communist government. This transition was not easy, since both powers claiming the land were threatening to decimate Poland’s national identity, imposing an entirely new ideology. The people of Poland struggled and risked their lives to combat their worst nightmare. Hosts of human lives were wasted. The Polish people shed their blood to preserve their nation’s identity and their freedom. John Paul II lived this world in his youth. The strength inside his people is the same strength that was in him.
And this hidden fountain of vigor manifests in his poetry. (LATER RECOLLECTION OF THE MEETING) He saw me in himself, possessed me in himself He suffused me with ease, Burst my shame in me and the thoughts I’d suppressed for so long. As if he—touching a rhythm in my temples All of a sudden Carried the great exhaustion In me, with such care. Words were simple. They walked beside me Like charmed sheep. But within me they take off: Dozing birds from their nests. He was whole in my sin and my secret. Too late. Every pain today Returning from You, Changes to love on its way. EXPOSITION
In order to make a sequential presentation of John Paul II’s mysticism, I decided to present the chosen text in an inverted way in able to express more in logical order how his mysticism became a central part of his ministry and life. Too late. Every Pain today Returning from You Changes to love on it way. Pope John Paul II’s history is far from smooth and rosy. On the contrary it was laden with extreme hardship, and personal tragedies. All throughout his life, suffering and sorrow were at his side. These three lines express the pain Lolek went through in his life, which at the same time became God’s tools for his salvation and mission. Too late” means he understood later in life that his suffering is a path that leads him to the Cross where the pain is transformed into an expression of God’s love. Later in his life he wrote: “At twenty, I had already lost all the people I loved and even the ones that I might have loved, such as the big sister who had died, so I was told, six years before my birth. I was not old enough to make my first communion when I lost my mother, who did not have the happiness of seeing the day to which she looked forward as a great day.
She wanted two sons, one a doctor and the other priest; my brother was a doctor and in spite of everything, I have become a priest. ” “The many encounters between John Paul II and the sick, and his personal experience of suffering found expression in the apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris. ” In this apostolic letter, the then older Lolek manifested in clear explanation the meaning of suffering in Christian faith. It is not a situation of total absence of God. However, in suffering, God is not up there sitting on his throne, but with us in pain through his Son on the Cross, the Emmanuel “God with us”.
So, each event of suffering, that is inevitable to everybody is in fact an opportunity to lived in union with the crucified and risen Christ. Contrary from the common point of view to suffering as evil, John Paul II explicated that it has actually a great spiritual value, it is a spiritual good of the Church and the world, it brings to man the mysteries of grace and salvation. The mysticism of the Cross as it is in the spirituality of John Paul II always echoes its voice through the events of his life. Even already as a pope, God still allowed him to participate in this suffering.
During the event of his assassination, many people gathered around him, concerned about him, but only the mystics can understand the mystics in this particular situation, as in the case of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who made a prayer for him during those critical time. She said: O Lord, once again you have wanted our Pope John Paul II beside you on the cross, to remind the world that only in the cross is there resurrection and life… Under the weight of the cross, the pope, following the example of Jesus, reaches us to “love” the cross”.
Hence, it is very clear to our Pope Karol that his Lord, our Lord Jesus did not shrink from the cross, but willingly embraced it as the instrument by which he would accomplish his mission and strike at the very roots of evil. He suffered voluntarily and innocently, and in so doing, he gives us the answer to the problem of evil, which we don’t comprehend most of the time. In his encyclical on mercy and in his apostolic letter on suffering the pope meditates on the relationship between justice and mercy, both of which are shown forth in their perfection in the cross of Christ.
The crucifixion, grossly unjust on the part of the executioners, is a work of divine justice because Christ compensates adequately and indeed superabundantly for all sin. This deed of justice springs from God’s merciful love, since the Father freely surrenders his Son for our sakes and since the Son freely accepts his painful mission. Because Christ has paid the price for human sin, we who are sinners can hope for pardon and forgiveness. As the supreme mystery of divine love, the cross is the source from which flow the living waters of redemption. Jesus in the Gospels summons all Christians to take up their ross, following him in suffering. He wills to be united with those who suffer, and in a mysterious way allows their tribulations to complete his own. This theme too finds expression in Paul, who writes to the Colossians: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”. In his rather lengthy commentary on this verse, John Paul II denies that there is any insufficiency in the redemptive suffering of Christ. Because of its redemptive efficacy, other persons may enter lovingly into the redemptive mystery by uniting their sufferings to those of the Lord.
The salvific value of suffering, however, provides no excuse for inflicting suffering or failing to alleviate it when we can. Jesus was moved to compassion in the presence of human misery, and he proposed the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate how we should relate to those who suffer. The last judgment scene in Mt 25 makes it clear that we will be rewarded or punished for our mercy or lack of mercy toward those who suffer hunger, thirst, loneliness, nakedness, and imprisoment . As a personalist, John Paul II insists that suffering calls for a personal response of love.
No institution, he says, can replace the human heart when it is a question of dealing with suffering. It would be completely false to imagine that the Gospel justifies passivity. On the contrary, suffering constitutes an appeal for mercy and compassion. We are called to do good both by patient acceptance of our own suffering and by compassionate assistance toward others who suffer. He was whole in my sin and my secret. Human being is never neutral toward God, in any of his thoughts or actions. In the more abstract language of the modern tradition, there is no “pure” nature untouched by grace.
There is only a human nature always-already restless for God and burdened by sin. To put it another way, the person is most profoundly defined by his or her capacity for God. Human existence is a dramatic engagement with God, and this engagement is (ontologically) prior to, and always somehow conditions the person’s involvement in, moral, economic, and political affairs. In these conditions of human life on earth, John Paul II firmly believes that sin is inevitable; but it is precisely because of our fallen nature that God’s unconditional love appears. In one message he made during the Angelus, he tells us that God oes not condemn, but waits: It means that I-man-do not remain alone in my guilt. God, who in a certain sense an “eyewitness” (even though an invisible one) of my sin, Is near me, not only to judge me. He does indeed Judge me; he judges me with the same internal judgment of my conscience, providing It has not been deafened or malformed. Nonetheless, that very judgment is now salvific… When I can call evil by Its right name. In a certain sense I break with it, I keep it at a certain distance from me, even if at the same time I know that this evil, sin, does not cease to be mine. Yet, even if my sin is against God, God is not against me!
God does not pronounce his sentence in the moment of the interior tension within the human conscience. He does not condemn. God waits for me to return to him, to loving justice, as to a father, – the parable of the prodigal son teaches. I “reveal” my sin to him, and I entrust myself to him. The answer of God to the sincere acceptance of our fallen nature is nothing but mercy. God does not count how many times we stumble but he is surely happy of how many times we rise up. The mercy of God is beyond human imagination. Pope John Paul II said that : “Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite.
Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father’s readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness, which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ. However, in front of the great mercy of God for us sinners, John Paul II doesn’t give a signal of license to sin more. He actually says that we are responsible for our sins as the subject of sin is always an individual person. The responsibility cannot be transferred to structures, institutions, or societies. It is true, however, that unfavorable social conditions may influence people to fall into sin and may diminish their personal responsibility. Hence, even we know and we are convinced of God’s amazing mercy, our abuse of freedom to sin has its consequences, and it is not towards God but towards us.
That is why, it is important for the people to be aware of the danger of sin. The sense of sin, according to John Paul II, is rooted in conscience, which is intimately connected with the sense of God. The problem of our world is that recognizing sin as mere psychological dynamics, that persons are not really responsible to it signals a deeper reality, it points that our world is suffering from an eclipse of the sense of God. As a result, we are seeing the loss of the sense of sin and there is as consequence license to do evil.
Quoting Pius XII, who in in 1946 already sensed the situation and warned “[t]he sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin “ , John Paul II revealed the pernicious effect of the prevailing secularism, which treats the world as completely autonomous and promotes a humanism that seeks to build a world without God. In this mentality, moral convictions are held to have their ground not in the law of God but in social or psychological conditioning. Subjectivism and relativism undermine all binding obligations.
Confusing a bad conscience with morbid guilt-feelings, psychologists sometimes strive to rid their patients of any sense of sin or guilt. Therefore, as the experience of man mystics, recognition and knowledge of one’s own sinfulness is a basic stage before entering a deeper relationship with God. However, sin makes man suffer; its consequences usually destroy humanity as the world witnessed through violence, competition, abuses, etc. What John Paul II is saying here is that knowing our reality of sin and the mercy of God for us, his being one with us through compassion and forgiveness may instill in humanity the fear of God.
Fear of God is not of being frightened as if God will send lightning to strike us whenever we fall in moments of weakness. Fear of God is fear to lose his love again. As if he—touching a rhythm in my temples All of a sudden Carried the great exhaustion In me, with such care. Young Lolek’s experience of personal tragedies and his embattled native land’s devastation during World War II pushed him to find answers for his puzzled young mind. God honored his quest through a lay mystic, Jan Tyranowski, who helped shape his spirituality along the line of the Carmelite tradition. Tyranowski’s greatest contribution to Karol’s piritual development was introducing him to St. John of the Cross and the Carmelite mysticism. St. John of the Cross speaks of the “dark night of the soul”, where one abandons all securities and enters into radical emptiness, bringing the soul into a mystical union with God. This mysticism of emptying oneself in order to be united to God is a real contradiction of the Nazi’s philosophy about the human condition, which John Paul II experienced. For the Nazi, man can rely on the power of his own will and can even impose his will on others, up to the point of treating other persons as lower in dignity.
Karol zealously welcomed this spirituality. He learned that imitating Christ by completely abandoning all worldly securities and embracing God alone was the key to internal peace and peace with others, an action of gently imparting the same serenity in midst of difficulties. It was mysticism in action. Through this God’s providence, young Karol’s interpretation of all these tragic events ended up to a center of Christian life, which is the cross. On the day his father died, Karol was doing his usual daily routine.
From work, he stopped by his friends’ house to get some provisions and medicine for his ailing father, when he arrived home, he found his father dead. He cried, blaming himself for not being there during his father’s final agony. He later recalled that he had never felt so alone until that night. In one interview, he said that on the night his father died, his emotional defenses were shattered. He embraced Maria (his aunt), his face bathed in tears, and cried out: “I wasn’t there when my mother died, I wasn’t there when my brother died, I wasn’t there when my father died. Each time, God had struck without giving him a chance to share the last moments of the dying. “ Being orphaned by his twenty first birthday affected Karol very much. This dark night of his soul purified his existence, but, as St. John of the Cross taught, it would bear much fruit later in Karol’s life. Karol attributed his illumination about his relationship to God to this time of great suffering. It also paved the way for his vocation as pastor of souls, in the same way that God shepherded his. This mysticism of our late pope was evidently shown in his actions and apostolate. We can actually reflect on the oat-of-arms that he has chosen for his pontificate in this context. His crest contains a large cross, and in the lower right corner a prominent M—the cross of Christ and an M for Mary. To the mystery of the Cross of Christ, he returns repeatedly as he progressively unfolds the central theoretical support for his expansive vision, a theological anthropology centered around the theme that it is Christ who reveals man to himself. It is a religious vision of humanity as so deeply loved by the Creator that the Word of God became incarnate in order to redeem us by his suffering and death.
In this mystery of salvation, both Christ and Mary are the main characters, and John Paul II never put into oblivion these two great persons in his life from the time the he was totally orphaned until the time of his papacy. His deep experience of care from God put him into this authentic ministry of consoling others. He says that: The consolation, which came from the Heart of Christ, was a sharing in human suffering, a desire to lessen anxiety and alleviate sorrow, a practical sign of friendship. In his consoling words and deeds, he marvelously combined deep feeling and effective action.
Near the gate of the city of Nain, when he sees a widow accompanying the remains of her only son to the tomb, Jesus shares her grief. “He had compassion on her” (Lk 7:13). He touched the bier, ordered the boy to get up, and restored him to his mother (cf. Lk 7:14-15). Therefore, Christ’s whole life was a continual ministry of mercy and consolation. The Church, contemplating Christ’s Heart and the streams of grace and consolation which flow from it, has expressed this stupendous truth by the invocation: “Heart of Jesus, Source of all consolation, have mercy on us. It is an admonition, that we, having experienced consolation from the Lord, should in our turn bring it with conviction and love to others, making our own the spiritual experience which made the Apostle Paul say: the Lord “comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:4). Words were simple. They walked beside me Like charmed sheep. But within me they take off: Dozing birds from their nests. How many times has John Paul chanted “Be Not Afraid! To the audiences of hundreds of thousands, and how many times have his listeners heard a line from the Gospel as if they had never heard it before. Even the most hardened and cynical among secular reporters have been known to grow suddenly mushy. Yet his message is not sentimental. It is delivered by someone with a mastery of the modern communications media and with a sense of the significance of his office upon the world stage, someone who loved being an actor in his youth and who has written plays of his own. But the message goes far beyond the admittedly enchanting medium, like the center of the crest, is the Cross of Christ. 15)koterski The simple words “Be Not Afraid” is as simple as the Church, as simple as the Gospel that expresses salvation. The simplicity of God’s word and communication to him made him proclaim the same simplicity to the world. He said that: The luminous sign in which we today profess Christ – the son of Mary – Christ born in Bethlehem, presented in the temple – Christ crucified and risen – is a sign that is simple, yet at the same time so rich. Rich as life – since in fact “the life was the light of men” (Jn 1:4). Christ is the light of human life. He is the light because he dispels the darkness.
He is the light because he makes its mysteries clear. Because he answers questions that are at once basic and definitive. He is the light because he gives meaning to life. He is the light because he convinces man of his great dignity. As he said in his poem “the words were simple”, these simple words accompanied him “they walked beside me”, “but within me they take off”, this simple words of Jesus, of the Gospel, and of the Church settled down in the deepest part of his soul. That is why, John Paul II proclaimed the truth without fear, he knows his foundation, he knows the meaning of man.
He once said that his Pastoral Cry is “Do Not Be Afraid! ” To all people of today, I once again repeat the impassioned cry with which I began my pastoral ministry: “Do not be afraid! Open, indeed, open wide the doors to Christ! Open to his saving power the confines of states, and systems political and economic, as well as the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Do not be afraid! Christ knows ‘what is inside a person. ‘ Only he knows! Today too often people do not know what they carry inside, in the deepest recesses of their soul, in their heart.
Too often people are uncertain about a sense of life on earth. Invaded by doubts they are led into despair. Therefore-with humility and trust I beg and implore you-allow Christ to speak to the person in you. Only he has the words of life, yes, eternal life. ” He saw me in himself, possessed me in himself He suffused me with ease, Burst my shame in me and the thoughts I’d suppressed for so long. During the long nights of his purification, Karol realized with full clarity the deep love God has for him by giving His Son to die for him on the cross.
This is his mystical experience, his firm spirituality, that became his lifelong battle cry against evil, against man’s sufferings inflicted by others, and against the “culture of death”. He was convinced that his experiences in his life, painful as they were, were marvelous and infinitely wise because these were God’s way of communicating to him His love. “Karol felt God really suffused him, and revealed to him his Son on the cross. His real path that of becoming a priest, became clear to him now.
He said later that: “After my father’s death, which occured in February 1941, I gradually became aware of my true path. I was working at the factory and devoting myself, as far as the terrors of the occupation allowed, to my taste for literature and drama. My priestly vocation took shape in the midst of all that, like an inner fact of unquestionable and absolute clarity. The following year, in the autumn, I knew that I was called. I could see clearly what I had to give up and the goal that I had to attain, ‘without a backward glance’. I would be a priest. ”
His calling to the vocation of priesthood is intrinsically a consequential effect of his spirituality and mystical enlightenment. Without his mystical understanding of the sufferings he went through in his life, he would not have heard God’s calling. He was “suffused” by God who spoke to him through the face of his Son dying on the cross. When he became pope, he admitted that his sufferings were God’s gift to him. They were moments of grace – grace that he himself tasted. Karol Wojtyla believed that sufferings can make a person participate in the saving act of God, who suffuses the person with grace in the process.
This grace is transmitted by God to him through the cross: his own and the cross of others. Speaking of the grace received by suffering people, he said: “ Bereft of all strength, dying a slow death, how could these incurables, in human terms, accept their lot? Yet gradually some of them begin to realize that suffering, too, is a privileged vocation in the mystery of Christ and the Church. They live the words of St. Paul: ‘In this mortal frame of mine, I help to pay off the debt which the afflictions of Christ still leave to be paid. More than once I have noted that this terrible irreversibility could be accepted not as a calamity, but a sign of election and vocation, engendering that inner peace and even that joy which come to man when he discovered the meaning of his life and his identity, that is, the name by which God calls him. In my conversation with the most severely tested people, I have often been struck by a serenity, an unexpected happiness in which I could see only a tangible proof of the intervention of grace and of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man. ”
Suffusion by God’s grace seems to be an awkward term in mysticism, since the usual word used is “infusion”. However, suffusion, which comes from the Latin word “suffundere” , is “a pouring out from beneath”. God’s grace entered his life through the backdoor – through his lowest moments. Infusion on the other hand means to add a new or necessary quality or element to something by soaking, like tea infusing flavor to water. Karol’s choice of words was not at all careless but comes from a heightened awareness and understanding of the purpose of his sufferings.
Later, he was indeed convinced that the vocation of the Chruch is to suffer with those who suffer in the cause of justice and truth. As he explains in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, the Church needs to remain steadfastly united to the sufferings of humanity, just as Mary in the Pieta accepts and embraces the sufferings of her Son. In faith she mourns His brutal death but in confident prayer she awaits His resurrection and glory. Pope John Paul II had been gifted the profound understanding of the mystery and mysticism of the Cross in his history.
He looked at the cross as the direct communication between man and God who chose to reveal Himself through it. The cross, an instrument of torture and execution in ancient times, is almost impossible for modern man to grasp, and accept, as the source of God’s grace and fellowship. It was an absurdity to the Greeks, a stumbling block for the Jews. But for the mystics, it is an expression of love. Course: Mystic in the Market Place prepared by: Adonis G. Saclolo