Thursday, 28 April 2011

Catholics of a certain age ...

... have lived almost all their adult lives in what might be termed "the times of Pope John Paul II".  Our experience gives us a particular attitude to his beatification this coming Sunday. My own memories of the early months of his pontificate are his address to the Conference of Latin American bishops  meeting in Puebla in February 1979, and his first encyclical , Redemptor Hominis.

The passages of the former that I recall most vividly are these, though the very wide ranging nature of the address is not summarised by them:
as Pastors you have the vivid awareness that your principal duty is to be Teachers of the Truth. Not a human and rational truth, but the Truth that comes from God, the Truth that brings with it the principle of the authentic liberation of man: "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32)...

The truth that we owe to man is, first and foremost, a truth about man. As witnesses of Jesus Christ we are heralds, spokesmen and servants of this truth. We cannot reduce it to the principles of a system of philosophy or to pure political activity. We cannot forget it or betray it.
At the time, it was impossible not to notice the references in this address to the need to safeguard the purity of Catholic doctrine and to the fact that the liberation of man needed to have regard to the whole person and should not be reduced to a solely political or ideological programme.

The opening passages of Redemptor Hominis are interesting in showing how John Paul II understood the pontificate of Pope Paul VI:
I chose the same names that were chosen by my beloved Predecessor John Paul I. Indeed, as soon as he announced to the Sacred College on 26 August 1978 that he wished to be called John Paul-such a double name being unprecedented in the history of the Papacy-I saw in it a clear presage of grace for the new pontificate. Since that pontificate lasted barely 33 days, it falls to me not only to continue it but in a certain sense to take it up again at the same starting point. This is confirmed by my choice of these two names. By following the example of my venerable Predecessor in choosing them, I wish like him to express my love for the unique inheritance left to the Church by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI and my personal readiness to develop that inheritance with God's help....
Entrusting myself fully to the Spirit of truth, therefore, I am entering into the rich inheritance of the recent pontificates. This inheritance has struck deep roots in the awareness of the Church in an utterly new way, quite unknown previously, thanks to the Second Vatican Council, which John XXIII convened and opened and which was later successfully concluded and perseveringly put into effect by Paul VI, whose activity I was myself able to watch from close at hand. I was constantly amazed at his profound wisdom and his courage and also by his constancy and patience in the difficult postconciliar period of his pontificate. As helmsman of the Church, the bark of Peter, he knew how to preserve a providential tranquillity and balance even in the most critical moments, when the Church seemed to be shaken from within, and he always maintained unhesitating hope in the Church's solidity. What the Spirit said to the Church through the Council of our time, what the Spirit says in this Church to all the Churches cannot lead to anything else-in spite of momentary uneasinesses-but still more mature solidity of the whole People of God, aware of their salvific mission.

Paul VI selected this present-day consciousness of the Church as the first theme in his fundamental Encyclical beginning with the words Ecclesiam Suam. Let me refer first of all to this Encyclical and link myself with it in this first document that, so to speak, inaugurates the present pontificate. The Church's consciousness, enlightened and supported by the Holy Spirit and fathoming more and more deeply both her divine mystery and her human mission, and even her human weaknesses-this consciousness is and must remain the first source of the Church's love, as love in turn helps to strengthen and deepen her consciousness. Paul VI left us a witness of such an extremely acute consciousness of the Church. Through the many things, often causing suffering, that went to make up his pontificate he taught us intrepid love for the Church, which is, as the Council states, a "sacrament or sign and means of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind".

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