John Paul II was arguably the most consequential pope of the last five hundred years.
His radical Christian discipleship, and his remarkable capacity to let that commitment shine through his words and his actions, made Christianity interesting and compelling in a world that thought it had outgrown its “need” for religious faith. He was a man of extraordinary courage, the kind of courage that comes from a faith forged in reflection on Calvary and the murder of the Son of God; the kind of courage that inspires courage in others. Against the cultural conventions of his time, he showed that young people want to be challenged to live lives of heroism. He lifted up the dignity of the human person at a moment when the West was tempted to traipse down the path to Huxley’s brave new world of manufactured and stunted humanity. And he proclaimed the universality of human rights with a power that helped bring down the greatest tyranny in human history.
I’m often asked about the most striking human traits I saw in John Paul II over more than a quarter-century of observation and during twelve years of intense personal conversation. One answer I frequently give is that the late pope was the most intensely curious man I’ve ever known. His mind was always oriented toward the present and the future. He always wanted to know about the new books, the new articles, and the new arguments in my corner of the intellectual and cultural world. He even wanted to know the latest pope-jokes.
As I came to know him better, I began to understand that this intense curiosity was not a matter of psychology; it was a matter of theology. John Paul II truly believed that, as he once put it, “in the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.” What seems to us “coincidence” is in fact an aspect of Providence that we have not understood yet. So his curiosity and his orientation toward the present and the future were matters of looking into “here” and “now” to try and see where the wind of the Holy Spirit might be blowing, and in what direction.
GEORGE WEIGEL is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His two volume biography of John Paul II includes Witness to Hope (1999) and The End and the Beginning (2010).
George Weigel | Apr 29, 2011 1:09 PM