Saturday, April 02, 2005
Just a Man
Leading the way.
Pictured above you can see Pope John Paul II whose passing we have begun to mourn this day. I occupy the odd position of being a Protestant (and almost a Lutheran) who happens to respect the Pope to a great degree. Let me explain.
Many is the time that I have mentioned the Pope only to hear someone say, "He's just a man." I disagree. The Pope was not just a man, he was a man who did some great things in his life. He was a man who pointed to a deeper, sterner morality. He was a man who rejected the moral relativism that charged into society in the 1960's. He was a man who stood against Soviet communism in the face of a world that believed no form of government was better than another. He was a man who championed human dignity and understood that everyone is equal. He understood that every person is endowed with certain rights and ought to be treated as if that were true. More than this, he spoke out about those rights. You were never uncertain about what Pope John Paul II believed, nor what he believed in. To have such a man become an international figure at the time that he did caused much to change in the world.
Many things have happened since Karol Wojtyla was chosen for the papacy in 1978. The world changed drastically since that time. Communism remained strong in 1978. Culturally the world had changed following Vatican 2. You can read all about his life in an article by William Kristol. Kristol shows the importance of John Paul II's papacy on the world at large in his well written essay. John Paul II gave more to the world than a commentary unhindered by politics and rich with a true understanding of good and evil. He gave more to the world than merely a very active pope who cared deeply about human suffering and fought to preserve morality. In a way, he gave the world a commission.
The photo above expresses a certain symbolism about the Pope's life that must be understood. Slowly, head bent, he steps forward, and what do we see? We see humility and suffering. We see an office taken and used for good to draw mankind forward towards a greater light. We see a way pointed out to us, perhaps one that many cannot follow. He showed us a different life, one that many may be searching for as I write. In taking that way of life he asks that we rise above being just people and realize that we have a choice. We can choose to live our lives without paying attention to anything but our own wants and needs. Or we can choose to live our lives in making the world a better place.
Meditation on truth and morality should not lead us down a despondent path. John Paul II realized this. His life echoed a deep sense of joy even as he said "Be not afraid!" at the beginning of his papacy. He rose above the temptation to despair about where the world is going. He chose to make the world a better place; to put his belief in truth and morality--his belief in God--to practice. As the Pope he could have looked down upon humanity and acted above them. Instead he worked for every person's rights, and strove for the common person. Not long before he died, he heard that young people had enmassed outside of the Vatican, "I have been waiting for you," he said. No doubt he had, no doubt he knew that someday someone would have to carry on his legacy. To bend beneath that weight of humility and strive to define the world around them by declaring what was good and what was evil. By clearly believing in what they spoke out for in more than words alone.
That is the commission of John Paul II, a man. Just a man in a position to make the world a better place and actually attempting to do that. He was just a mortal man, who believed in an immortal God and tried to do His will.