Previous | Back to the list | Next
Laying Foundations - Pope John Paul II
|(photo courtesy of |
the Archdiocese of Westminster)
(Written in 1995)
A common fallacy abroad today is that you cannot express strong moral and spiritual truth because young people in particular will not take it.
The prophets and founders of the great faiths did not take that line. Purity, including sexual purity, was hardly a characteristic of the ancient world. Yet it was suddenly confronted with the dazzling purity of Christ.
The Pope was once a fun-loving student. His great loves were sport, especially skiing, and the stage. A fellow student said: 'Everyone was sure he was going to be a great actor. Part of the secret was his voice. It was powerful and hauntingly beautiful.'
Nearly 60 years later that voice continues to be heard. In his new book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the Pope writes: 'In the past younger generations were shaped by the painful experience of war, of concentration camps, of constant danger…. The heroism of my contemporaries helped me to define my vocation…. Today's young people certainly grow up in a different context. They live in freedom, which others have won for them, and have yielded in large part to the consumer culture.'
It is difficult to make moral choices in a climate of prosperity. There seems no urgency. But prosperity is often only skin deep. Uncertainty and despair can lie underneath. Where there is so little certainty ahead, of home or job, it is easy to eat and drink and take drugs to gain at least some enjoyment. St Augustine in The City of God addressed Rome in these words: 'Prosperity depraved you: adversity could not reform you.'
Let me quote further from the Pope's book:
About 150 years after Descartes (he died in 1650) all that was fundamentally Christian in the tradition of European thought had already been pushed aside…. This was the time of the Enlightenment in France, when pure rationalism held sway. The French Revolution knocked down the altars dedicated to Christ and introduced the cult of the goddess Reason. The spiritual and in particular the moral patrimony of Christianity were thus torn from their evangelical foundations. In order to restore Christianity to its full vitality it is essential that these return to their foundation.
The struggle against God, the systematic elimination of all that is Christian, has dominated thought and life in the West for three centuries.... People and nations need to hear Christ's words: 'Be not afraid.' Their conscience needs to grow in the certainty that someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world - the keys to death and the netherworld. Someone who is the Alpha and Omega of human history - be it the individual or collective history. And this someone is Love.'
In Psalm 11, David writes: 'If the foundations be destroyed what can the righteous do?' The Pope seems to answer that question. He puts his finger on the secularization of society as the number one issue. The bird has to rebuild its broken nest. He acknowledges that 'seeds of the Word' are present in all religions. The Christian church seeks to identify those seeds in the great traditions of the Far East, 'in order to trace a common path against a background of the needs of the contemporary world'.
Astronomers have told us that the universe can 'only' expect to survive for 2,000 million more years! We are still laying the foundations. They are surely worth building on rock. The price of doing that is well expressed by Kipling:
They that dig foundations deep,
Fit for realms to rise upon,
Little honour do they reap
Of their generation....
Not by lust of praise or show....
Doubted are they, and defamed....
Lesser men feign greater goals.
Reading the Pope's book, I was moved again, and grateful, that the author had sacrificed the mountains and lakes of Poland, which he loved, as well as the stages of the world, to walk the world's stage with a message so clear and full of hope.
Back to the top