Book Reviews: Translucent with Hope
John Paul II, Man of Prayer
by Clare Anderson and Joanna Bogle. 157 pp. Gracewing. £9.99.
Reviewed by Bryan Storey
Christianity has a vital message concerning the growth of human love. All Our Lord’s teachings confirm and deepen the immediate voice of conscience; they are the answer to our vital need to love and be loved. The sufferings endured through not relating to the internal Kingdom of Our Lord are of great concern - marriage breakdown, living together before marriage, domestic violence, utter confusion over sexual matters, abortion, to name a few of the problems - when we have little idea about how to grow in love through the necessary inner emotional conversion. What a blessing it is then to have spiritual leaders with the conviction and power to lead us towards our saving God.
I cannot forget that day when the news came through. ‘We have a new Pope,’ a friend told me. ‘He’s a Pole’. We’d not heard of him. We were all very excited. The college of Cardinals was now more international, involving the real possibility of a non-Italian being elected as Pope. Yet we had no idea what a giant this Pope would turn out to be. Soon after his election, I remember a parishioner saying to me, ‘Sorry I can’t stop to talk - Pope John Paul II is on the television.’ We had not been used to a Pope so much at home with the media. What a communicator he was and with such perfectly pronounced English. We were soon to learn of his wonderful rapport with everybody he met. We learnt too of his suffering under Communism and his contribution to its eventual collapse in his Polish homeland. ‘Nobody could keep up with him,’ said his successor, Pope Benedict. He travelled as no Pope had travelled before, everywhere making our Lord known. He was constantly teaching the truths for which we pine, welcome or unwelcome. ‘He knows his Bible well,’ said a local Methodist preacher after his visit to our country.
A life dedicated to our Saviour
This book is wonderfully researched with many interesting stories of Pope John Paul, philosopher, theologian, poet, playwright and priest. In the bibliography, 36 books are mentioned, and in an Appendix there are prayers which the Pope either personally wrote or were his favourite ones.
John Paul II, Man of Prayer demonstrates time and again, as its title suggests, how this great Pope could sustain his enormous activities with such steadfastness. He was utterly God-centred.
In his appreciative Foreword, the National Director of ‘Aid to the Church in Need’, Neville Kyrke-Smith, calls the book fascinating and goes to the central issue in saying that Pope John Paul II’s whole life and witness could be said to be like that of Our Lord Himself, often in the Garden of Gethsemane but translucent with the hope of the resurrection. Those words sum it up so well and begin to point to the depth of the spirit that prompted his activities, rising up with the Crucified One by a life dedicated to our Saviour. His genuine ecumenism was thoroughly rooted in our Catholic faith. He promoted the Divine Mercy. It was so impressive to see the crowds flocking to St. Peter’s Square for his funeral. So many of them were young. No wonder more than a few called for his immediate canonisation in St. Peter’s Square so soon after his death.
Suffering and resurrection
He had been influenced from his earliest days by deeply God-centred Spanish mystics including St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. From them he learnt that to embrace life’s inevitable set-backs and disappointments in union with the suffering Lord is the sure way regularly to rise again in spirit. In following Our Lord, we find with Him the intrinsic relationship between suffering and resurrection. Our Lady’s role in the Lord’s redemptive work had been underlined by his study of the writings of the French St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. He grasped strongly the reality that God is love itself and that the more we draw near to Him, the more likely we are to banish depressions, despondencies and loneliness.
Many of the facts mentioned in this book reveal the inner genuine sanctity of John Paul. He advised fellow seminarists having a hard time studying in Communist times to sigh to God for greater understanding; he discovered God’s will in each difficult moment; he shared with others when there was so very little to share. We learn of the importance he attached to daily Mass, his fidelity to prayer, the rosary, promoting Eucharistic adoration, weekly confession of sins, his attention to the needs of others as though he or she were the only one he’d ever met, his self-sacrifice in imitation of Maximillian Kolbe whom he had canonised; most importantly, we learn of his very deep understanding of how life is transformed through chastity for married and single alike. He promoted almost unconsciously the great and hard to believe truth that to grow in chastity is the only way to grow in genuine human love.
Kingdom of Heaven
He shared his acute sufferings with us at the end of his life when he could scarcely walk or talk on account of his Parkinson’s. ‘Isn’t that helpful?’ I remember a housebound, very poorly parishioner saying to me one day. For sure he had entered and experienced the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Now he intercedes for us in the life after death.
Fr. Bryan Storey is Priest-in-charge of St. Paul the Apostle mission church, Tintagel, Cornwall.