Priestly loving: The BBC versus St John Paul II

Priestly loving: The BBC versus St John Paul II

In the November 2008 FAITH magazine Fr William Massie, reflects upon Edward Holloway’s pamphlet, “The Priest and His Loving”. A prophetic 1974 foundation of this pamphlet is in the current magazine. Fr Massie quoted this St John Paul II imperative to priests:

be a witness to Christ’s spousal love, and thus be capable of loving people with a heart which is new, generous and pure, with genuine self-detachment, with full, constant and faithful dedication and at the same time with a kind of ‘divine jealousy’ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2) – and even with a kind of maternal tenderness, capable of bearing the ‘pangs of birth’ until ‘Christ be formed’ in the faithful (cf. Gal 4:19). (Pastores Dabo Vobis, n.22) 

George Weigel, the Pope’s biographer, recently in effect affirmed that St John Paul lived this out in his friendships. Weigel was reflecting upon a 15th February BBC Panorama “documentary”. The programme was presented by Edward Stourton, host of Radio 4’s religious news “Sunday” programme. To quite a few of us Stourton provides a profoundly secularising spin to the “news”. His documentary was based upon over a hundred letters from Pope John Paul II to a married woman, Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish philosopher. (It strangely failed to tell us whether the lady’s husband was ever mentioned which is surely highly relevant to any judgment on the correspondence). Eamonn Duffy was on hand to suggest that this Pope had an “iron will” which he used in this relationship to avoid breaking his promise of celibacy.

Weigel writes,

The letters reflect a deep and searching friendship, not unlike other letters of Wojtyła’s, … Stourton, however … throws them into the Freudian Mixmaster … and then suggests that there was something … that, while not quite untoward, should nonetheless change our perceptions of John Paul II (wink, wink, nod, nod). …

… Karol Wojtyla had many close friendships; he often worked out the meaning of those friendships in correspondence with his friends. [… this] ought not be surprising – except to those who carry a burden of false assumptions about love, celibacy, and their relationship … As a mature man, he took the decision to express his [proven] capacity for love as a celibate in the priesthood  … He was choosing to express his love and his paternal instinct spiritually, through the gift of his life in service to others. ….. [His] close friendships with women … lived in an intimacy that was not sexual but was quite real, … helped Karol Wojtyła/JP II give a fresh new articulation to the ethics of love and responsibility (to borrow 1 of his book’s titles).

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Faith Magazine

January/ February 2020

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