This was so long before I had any inkling that I would become a Christian Catholic.
With ease I can recall vividly my reaction to an article in Harper’s Magazine. In an article she called, Arguing With the Pope journalist Barbara Harrison wrote about Pope John Paul’s trip to Denver in August of 1993 for what the Pope called the eighth, World Youth Day. I remember little more than my complete sense of bafflement that a man who, to me, personified the dark ages would evoke the thunderous adulation and joy among the many hundreds of thousands of his young participants.
Along with writer Harrison, I was astounded by his troglodyte-like claims about abortion, contraception, women and sexuality in general. I remember angrily denouncing the man and his views, only dimly aware that my reaction was highly suggestive of Something important that I was ignoring…
devouring many of his encyclicals and astounded by the wisdom and gentleness he possessed for us- especially women. And realized that I had a friend in him when, upon reading his book, Gospel of Life ,(EVANGELIUM VITAE) I read a passage that felt as if he were writing directly to me.
His words pierced…and then healed.
But it is the collection of meditations given before he became Pope, when he was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla and The Sign of Contradiction, that I write about now.
The title emerges from Simeon’s prophecy about the infant that the young Mary holds in her arms at the Presentation in the Temple. He will be a sign of contradiction and applies to all of us who follow Christ:
Behold, he is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and as a sign of contradiction; and for your part, a sword will pierce your soul…“
Taken from a series of meditations for a March 1976 Lenten Retreat for his predecessor, Pope Pius VI, the papal household, and the cardinals and bishops of the Roman Curia, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla speaks and writes of Genesis as if it is unfolding now. Not as if the garden were metaphorical or historical, like so many of us believe, but as as existent reality.
These are the words spoken to Eve when she answers the serpent, modifying his statement to her…denying her Creator does not even occur to her. For the full and complete temptation offered by he who was more cunning than all of the animals that God had made, we needed to plunge down to a world where the creature and the creator are one and the same.
The world of today.
John Paul takes it back to the beginning: To the first denial in Eden, where the battle between the Word and the [a most interesting phrase he uses for Satan] Anti-Word began. When the ‘father of lies’ approaches, he does not deny God, the existence of God; he cannot deny the essence of creation to which even his own existence bears witness. The first temptation- the denial of Lord and Creator- is being realized in an era in which this aspect of the devil’s temptation has found the historical context that suits it.
Over fifty years ago, Saint Pope John Paul wrote, “we are experiencing the highest level of tension between the Word and the Anti-Word in human history.”
We are surrounded, inundated, with pundits and politicians who believe man is the center of creation. Even those claiming fervent devotion to Catholicism while proceeding to debunk the Church. Like the ‘enlightened’ statesman opining that God did not decrease the rate of infection, man did. And hearing “Catholic” politicians embracing unlimited abortion and euthanasia, the culture of death the Pope wrote about in the Gospel of Life, decades ago.
Consider for a moment, these astoundingly prophetic words Pope John Paul ll delivered in a 1976 address to the US Bishops:
“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church… must take up and face courageously…
We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life as a total dedication to Christ…”
The reading in the Christian Liturgy for Friday, August 21, 2020 is from Ezekiel, the famed dead bones story:
“Then he asked me, Son of Man, can these bones live?” The prophet is looking at a vast field of bones but he knows God, that his God is capable of anything. Perhaps like you, too often, I think of our current world as filled with dead bones and therefore need a daily reminder:
Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
For we know-and trust- that where there is great sin, there is even greater grace. And we must determine to inhale, assimilate all that grace pouring down from Heaven with each and every breath.
So many are rejecting His Grace-but not you, not I!
There has never been an easier time to become a Saint as now.