First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Why I Miss Karol Wojtyla
To Catholics, the passing of John Paul II meant they lost one Pope -- a beloved and popular one. But they know that they will soon have another. There is a long (and complicated) chain of succession going back to the early days of Christianity, and that sense of continuity will sustain them.
One Pope is gone, but Mother Church continues.
But I'm not a Catholic. According to my beliefs, the office of Pope holds no particular authority; I have no stake in the succession; Pope John Paul II was never the leader of my church.
And yet ... I find that I mourn him and miss him.
Death Is No Tragedy
These feelings are not because of his fame or his common touch. He is not Princess Di, a celebrity we liked who died tragically young.
He died as a very old man, after a lifetime of real achievement. How can we grieve for a long life well-lived?
Yet I find, to my surprise, that his death moves me the way I was moved by the deaths of Anwar Sadat and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Winston Churchill. I realized, with his passing, that he was a hero of mine. That I felt better and safer about the world because he was in it, and I feel that we are just a little worse off, in a little more danger, because he's gone.
The media love conflict, and so he is being labeled by some as "divisive" or "polarizing." And it's certainly true that many of his actions caused controversy, and some people became very angry because of what he said and did.
But he was not a divider. Not a revolutionary. He didn't try to stir things up. The people who were angry at him were the revolutionaries and the dividers. All he did was to stand against them.
He gave a name to the complex of "modern" changes that embraced sin and favored destruction of civilized values and civilizing institutions. "The Culture of Death," he called it, and he was right.
Somebody needed to say it, but who dared, who was listened to, until he spoke?
John Paul II was a protector. He was Beowulf standing up to the dragon. He died with the battle unwon, but he helped us find our own courage to stand with him, and to continue standing, even without him.
What Was His Holiness?
The title the Pope is given is "his holiness." But in my faith, this title does not belong to an office.
I know too much history. Popes have been called by that name who did not deserve it by any acceptable meaning of the word "holy."
But when Karol Wojtyla was given that title, he restored meaning to it, because he was indeed a holy man.
Holiness cannot be conferred; it can only be discovered in a life of sacrifice and courage and honor.
Faith in God is what makes a man holy. Even if I disagree with him about who God is and how he should be worshipped, when a man lives by his faith, sacrifices for his faith, courageously stands against evil and unrighteousness, speaks truth to power, reckless of his own danger, unconcerned about repercussions, then I feel his holiness in the eyes of my God as well as his.
After all, none of us can possibly understand God, and even if some of us might approach that understanding a little more than others, it is hardly a cause for us to reject any who serve him unstintingly.
I find far more holiness in someone who does not share my faith, but lives truly by his own, than in one who does share my doctrine, but lives by it no better than I.
Leader of Christianity
In no sense that I can think of were any of the previous Popes of my lifetime spokesmen for Christianity as a whole. I saw them entirely as spokesmen for one particular church -- a large and influential one, a historically important one, but they were apart from me.
Nor did I think it remotely possible that I would ever feel any other way.
But very soon after his accession, I began to realize that this man -- this Karol Wojtyla, this John Paul II -- was declaring boldly the stand of Christianity as a whole against the new and godless religions that were becoming the state churches of the traditionally dominant Christian nations.
Nothing he said made me want to become a Catholic. But most of the things he said and did made me think of myself as one of the Christians he was speaking for. At times I even found myself wishing that the leader of my church would speak to the rest of the world as boldly and clearly. (Then we got a leader who did; but that's another story.)
The Real Ecumenism
I had little patience with the so-called "ecumenical movement." As far as I could see, the only way for any Protestant church to rejoin the Catholic Church and share communion and baptism with Catholics was to accept the authority of the Pope. If they were accepted without doing that, then Catholicism was admitting its own illegitimacy; and if they did accept the authority of the Pope, they were repudiating their whole history as Protestants.
Nor did I see the point.
John Paul II showed the way toward a real ecumenism. He did not try to pretend that Christianity was not divided into different streams of authority and different doctrines. Instead, he spoke with the authority he had, as if he spoke for all Christians, and then let Christians sort themselves out into the groups that agreed with, believed in, and lived by the bold statements he made; and those that didn't.
What I saw was that many a Protestant came closer to being in John Paul II's flock than many a Catholic who clearly stood outside it. The Christian world re-sorted itself into those who adhered to a faith centered in a divine resurrected Christ and a literal New Testament, and those who thought that "modern thought" should trump the core doctrines of Christianity.
The real division in Christianity today -- and in other religions too, I might add -- is between the churches and congregations and individuals who are accommodating themselves to the new secularity, abandoning doctrines and commandments in the process, and those that believe that God still requires us to live by faith and by obedience to his commandments, now as much as ever.
Here is one simple truth, borne out by statistics over many decades and generations: The religions that demand of their members some real and rational degree of sacrifice, obedience, and adherence to faith are growing stronger and stronger; while the ones that say, in effect, that you can do what you want and God doesn't expect much of us anymore, except to be vaguely nice -- they are losing members rapidly.
Because if it doesn't matter what you do, then why would you bother to belong?
John Paul II, more than any other Pope, united, in feeling if not in fact, Christians who take the divine Redeemer seriously.
That's the "ecumenical movement" that means something, in my opinion.
The Name of the Man
"John Paul II" was the name he chose for himself when he was entrusted with the office that to him was most sacred, and whose holiness he improved. I am not denying that name when I say that it was Karol Wojtyla that I loved and honored, for his entire life's work, under all his names and titles. And it is Karol Wojtyla that I will miss.
I believe that he will stand someday in the presence of God as a resurrected man; and I believe Christ will receive him on his right hand, and say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
By then, all who stand in that place will have resolved our differences of opinion about doctrine, since our eyes will be opened and we will see our own errors of understanding and forgive others for theirs.
And here in this life, I hope we can learn to judge others by what they have done with the light they received, and honor faith even when we think it partly or wholly misguided. It is not correctness of opinion that determines the value of a person, but whether they live by what they believe, and accord others respect for doing likewise.
So let the media have their punditfests and roundtables and stir up their controversies and give their learned evaluations.
But let us who believe in Christ as the Savior of the world and the Son of God -- and even those who do not -- give due honor to Karol Wojtyla, a man who lived his life by his faith, and served his Master well.
Copyright © 2005 by Orson Scott Card.
When Is a Husband Entitled to Speak for His Wife? - by John Hansen
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