Gift and Mystery – Early lessons, chaps. 5-7

Karol Wojtyla spoke about “learning from Rome” when he studied there in 1946: the Rome of catacombs, the Rome of the martyrs, the Rome of Peter and Paul, the Rome of the confessors of the faith. His priesthood took on, he said, “a European and a universal dimension.”

It is still more interesting that while in Rome in the mid forties he first began to think about some key themes of Vatican II and his own pontificate, among them — the challenge of secularization, the importance of lay apostolate, the crucial role of confession in spiritual growth (see his comments on Saint John Vianney — the priest should make himself a prisoner of the confessional).
On secularization:
During his second parish assignment, St Florian’s in Krakow, he began to give talks to the young people “concerning the existence of God and the spiritual nature of the human soul.” He recognized then that such talks were “extremely important” given the “militant atheism promoted by the atheistic regime.” May all Catholic universities take heed in this day of increasing secularization in present day Western “liberal” societies which creates pressure to cut the core offerings in philosophy!
On lay apostolate:
Wojtyla developed strong relationships and friendships with the laity. The cooperation of priests and lay people is vital to evangelization today; as he noted, “my pastoral work was able to increase; I was able to overcome barriers and move in circles which otherwise would have been very difficult to reach.”
Finally, John Paul speaks about the experiential and historical roots of his commitment to human rights. Too many conservative critics of Pope John Paul II quibble about his use of “rights talk.” Intellectual, philosophical or theological, criticism is, of course, fair to do. But I often hear Wojtyla criticized as some naive proponent of Vatican II optimism who failed to see the hazards of rights talk. But first let them read Gift and Mystery pages 66-67. He says he came to know the evil of oppression and terror from “within” as he and his fellows Poles endured Naziism and Communism. They learned to defend the dignity of man against such onslaughts and to “fight courageously for the right of believers to profess their faith.” He says it should be “easy to understand” his deep concern for” the dignity of every human person and the need to respect human rights, beginning with the right to life.” Who shall gainsay this man?


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