John Paul II as the ancient bard

John Paul II as the ancient bard

John Paul II invokes the past, present and future as the ancient bard of Blake’s poem:

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who present, past, and future sees; 
Whose ears have heard 
The Holy Word, 
That walked among the ancient trees,

Christians celebrated the jubilee in a unique way, for while we looked back to the past and commemorated the life, deeds, words of Jesus Christ, we also enter a living mystery, an ever-present source of knowledge and love. Indeed, a major theme of the Letter is the contemplation of the face of Christ. And the future is open for the growth of the kingdom of God and its consummation at the end of time. It is not for us to know the day or hour, so John Paul II launches out into the deep of a new millennium. But we are certain of the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection such that every Sunday is a “Jubilee” recollection within the present, looking forward to the end. John Paul says that “by celebrating his Passover not just once a year but every Sunday, the Church will continue to show to every generation ‘the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world’s origin and its final destiny leads’.” §35

He elaborates as following: “The truth of Christ’s Resurrection is the original fact upon which Christian faith is based (cf. 1 Cor 15:14), an event set at the centre of the mystery of time, prefiguring the last day when Christ will return in glory. We do not know what the new millennium has in store for us, but we are certain that it is safe in the hands of Christ.

Thus the Jubilee did more than celebrate a proud event of temporal endurance, such as a bi-centennial for a political constitution, and promises more than the unveiling of a new master plan for the future or product line for the next generation (I think of Steve Jobs at an MacWorld Conference and Expo). Rather, the Jubilee was a commemoration of the very ground, the very center of history. We forget that the pagan world still languished in the endless cycles and had no history beyond the chronicles of war or power. They had the mythic accounts, but they were pre-history, imaginative stories that could serve the role of ungirding a regime or a psychic episode of self-discovery. So in the Letter John Paul II proclaims this truth:

Christianity is a religion rooted in history! It was in the soil of history that God chose to establish a covenant with Israel and so prepare the birth of the Son from the womb of Mary “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4). Understood in his divine and human mystery, Christ is the foundation and centre of history, he is its meaning and ultimate goal.

 The discovery of history through the revelation of creation and covenant, and then incarnation and resurrection has been suppressed by the rationalism of the age, which has tried its own substitutes for (sacred) history, either the totalitarian gnostic myths of a great millennial Reich or the advent of the classless society. Or we have the more limited, but no less soul-killing, myth of liberal progress and enlightenment, originating with Comte and Mill, and culminating with Rawlsian original position and rules for public discourse, and other such Epigones of Voltaire, Rousseau and Kant.  “Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau: Mock on, mock on, tis all in vain!”

What is the meaning of history? Utopia, Reich, liberal progress, “tis all in vain.” But the Jubilee recalls us to a primal and living truth. Christ is the foundation and center of history, he is its meaning and ultimate goal. And this truth is not a dry abstract affirmation, nor is it a gnostic escape from time. With an even better metaphor John Paul speaks about the “pulsating heart” of time.

His incarnation, culminating in the Paschal Mystery and the gift of the Spirit, is the pulsating heart of time, the mysterious hour in which the Kingdom of God came to us (Mk 1:15), indeed took root in our history, as the seed destined to become a great tree (Mk 4:30-32). §5

Pope John Paul II, on the hand prayed for the purification of memory and the acknowledgment of the sins of the members of the Church and a need for repentance — “during the course of the first two millennia, the Gospel spirit did not always shine forth” (§6); but on the other hand, he looked to the concrete signs of life — to its martyrs and saints of the past (especially in the 20th century) and to the great flood of pilgrims to the Eternal City of Rome for the Jubilee.

As for the saints and martyrs he said:

Holiness, whether ascribed to Popes well-known to history or to humble lay and religious figures, from one continent to another of the globe, has emerged more clearly as the dimension which expresses best the mystery of the Church. Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of the face of Christ. §7

As for the Pilgrims:

I have often stopped to look at the long queues of pilgrims waiting patiently to go through the Holy Door. In each of them I tried to imagine the story of a life, made up of joys, worries, sufferings; the story of someone whom Christ had met and who, in dialogue with him, was setting out again on a journey of hope. As I observed the continuous flow of pilgrims, I saw them as a kind of concrete image of the pilgrim Church, the Church placed, as Saint Augustine says, “amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God”.

We are the pilgrims, my friend, upon whom the Pope looked with love; and we hope to be among the saints. If we only hearken to the voice of the Bard. I return to clear voice of Blake in the Songs of Experience, so as to appreciate the work of Pope John Paul II: 

Hear the voice of the Bard! 
Who present, past, and future sees; 
Whose ears have heard The Holy Word, 
That walked among the ancient trees, 
Calling the lapsed soul, 
And weeping in the evening dew; 
That might control The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen, light renew! 
“O Earth, O Earth, return! 
Arise from out the dewy grass; 
Night is worn, 
And the morn Rises from the slumberous mass. 
“Turn away no more; 
Why wilt thou turn away? 
The starry floor, The watery shore, 
Is given thee till the break of day

John Paul beheld the “starry floor” of the sky and discerned the heart of time and he stepped upon the watery shore and recalled those words of Christ: “Duc in altum.”.

1 Comment
  1. The late Fr. Richard Neuhaus did not like the term "ordinary time" in relation to the liturgial year. Every day since the Resurrection, he maintained, is extraordinary time and this post explains exactly why his point is one to be dwelt upon.Thanks for a great post – Blake plus JPII. That's a combination to start a day! an extraordinary day!

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