A Sign of Contradiction

“Behold, he is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and as a sign of contradiction” (Lk 2:34) — from the gospel reading for the Feast of the Presentation.

Karol Wojtyla chose this passage as the connecting thread of the meditations he prepared for Pope Paul VI during a Lenten retreat in 1976. The meditations were published under the title “Sign of Contradiction.”

He commented on this passage as follows:

Don’t these words, spoken at the sight of a little child,  bring together in a wonderful synthesis bring together all that has the most profound impact on us and unceasingly perturbs us? Are they not a sign of our own times, or at least the key to understanding the various symptoms displayed by modern life, symptoms with which the Second Vatican Council concerned itself, and the Synod of Bishops too, and which are of continual concern to the Holy See and all bishops together with the People of God? Might not these words be a distinctive definition of Christ and his Church? “The sign of contradiction”.  .  .  .  May this light give us strength and make us capable of accepting and loving the whole truth of Christ, of loving it all the more as the world all the more contradicts it.” (7-8)

This is really a remarkable passage, refining, perhaps even redefining the more common interpretation of Vatican II and Gaudium et spes? The signs of the times? Wojtyla does not have in mind social trends and bandwagons upon which Catholics must run after or jump upon; the hopes and joys of mankind bring along as well the dashed hopes and the grief that must come from a life lived without Christ, projects hatched without grace, justice demanded without mercy. Indeed, the “human family may wander far from Christ, but then weary of exploring blind alleys, it will come back with renewed hope.” Thus said the great Cardinal Wyszynski in the forward to the book. Vatican II was a call for renewal; but the renewal would come, must come, only from the “sign of contradiction,” and from the woman who held the child in her arms, who would also be pierced in heart.

“The world does battle with the son and his mother. That is why she is ever present in the mystery of Christ and the Church,” Cardinal Wyszynski continued; for he understood his Polish confrere all too well — he said

Tomb of St Stanislaus, Bishop & Martyr

“Bishop Karol carried the ‘yes’ from the altar of St Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, whose relics are preserved in the historic shrine of Wawel, and brought the good news.” And “his gaze is on the ‘sign’ whom the world contradicts, but he views with serenity this contradiction hurled at Christ by the world.”

It is time for “a new Advent for the Church and for humanity, a time of great trial but also of great hope.”

Two years later Cardinal Wojtyla will step up to assume the role of the Vicar of Christ, a sign of the sign of contradiction.

In the Lenten meditation on the mystery of the presentation he says this mystery is ed with the mystery of the Pasch. On him “the future of mankind depends.” (Redemptor hominis) “His reign begins when the temple sacrifice is offered in accordance with the law, and it attains its full realization through the sacrifice on the cross, offered in accordance with an eternal plan of love.” (41).

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