In Rise, let us be on our way (2004) Pope John Paul ll wrote about the words he heard from Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński the day before he was first ordained a bishop at Jasna Gora in 1946: “Being a bishop has something of the cross about it, which is why the Church places the Cross on the bishop’s breast.” (189) The Polish bishops lived the reality of the cross, most of all Cardinal Wyszyński. The picture above shows a statue of the great Polish Cardinal at Jasna Gora, which I visited in May and plan to return with students next year; it is a fitting tribute to the man who suffered greatly and yet witnessed tenaciously to the Truth of Christ and the Church in the midst of great persecution by communist authorities. In 1956 he told Wojtyla that a bishop must serve through his suffering. And again he made his point very explicit to Wojtyla, a lesson not only for bishops but for all Catholics who wish to remain faithful: “Lack of courage in a bishop is the beginning of disaster. Can he still be an apostle? Witnessing to the Truth is essential for an apostle. And this always demands courage.” Wyszyński said “The greatest weakness of an apostle is fear. What gives rise to fear is a lack of confidence in the power of the Lord; this is what oppresses the heart and tightens the throat. The apostle then ceases to offer witness. . . . Silence in the presence of the enemies of a cause encourages them. Fear is the principle ally of the enemies of the cause. ‘Use fear to enforce silence’ is the first goal in the strategy of the wicked. The terror used in all dictatorships depends on the fearfulness of the apostles. . . . Christ did not allow himself to be terrorized. Going out to the crowd, he said courageously: ‘I am he.'”
John Paul II took these words to heart. He proclaimed the truth without fear. First, to the communist authorities, and then to the liberal west. In the first case, he spoke the truth without fear of the hard tyranny which threatened chains and imprisonment; in the second case, he spoke the truth without fear of the soft despotism of subtle political control and manipulation and the barrage of media negativity and ridicule. He wrote in this book, “there can be no turning one’s back upon the truth, ceasing to proclaim it, hiding it, even if it is a hard truth that can only be revealed at the cost of great suffering. . . . Here there is no room for compromise nor for an opportunistic recourse to human diplomacy.”
In the Church and in the University today fear of reproach and ridicule “oppresses the heart and tightens the throat” of many, I am sad to say. Who wants to be branded as “backwards” or not “forward looking enough”? Who can withstand the onslaught of the politically correct? Or who wants to be called judgmental and narrow minded? It was the great gift and legacy of Saint John Paul II to embody that courage of Cardinal Wyszyński and show to the world that fidelity to the Catholic tradition and the whole truth about the human person is neither backward looking nor narrow minded. One can speak the truth in charity, indeed, it is charitable to speak the truth. For “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” To the young people he said: fight for the just cause, uphold and defend the system of truth and values that you have received.
We pray that our young students today will learn and imitate the courage of Saint John Paul II, which he received from the Cardinal Archbishop of Warsaw, Stefan Wyszyński.
If any reader wishes to assist students in making make this trip to Poland with me in June, please make a donation to the John Paul II Forum. (click here) I will use whatever funding I receive to enable those students who need assistance to make this important and life changing trip abroad to Poland.