March 16, 2004

Novak on John Paul the Great
I once heard the great philosopher Alistair MacIntyre say of one of JP II's encyclicals on moral thought, "Veritatis Splendor," that it was the deepest and most subtle philosophical meditation on truth since Kierkegaard. "Centesimus Annus" is the greatest work among all papal letters on the free society, cultural, economic, and political; add his companion encyclicals, "Laborem Exercens" and "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," and you have the most distinguished body of reflections on the social and economic order produced by any religious body in any time. His path-breaking discourses on the theology of the human body may be the so far least noted of the bombshells he has left for future generations to unpack.

A priest friend of mine who is no admirer of Pope John Paul II at all, ...told me some years ago that he prayed every day that the pope will go soon to the heavenly destination he has devoutly longed for. My priest friend describes himself as a progressive Catholic, and the church of his romantic dreams he describes as the "Vatican II church." Every day that John Paul II's clear memory of Vatican II, at which as a young bishop (then archbishop) he was a leader, replaces those romantic illusions with a more accurate and rigorous reading, my priest friend dies a little.

"Father Dick," I want to tell him, "It's okay. You're not losing an illusion, you're gaining a more vigorous reality. Buck up! Look at what the world has gained these last 25-plus years! Promise you, he's not likely to live more than 17 more years, when he reaches 100."

Then I imagine 100,000 Poles singing in unison: "Stolat! Stolat! May you live 100 years!"

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