TCS Daily

'Now This Passivity Is Over'

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - April 5, 2005 12:00 AM

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

-- Paul's First Letter to the Corinthian Church, 2:4-5

Karol Wojtyla was an intellectual.

But he knew who was the author of the intellect.

He was articulate, charming and persuasive.

But he humbly knew the limits of such human tools.

He knew these things because very early on, as a young priest, he came to know that most essential knowledge -- the true power of God within a human life.

To those of a secular mind, who measure Christianity only by the latest hypocrite, such "knowledge" is cynically stipulated and dismissed.

To many who fancy themselves of a spiritual mind, such knowledge seems obvious to the point of being trite. Yet they are often unaware of the depth and dimension of such spiritual power.

It is a daunting fact that many Christians, indeed many priests and pastors, never grasp this powerful knowledge. They believe in God, but do not believe God.

As the great Cardinal Newman once observed, to know God is to "introduce among the subjects of your knowledge a fact encompassing, closing in upon, absorbing every other fact conceivable."

And with this knowledge comes that most profound understanding: the exquisite freedom of being accountable to God and God alone.

By the time he became Pope John Paul II, this understanding, sublimely expressed in a life of faith, had given Karol Wojtyla a confidence that was remarkable only to those unfamiliar with the reality of the Holy Spirit.

It was a confidence at a personal level about Christ's love and the genius of forgiveness. And it was a confidence at a cosmic level about God and history.

The pope's unshakeable assurance was the more remarkable because it was utterly devoid of arrogance or pretension. Despite his own considerable talents, and despite the formidable trappings of the papacy, it was humility -- the most elusive of all Christian virtues -- that gave peculiar power to his words.

When he came to a Poland sick and stricken with Communist oppression in that remarkable June of 1979, he exhorted rapt crowds, "You must be strong, dear brothers and sisters. You must be strong with the strength that comes from faith."

He brought joyful tears of hope into the eyes of thousands as the words rolled out: "I ask that you never despair, never grow weary, never become discouraged; that these roots from which we grow are never severed; that you keep your faith despite each of your weaknesses, that you always seek strength in Him..."

With such words, John Paul II rekindled a power infinitely greater than the state. He reminded his countrymen of the truth articulated in the ancient scriptures, the ultimate affront to totalitarianism -- that the human soul, created by God, is answerable only to Him; no king, no commissar, no dictator, no earthly power can hold sway over it.

Many political experts in the West didn't grasp the dynamics of the thing. They saw weeping old ladies in babushkas clutching rosaries and on the other side massed helmets and tanks and cold-eyed secret policemen, and they knew there was no contest.

And indeed, there was no contest.

How strange, some thought, a year after the pope's visit to Poland, that the very first act of the strikers in Gdansk was to attach to the gates of the Lenin Shipyard -- not a Polish flag or some great angry banner of redress -- but a Christian cross and a portrait of Pope John Paul II.

What an exquisite moment in historical irony. The gate of a shipyard named for the ruthless founder of one of the world's most depraved and murderous empires, was decorated with the benign countenance of the priest who had once told a Polish youth gathering, "Human rights cannot be given in the form of concessions. Man is born with them..."

Give the commies credit. What many in the West had not grasped, they fathomed immediately. The party issued a secret set of instructions to the faculties of all Polish schools: "The Pope is our enemy... Due to his uncommon skills and great sense of humor, he is dangerous, because he charms everyone, especially journalists."

But it was already too late. The great, hulking, creaking machine of menace that had devoured millions for its fuel began to come apart, not only in Poland but across the Red Empire.

And John Paul II, with his confidence about God and history, knew it before most dared to believe it. Remarking on Lech Walesa and the uprising at Gdansk, he told confidants that "something has happened in Poland which is irreversible."

He knew that the communists had depended upon the fear-induced passivity of the masses. "Now this passivity is over," he said. As to the Polish dictatorship: "Their fate is settled now. They will lose."

It was crusty old Benjamin Franklin who said, "I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men."


Let the earthbound realists advance their coincidental explanations of the grand confluence of an aging American film actor, the English girl who lived above her father's store, and the Polish priest who hid from the Nazis -- the unlikely triumvirate that faced down one of the world's great evils.

I think otherwise.

I am not a Catholic. I try to be a Christian. I am ever grateful when I see Christ modeled in a life that touches mine, shaming me, inspiring me. And I am in awe to have had the privilege of seeing on the world stage the patient power of Christ in this man who helped change the course of history.


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