Saturday, September 26, 2020

To Thomas Through John


It is a way of thinking and dialogue with the concrete, founded upon the great tradition, but always in search confirmation and present reality. It is a form of thought that springs from an artist gaze and, at the same time, is guided by a pastor's care." (Ratzinger, Joseph. John Paul II: my beloved predecessor, page 8).

I resonate more with this quote from Father Ratzinger just a few pages later: "In the same way that his philosophy was made more concrete and lively through phenomenology--or through gazing at reality as it appears--so also the pope's relationship with Christ does not remain in the abstract of the great dogmatic truths, but becomes a concrete, human encounter with the Lord in all his reality." (Ratzinger, Joseph. John Paul II: my beloved predecessor, page 14).   I do so because I believe the life of Carol Wojtyla and of John Paul II was a life built on mystical experience. 

I think that Carol Wojtyla survived the horrors of Nazi occupation through a mystical encounter with Christ in those very sorrow-filled days as he was "guided" and "nurtured" interiorly through his reading of Saint John of the Cross--especially his mystical poetry--while still immersed in drama and the Theater of the Word at the Rhapsodic Theater. I think that Wojtyla in these years discovered that "[mysticism] is central to knowing the human person, and the tensions built into the human encounter with the infinite are the key to the drama of human life" (Witness to Hope, page 86).

As Father David Bird, OSB, so succinctly proclaims: "No one can become a saint without solving the problem of suffering. . . .Sanctity can never abide a merely speculative solution to the problem of suffering. Sanctity solves the problem not by analyzing but by suffering. It is a living solution, burned in the flesh and spirit of the saint by fire. . . . Sanctity itself is a living solution of the problem of suffering. For the saint, suffering continues to be suffering, but it ceases to be an obstacle to his mission, or to his happiness, both of which are found positively and concretely in the will of God." (Monks and Mermaids (A Benedictine Blog), 12 October 2013).  I think Saint John of the Cross helped Carol Wojtyla solve the problem of suffering in his own life and this solution, "burned in the flesh and the spirit", allowed Wojtyla to stay committed to the concrete "present reality" and "reality as it appears", to the pastoral rather than escaping into the more abstract ghettos of philosophy and drama.

This emphasis on experience, especially his loyalty to the experiences and lives of those suffering around him, was what eventually drew him to phenomenolgy while anchored to the rigors of Thomism through Saint John of the Cross.  As Michael Waldstein says so eloquently, "So Saint John of the Cross had Saint Thomas intus, within him.  By encountering John of the Cross as a young man, Carol Wojtyla encountered Saint Thomas in a particular form, namely, immediately, with a sense of the whole . . . with a vision of the whole provided by Saint John of the Cross that gave him, in some ways perhaps, a more connatural contact with Saint Thomas as a saint, within which, then, his Thomistic training took root." (Waldstein, Michael. On St. Thomas, Phenomenology, and John Paul II, Lecture at the University of Saint Thomas, June 15, 2011). 

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