Thursday, September 17, 2020

Part of the Mystery of the Redemption

Clearly Father Carol Wojtyla understood priesthood as something more than a life behind the altar rail and the rectory door.  Certainly part of his desire for "accompanying" others in their growth in holiness was his enjoyment of social relationships, of being with people, and, especially, "young" people, of wanting to help them love as Christ loves.  

This was not the foundation of his call, though.  Just as he had risked all as an actor in the Rhapsodic Theater to help others escape fear and isolation during the Nazi occupation , he entered the priesthood understanding his vocation as sacrificial, as giving up his life for and with Christ to become a "steward of the mysteries of God":  "As Christ's instrument, the priest must be, like Him, a [sacrificial] victim (sarcedos et victima)." (Dulles, Avery.  The Splendor of Faith, page 110.)

As Weigel points out, for Father Wojtyla ". . . [accompaniment] was the way a priest lived out his vocation to be an alter Christus, "another Christ."  It was also another expression of his commitment to the spirituality of the Cross.  God himself had accompanied human beings into the most extreme situation resulting from bad human choices--death--through his own divine choice to be redeemer as well as creator.  That is what happened on the cross of Christ.  The cross was the final justification for a pastoral strategy of accompaniment." (Witness To Hope, page 106.).  And the purpose of accompaniment is to lead the other to the freedom that comes from them receiving redemption through Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross.  As Pope John Paul II wrote, "Christ is a priest because he is the Redeemer of the world.  The priesthood of all presbyters is part of the mystery of of the Redemption.  This truth about Redemption and the Redeemer has been central to me; it has been with me all these years, it has permeated all my pastoral experiences. . ." (Gift and Mystery, page 82).  The priest becomes the "steward of the greatest treasure of the Redemption, for he gives people the Redeemer in person." (Gift and Mystery, page 85) as alter Christus.

I propose that Father Wojtyla accompanied others paradoxically out of his rich and deep interior life, formed first by Polish romanticism and then forged in the suffering of the German occupation combined by his plumbing the Carmelite depths of Saint John of the Cross.  It was in this mystical depth that he found the thirst for prayer and holiness that provided the foundation for accompaniment as a priest: "priestly holiness alone is the soil which can nourish an effective pastoral activity, a true 'cura animarum'.(Gift and Mystery, page 89).  

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