Buttiglione speculates that “Perhaps it was from Tyranowski that Wojtyla derived a natural tendency to read in St. John of the Cross a kind of phenomenology of mystical experience” (Rocco Buttiglione, The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, page 45). What I find intriguing is that Father Garrigou-Lagrange, who directed and influenced Father Wojtyla’s doctoral thesis on St. John of the Cross and the doctrine of faith, was “attempting to apply his knowledge of the Spanish mystic in defining a priestly spirituality which would fit the questions and problems of a world left devasted by the [Second World] War.” (Ibid.). That devastation was far more than the physical destruction of infrastructure; rather the greater influence was the explosion of trauma in a generation whose parents endured the genocide of the First World War and its aftermath.
Why is this important? We know that the common response to emotional trauma is some degree of long-term dissociation that leaves the sufferer both stunted in emotional growth as well as isolated relationally. This dissociation expressed itself in the existentialism and nihilism of post-War culture for which the intellectual explanations of faith were insufficient to provide the emotional healing so desperately needed by that generation and its children. I think that Karol Wojtyla discovered experientially this remedy of faith in God while enduring the horrors he experienced during the occupation by the German National Socialists, a faith he found through Saint John of the Cross, the faith that was the “only proximate and proportionate means for communion with God” (John Paul II, Master of Faith, Apostolic Letter, 14 December 1990, Section 2).
I think that Saint John of the Cross’s “message of a vigorous, living faith which seeks and finds God in His Son Jesus Christ, in the Church. in the beauty of creation, in quiet prayer, in the darkness of night, and in the purifying flame of the Spirit” provided the base for the fulcrum of Karol Wojtyla’s faith that he then expressed to others in service, especially in his vocation to the priesthood. Wojtyla distilled the essence of the faith he meditated upon in the works of San John of the Cross that provided the healing for trauma by making available “the horizon of the mystical” (Ibid., Section 12) that allows the human person to commune with God in the prison of his dissocation: “St. John’s phenomenology of mystical experience takes man towards the irreducible core of the person, and shows the necessity of transcending this core toward that truth who is God himself, by responding to the initiative of God toward human beings. This divine initiative, which traverses natural human structures, illuminates and, in a certain sense, makes the irreducible core of the human person experienceable” (Rocco Buttiglione, The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, page 48). Thus, Saint John of the Cross is the Master of Faith for the generations suffering from the devastating trauma of the twentienth century as he leads us out of ourselves through our inner caverns of feeling.
Oh, Living Flame of Love
Tenderly wound my soul
To its deepest inner heart
Come consumate our love
Tear through the veil of our union
If it be your will, come and rend
The veil of the temple!
Oh, lamps of fire
In deep caverns of feeling
Once obscured and blind
Are now leading
In the warmth and the passion
Of your love
(Saint John of the Cross, The Living Flame Of Love)