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Posted May 18, 2006

Inspiring Thoughts of Pope John Paul II That Apply To Everyday Life Today

Taken from the National Catholic Reporter
John Allen Jr. Reporting

Anyone expecting the conference to get down quickly to brass tacks on issues such as homosexuality, genetic engineering, condoms or euthanasia doesn't know the world of the John Paul II Institute. This is a crowd that believes in getting first principles right, so the discourse is sometimes pitched at a fairly abstract level on topics such as Christian anthropology and the "mystery of human existence."

Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger said that the heart of John Paul II's theological method was to start from the concrete experience of the disciples of Christ. It was a "phenomenological" method, Lustiger said, and Lustiger criticized other theological approaches which are "theoretical discourses uncoupled from Christian life."

In that sense, Lustiger argued, Karol Wojtyla's own biography represents a "theological trope," meaning a source of theological insight in its own right. The pattern of self-giving love in Wojtyla's pastoral work, Lustiger said, is an analog of the self-giving that should be the heart of conjugal love as well.

Lustiger said that Wojtyla's concern for politics and the life of nations was built on this personalistic foundation, meaning concern for fostering the sort of society in which self-giving love is nurtured.

Polish Auxiliary Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, who teaches civil law at the Lateran University, recounted several episodes from Wojtyla's career as a priest and bishop in Poland, which in effect developed Lustiger's suggestion that the late pope's life was a "theological trope."

For example, Pieronek pointed to an initiative launched by Cardinal Wojtyla after the communists in Poland legalized abortion, called "Operation SOS," offering abandoned women a place to live along with child care and medical support. He also mentioned Wojtyla's support for the Oasis youth movement, which, as Pieronek acknowledged, caused some Polish bishops to worry "about its impact on parish structures." Pieronek said Oasis became a great "cradle for vocations to the priesthood and the monastic life."

Cardinal Wojtyla's support for Oasis was an obvious anticipation of his backing for the new movements as John Paul II.

Fr. Tadeusz Styczen, who is Karol Wojtyla's successor on the faculty of the Catholic University of Lublin, developed John Paul's description of the family as a communio personarum, "community of persons."

Styczen argued that the inner logic of love as a total gift of self yearns for that gift to be eternal, and hence God's power of life over death is a necessary condition of real love.

"We need the encounter of love with omnipotence to solve the enigma of love itself, the enigma of existence," Styczen said.

It almost sounded like a new argument for the existence of God, grounded in John Paul's personalist phenomenology: the experience of human love, a primordial and constitutive element of human existence, ultimately makes no sense without a ground of being who can extend that love into eternity.