Archive for May 5th, 2005

The most important thing John Paul II gave us was...

If you read the exchange about "neo-cons" here a week or two ago, you know I object to demonizing as a group the Catholics who are generally designated by this term. But that hardly means I agree with everything they say.

I’ve been wanting for a week or so to write something about Michael Novak’s tribute to John Paul II in the April 25 issue of National Review. I haven’t had time to think about it very much, still less to write about it, and am not going to have time for at least several more days. So I’ll  just offer it to you, with the observation that there does seem to be something amiss.

Most of the tribute is perfectly fine. But the next to last paragraph goes like this:

The most important thing John Paul II gave both to the world (including but not limited to, the political world) and also to the Church is new confidence in our own capacities, especially our capacities for self-government, for liberty and responsibility, and for making human life better and more worthy of human possibilities and higher standards. It is not a small thing, to teach people "Be not afraid."

If I were under 30, I would just say "What’s up with that?!?" But since I’m not, I’ll have to explain myself a bit more fully: to begin a paragraph with the words "The most important thing John Paul II gave us" and reach the end without mentioning God is very peculiar.

In fairness it must be made clear that the next and final paragraph fills in the gap:

Pope John Paul II pointed the way to a new civilization of love. Real, serious, self-sacrificing, other-centered, unselfish love. The kind he showed right to his final day. Adiue, our dear, dear friend! Our greatest inspiration in a very long time. "Praised be Jesus Christ!" as you yourself would have said.

But still: "the most important thing" that John Paul II gave us is "confidence in our own capacities"? I’m willing to bet that few of the late pope’s admirers would complete that sentence in anything like that way. It sounds like something a well-meaning non-believer might say about the pope.

And no, I’m not accusing Mr. Novak of being a non-believer in theologian’s clothing.. But my admittedly scattershot acquaintance with his work tends to leave me with the impression that he overvalues human will and freedom (not the metaphysical moral freedom of the person, but "freedom" in the very casual and worldly way we Americans tend to use the term) to a degree that slights our dependence on God.This certainly confirms that impression.

And that’s all I have time for. Comments invited as always.

Maclin Horton

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