We continue with this excerpt from my book MARY, MOTHER OF THE SON (available on Kindle at the link):
The Assumption (like the Immaculate Conception) placed at the heart of Catholic teaching an insight that stands as a bulwark against the Spirit of our Age. That insight was articulated again by the Second Vatican Council in the stunning declaration that “Man is the only creature on earth that God willed for itself.”
From this insight would spring the understanding of man displayed by the theology and actions of Pope St. John Paul II, which not only destroyed European communism, but defended human life and dignity in the West from those who continue to see human beings as means to some other ends.
This, perhaps more than anything else, made St. John Paul the Great intelligible to me, as well as disclosing the Assumption for what it is—an eerily prophetic response to the pathologies of our age. For John Paul, the understanding of what Christ had done for Mary was inextricably bound up with his understanding of what Jesus Christ means to do for everybody. John Paul believed in Jesus Christ and, because of that, he believed in the dignity of the human person for whom Jesus died and rose. Unlike the philosophers of pride whose systems had shed an ocean of blood, John Paul saw faces, not diagrams. He genuinely and deeply believed that each man and each woman were a unique and unrepeatable manifestation of the human mystery and that, in encountering them, he was—we are—encountering Jesus Christ himself (Matt. 25:31–46).
St. John Paul’s philosophy can’t be understood without remembering that he came of age under the two greatest attempts to force the human person into nineteenth-century diagrams—Nazi Germany and Soviet Communism. He took away from this life a lesson he summed up in Redemptor Hominis:
The [Second Vatican] Council . . . recalls that “man is the only creature on earth that God willed for itself”. Man as “willed” by God, as “chosen” by him from eternity and called, destined for grace and glory—this is “each” man, “the most concrete” man, “the most real”; this is man in all the fullness of the mystery in which he has become a sharer in Jesus Christ, the mystery in which each one of the four thousand million human beings living on our planet has become a sharer from the moment he is conceived beneath the heart of his mother.
All the Philosophies of Pride, which love diagrams more than faces, see human beings as means to ends, not as the only creatures God willed into existence out of love. It matters little what the end is if the end is not God and our eternal union with him. Whether it’s a sustainable green economy, the glory of world socialism, a race of thoroughbreds, or the American Way, the inherent claim of all ideology is that persons matter less than systems. Because he defied this, St. John Paul was hated—and nowhere more so than from those within the Catholic Church herself who sought to remake the faith into yet another human ideology. He was hated by libertines for refusing to exalt sex above the love and fruitfulness incarnate in marriage and the family. He was hated by reactionaries for insisting that the law was made for man, not man for the law:
This man is the way for the Church—a way that, in a sense, is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk—because man—every man without any exception whatever—has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man—with each man without any exception whatever—Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it: “Christ, who died and was raised up for all, provides man”—each man and every man—“with the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme calling.”
After listening for years to the media portray Pope St. John Paul II as an “authoritarian,” I was stunned to read what he actually had to say. My assumption had always been that, for John Paul, the Church was the way that man must walk. For like most children of the twentieth century, I was accustomed to assuming that the human person was made for a system and that, surely, the head of the Church would be all about conforming people to a system, not readying them for eternal union with the Blessed Trinity. Indeed, even many Catholics think this way in their heart of hearts and believe that what the Church needs is more efficient methods of coercion, punishment, and force in order to get people to toe the line. The temptation to turn the gospel into another system of law will be with us until the Second Coming.
But St. John Paul’s vision was radically different. He knew that, though fallen, man still was called to freedom because, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). More than that, he had confidence that if the Body of Christ entrusted human beings into the hands of God, Christ would provide the grace necessary to use freedom for good. In short, he trusted that God meant business when he said, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). He trusted in the Lord that “Christ, who died and was raised up for all, provides man with the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme calling” and that the temptation to make that happen by means of some human system of coercion was precisely the great failure that had bled the twentieth century white in the attempt to create heaven on earth.
This is one of the reasons why Pope St. John Paul had such an enormous love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Which we will discuss in our final excerpt tomorrow.