A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

John Paul II: Of Our Times, For Our Times

Interview With Expert on Pope's Contribution to Society

By Jaime Septién

QUERETARO, Mexico, 10 APRIL 2008 (ZENIT)

Pope John Paul II was a man of our times and for our times, affirmed an internationally renowned scholar of his thought.

ZENIT spoke with Rodrigo Guerra on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Polish Pontiff's death. Guerra, a professor, author and member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, tells why John Paul II is a point of reference for the third millennium.

Q: Three years have passed since the death of John Paul II. Is his thought still current or has it been passed up by the new social and political scenes that the world faces?

Guerra: The scenes that mark the world at the beginning of the third millennium definitely are changing at an accelerated rate. In the last few months, events have occurred that certainly were difficult to foresee three years ago, even by the keenest geopolitical analysts. Nevertheless, the magisterium of John Paul II managed to offer a transpolitical interpretation of the contemporary world based primarily in the Gospel and in the anthropological dimension that it intrinsically possesses. Thus, his teaching presents the fundamental elements to be able to interpret the crisis of the new global world and it offers important hints for the construction of authentically alternative efforts that permit the religious and cultural renewal of our societies and their institutions.

Q: What do you mean when you say that John Paul II offered a transpolitical interpretation of the contemporary world?

Guerra: The term comes from Renzo de Felice and was later enriched by the reflection of Augusto del Noce. I use it to indicate that the magisterium of John Paul II is an effective aid to discover that it is not enough to try to decode the dynamics of this world with the logic of power, of pure strategic or political analysis, but rather reality demands to be interpreted from the point of view of that which gives it its ultimate and radical meaning. Only when the definitive destination of the world and life is taken as the hermeneutical key at the moment of judging and acting, does the essential meaning of the events that weave history emerge, without being eclipsed. This can be proven, for example, in the third chapter of the encyclical "Centesimus Annus," titled "The Year 1989," or in the fifth chapter of "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," called "A Theological Reading of Modern Problems." Both texts are still a compass that cannot cease to be examined, so as to acquire orientation at the beginning of the third millennium.

Q: Benedict XVI affirmed this April 2 that John Paul II possessed "an exceptional spiritual and mystical sensitivity." Does this description place the figure of John Paul II at the margins of the worries of contemporary culture and the concrete needs of today's man?

Guerra: When the words "spiritual" and "mystical" mean that which has no flesh, that which is not concrete, this easily leads to a purely formal understanding of Christianity, that is, it leads to a certain type of gnosticism. Precisely one of the central messages of John Paul II's programmatic encyclical "Redemptor Hominis" consists in that grace occurs in history in an incarnate way, making of everything human a "method," that is, showing that Christianity is fundamentally a gratuitous event before being a project of the will. With that in mind, Benedict XVI has said something, then, that is really important: The life of John Paul II is not the result of a program of human self-improvement. On the contrary, his continual call to be not afraid "was not based in human strength, nor in successes achieved, but only in the word of God, in the cross and resurrection of Christ." This precisely is a mystic. And this is what enabled John Paul II to never evade anything of that which is authentically human, both in his individual life and in the ample universe of the needs of modern society.

Q: John Paul II wrote the encyclical "Faith and Reason." Benedict XVI seems to prolong with special interest the inheritance that is this document. What should we do to better assimilate the Church's central proposals in this theme?

Guerra: In October of 2008, the 10th anniversary of the publication of the encyclical "Faith and Reason" will be celebrated. This anniversary will be a magnificent occasion to appreciate one of the most transcendent things that John Paul II bequeathed us and one of the most emblematic aspects of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. In both Popes, there exists an extraordinary appreciation of reason. But the "reason" about which they speak is above all every capacity to consent to and be in awe at a personal, rational and reasonable Presence that fulfills and exceeds the deepest needs of the human condition. Due to this, perhaps the most important thing we can do in this sense is to permit our intelligence to be provoked and educated to appreciate all of truth, including the moment of truth that is principally revelation and total gift. Truth as "Aletheia," as "un-veiling," is principally fulfilled in the "re-vealing" of the absolutely loving, personal, exceptional and unexpected, that is, in the historical manifestation of the "Logos" of God, Christ, true God and true man.

Q: What does it mean for modern culture to have John Paul II as a man who simultaneously is Pope, pastor, philosopher and mystic?

Guerra: John Paul II was a man of our times and for our times. Ever since his work as a philosopher, he knew how to take in the concerns of the modern world giving them an answer that wasn't just scholarly. Welcoming the best of phenomenology, Thomistic thought, and personalism, he managed to make an original synthesis that currently nourishes the ecclesial magisterium and numerous social and cultural projects in the entire world. As a pastor he convoked the "new evangelization" that does not present itself disconnected from human promotion and the development of the Christian culture.

Regarding the "mystic" element, he knew how to discover through his own experience the importance of the primacy of grace and he appreciated with special interest figures such as St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse, Sister Faustina Kowalska and Edith Stein. As Supreme Pastor of the Church, he vigorously reproposed the Second Vatican Council, encouraged numerous ecclesial movements, revived consecrated life, deactivated some of the most rigorous proposals of the neopelagian dissolution of Christianity into political commitment and revolutionary projects and helped to go deeper in the meaning of the ecclesial and simultaneously secular dimension of the lay vocation.

For modern culture, the presence of John Paul II has been a challenge that invites a revision of the old rationalist clichés and the ruptured postmodern failures. His person, his word and his ministry enable intuiting that holiness is not a theme for intra-Church life, but rather a motive as well for the reformulation of the certainties that human life needs in moments of tedium, bewilderment or confusion.
 

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