His Impact on the Church and this Movement
John Paul the Great: Our Patron and Inspiration
This weekend will be historic as we witness the beatification of John Paul the Great, the person who was the inspiration for Catholics for the Common Good and so many other movements for the evangelization of culture. Father Richard Hogan has called John Paul the Great the Thomas Aquinas of our time.
by William B. May
April 29, 2011
Blessed John Paul II
Fr. Hogan said, John Paul’s greatest contribution to the Church will not only be works, which will likely be studied and will inspire people for centuries. Rather, his greatest contribution is the development of a new way of doing theology that will likely influence the way theology will be done in the future. His influence will possibly be as important as the influences of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. If that is true, imagine living in the time of such a great saint. Time will only tell, but from my experience, I think Father Hogan is on to something.
When this apostolate was founded in 2003, we were responding to the then Holy Father’s call to participate in the new evangelization with a focus on the social teachings of the Church –- the part of the doctrine that deals with the human person as a social being that is also known as the best kept secret of the Church.
We reflected on a statement in Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici: “Therefore, I have maintained that a faith that does not affect a person's culture is a faith not fully embraced, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived."
We also reflected about what it was about this man that enabled him to tell young people the truth that they often did not want to hear, but at the same time have them listen to him, love him, and want more.
That led us into a study of his works, which, as for so many people, opened up a deeper understanding of the human person, marriage, and family. But our mission was to not only help people develop a deeper understanding of these things from the perspective of our faith, but to also find practical ways to communicate these realities in secular terms in the public square.
The genius of John Paul is that he was able to communicate realities in ways that corresponded with the heart. One day, sitting in my office, I read a passage that he had written. I couldn’t contain myself and spoke out loud, “Oh my gosh, this is absolutely true! It reeks of the Truth!” What an odd way to describe it, but that is what came to my mind as I knew at the very core of my existence that what he had written was indisputably true. I had always believed it was true, but this was different –- I was not just accepting it from a trusted source –- the scripture. I knew it was true based on my own experience.
In the days of St Thomas Aquinas, people knew there was objective truth. They used deductive reasoning based on well established principles to make moral decisions. As Catholics, we still know there is objective truth and that is the way we still teach it. However, that is not the way people think in the age of relativism –- what is true for you is not true for me. How do people think and make decisions now? We tend to think subjectively and use inductive reasoning based not on well established principles but based on our own experience. We experiment to discover what works for us individually in our common quest for happiness –- happiness that can only be realized in Christ, but is obscured by materialism and the pleasures and distractions of the world. Therefore, we realize that we not only need to learn the truths that our faith reveals, but need a new language –- a new way of communicating these truths so that our family members can understand them and repeat them without fear of persecution in this age that reviles against Christian revelation.
It is important to note that this new way of doing theology does not change the faith but provides a deeper understandingof it. Cardinal Angelo Scola has said, as quoted by George Weigel in his book, Witness To Hope,
... virtually every thesis in theology—God, Christ, the Trinity, grace, the Church, the sacraments—could be seen in a new light if theologians explored in depth the rich personalism [the usual name of the new synthesis of Pope John Paul II] implied in John Paul II’s theology of the body.
Father Hogan elaborates:
Of course, this remark is absolutely true. It is true for two reasons. First, the new synthesis of Pope John Paul II is clearly apparent in his Theology of the Body and it can be studied and learned from its use in these addresses. Once learned and studied, it will be recognized in other writings of the Pope and his initial work can be furthered and developed. (It should be noted that the founder of a new synthesis does the initial work, but centuries are devoted to “mining” the riches and depth of a particular synthesis. Saint Augustine developed his synthesis using Platonic philosophy, but it was studied and developed further over eight centuries. Similarly, Saint Thomas was the founder of the fusion of Aristotle’s philosophy and the content of Revelation, but the study and development of his work goes on even today.) Certainly, if the new synthesis of John Paul II were to be studied in the Theology of the Body, and then recognized and applied to other areas “virtually every thesis in theology ... could be seen in a new light."
I hope you will reflect on this as you contemplate the beatification of John Paul the Great. I also hope that you will pray for the work of this apostolate and provide the financial support that is needed to continue and expand this new approach to the evangelization of culture. Already, we are helping many people learn new ways of communicating that are changing the hearts of young people about love, marriage, and family.
William B. May is chairman and founder of Catholics for the Common Good.