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Pope Saint John Paul II: Prophet AND Poet

© YOSHIKAZU MIKAMI / AFP

Susan E. Wills - published on 10/22/14

The next Synod would do well to emulate his style, at once clear and deeply moving

Pope Saint John Paul II was a prophet – as Tom Hoopes reminded us in his column yesterday –  evidenced by the Pope’s writings on the indispensable role of marriage and families in building and preserving a civilization worthy of the human person.

Saint John Paul II was no less a poet. Today, in honor of his first feast day as our beloved saint and intercessor, I want to call to mind his gift of poetry – not his actual poems (profound and lyrical as they are) – but his unmatched ability to explain doctrine with both clarity and poetic images and language. It is the poetry that breathes immediacy and life – sometimes tender, sometimes powerful – and, really, the presence of God, into the teaching. John Paul marries catechesis and evangelization, truth and beauty, law and mercy, engaging both mind and heart as only a poet can. Let me give just a few examples.

On Abortion

Saint John Paul lucidly affirms doctrine: “The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder” (Evangelium Vitae [EV], 58), and “I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being” (EV, 62).

Yet he touches our hearts by speaking of unborn children in words like these:

Expressions of awe and wonder at God’s intervention in the life of a child in its mother’s womb occur again and again in the Psalms. How can anyone think that even a single moment of this marvellous process of the unfolding of life could be separated from the wise and loving work of the Creator, and left prey to human caprice?
(EV, 44)

Or these:

No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears (EV, 58).

He also shows tender compassion and encouragement for the mothers who have aborted a child:

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. … With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life” (EV, 99).

On Euthanasia

He states the doctrine simply: “I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person” (EV, 65).

And he gets to the heart of what euthanasia is here:

“euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing “perversion” of mercy. True “compassion” leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kil the person whose suffering we cannot bear” (EV, 66).

Saint John Paul communicated the gravity of euthanasia both from the doctrinal perspective and from God’s perspective in his landmark March 20, 2004 allocution, “Address to the International Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and the Vegetative State

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