At the Center of the Human Drama (A Book Reflection) Part III

“[…] we might not have known of the work of a Polish philosopher from Wadowice had he not come to Rome. But called he was, and come he did, and his writing has received added importance” (p. 63).

Previously I reflected on layers of how St. John Paul II’s intellectual development formed and small glimpses into his thinking from At the Center of the Human Drama: The Philosophical Anthropology of Karol Wojtyła/Pope John Paul II by Kenneth L. Schmitz. The aspect that I still wanted to mention is probably my second favorite part about the book – insights into how he shared his thinking and the audience that God had in mind for his teachings. I already mentioned this some in part I of my reflection; however, I wanted to revisit and expand upon the concepts.

His ideas were shared through diverse means, such as at the theater, through university coursework, and from the chair of St. Peter, in an array of genres through different roles. Of his characteristics as a teacher, Schmitz said, “There can be little doubt that Karol Wojtyła was a dynamic classroom teacher; nor can one doubt the exceptional affection his students had for him, who seemed to be at once mentor, confessor, foster father and friend to many of them” (p. 61). Of the shift from his role as a professor to pope, Schmitz commented, “He was called to another service, however, in which he has developed these same central insights, though in quite another style, and to the profit of a larger circle” (p. 63). I appreciate how quotes like these, when considered as a bigger picture, help to illuminate how over time we develop who we are, which we can apply regardless of the context in which we find ourselves. This includes, both our characteristics and our convictions, which are shaped by our knowledge base and experiences.

Another aspect that I loved was a sense that St. John Paul II was not concerned with trying to be someone else. Instead, he shared his authentic voice, rather than worrying about whether his audience would fully grasp the concepts. Furthermore, he shared what he was able in different moments of time, rather than waiting for ideas to be perfected. Instead, it was likely that through sharing where he was at in his thinking along the way through diverse mediums that his thinking was able to develop and gain depth. Of one of his works prior to becoming pope, Schmitz noted, “The work itself is not meant for casual reading. It demands study and, in my opinion, repays study. Nevertheless, part of the difficulty stems from the intrinsic condition and nature of the work itself, even in its Polish original. The work is somewhat programmatic and frequently intuitive. There are leaps from one insight to another that need to be filled in; and there are suggestions thrown out to the reader that require further elaboration” (p. 62). Yet, I would imagine getting his ideas out there in this form were part of the foundation to plant seeds of his thinking and to develop his thought in a way that they would not have happened, had he kept his ideas to himself rather than taking steps to open the door to possibilities for dialogue.

A critical point is that not everyone loved his work. Of the same piece of writing, Schmitz shared an anecdote of hearing that in the university circle where St. John Paul II worked some would say he “had written the original Polish work ten years earlier, with full foreknowledge that he would one day be pope and that he would then require it as reading for priests in purgatory” (p. 62). This reveals that it is not critical that everyone appreciate or fully grasp our work in order for it to be part of the process of becoming who we were created to be and the impact we are meant to have. Instead, it is about going deep with the Lord and creating based on what he inspires and being willing to share regardless of the reception. It is about humbly believing there is worth or value even though sometimes sharing our work can result in humiliations or the ache of desiring to convey ideas that others can understand and appreciate – for those receiving the ideas to be as deeply moved as we were when in the process of creating and developing.

On the flip side, St. John Paul II’s life also revealed examples of being well received because of status. Of the first of his “Wednesday Talks” as pope, Schmitz mused, “The thousands who attended had, I suppose, come for the most part simply to see the new pope, who had already become something of a remarkable public figure. What they made of the talks, I do not know, but I suspect that the pontiff could have danced a jig or performed tricks to their satisfaction since they had come to see him. Others with more erudition, who had come to listen, professed themselves at a difficult loss at times to follow the line of discourse. Indeed, it is no doubt true that the Talks would tax the ability of an audience hearing these ideas for the first time and in such a setting, for the talks make little concession to their hearers. […] one finds in the Talks the result of years of prolonged meditation upon the deepest aspects of the Christian faith. And so, they are meant to be reread–and reread for insights that are at once fresh and profound” (p. 91). This made me think about his unique voice, not necessarily seeming to fully cater to his audience but instead revealing how God was working through his heart – what God was forming, developing and nurturing. He seemed to authentically share his thinking, rather than filtering; although, that still leaves some space to adjust somewhat depending on audience and context.

This insight into his life was freeing because there have been times when I feel too academic in some contexts and not academic enough in others, but this book has been a source of encouragement to just share my voice. Reflecting on St. John Paul II’s life made me think about the work of Beauty of Becoming and the key concept that has been coming to mind of know your story, live your story, tell your story. This book inspired me to realize that Beauty of Becoming is not about a business/apostolate as the primary purpose, but it is more of a He and I* project, surrendering who it is for beyond us and just trusting in God. The conviction that continues to take root for me is to authentically share the ideas He is stirring in my heart – the thinking that He is developing, while guarding against allowing a desire to be widely known, well received, or to “make it” as a Catholic voice to shape the words I choose or what I convey. Instead, my goal is to be docile to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to use it as He wishes – whether it catches the attention of many or few and within that, the depth of comprehension of those who listen. Yet, I am a teacher and a writer, so trying to create comprehensible input and to match voice to audience and purpose is also ingrained into my being. Schmitz mentioned at one point, “the pope–as much poet and dramatist as he is theologian and philosopher” (p. 93). Who we are shapes our unique, authentic voices.

With regards to the quote that I used as the introduction to this post about the scope of his voice whether or not he had been pope, I was drawn to consider my own life and the doors that do or do not open. I recognize that the opportunities that come my way will influence the audience that I have. In some cases, it might be about doors opening to allow for greater access to my voice, while it can also be about doors remaining closed or cracked open a little, and as a result, restricting access to my voice or having it get out there at a slower pace. Yet, I have come to appreciate that it is about God’s will being accomplished, not about level of success by worldly metrics. There is also beauty in the adventure of not knowing exactly how things will unfold over time but having peace that if He does not need my voice to be heard in a certain arena, then I don’t need the opportunity either, while also embracing and celebrating the opportunities that do arise and to the extent that they are available.

I will conclude with a quote from Schmitz that captures the essence of what matters – attempting to allow Christ to shine through our lives and our work. He noted, “What is most telling from a philosophical perspective is his repeated insistence that all aspects of life are related to and grounded in the truth, and specifically in the truth embodied in, revealed by, and flowing from Christ. Because of the comprehensive and ultimate character of that truth, he will find it entirely appropriate in his papal mission to insist that all people, and not only believers, are to be addressed by the Church” (p. 109). With great confidence, let us be His hands and feet in this shared mission wherever we are positioned with the voices and wisdom that He has cultivated.

*”He and I project” was a phrase that came to mind and refers to the book He and I – a source of inspiration to cultivate relationship and dialogue with the Lord, to have the primary motivation for a project be the opportunity to grow in relationship with Him, and to keep our eyes fixed on Him through the process.

Copyright 2022 Amanda Villagómez

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