It is too early to assess the spiritual legacy of John Paul II. Everything that is now being said reflects, above all, first impressions and first thoughts that are based upon emotions. There can be no doubt that in them is revealed the profound experience of faith lived out in union with this Pope who has just passed away. However, emotions make it more difficult to reach the foundations of what he experienced and what he has bequeathed to us. Constant and lasting reflection will be necessary if we want to address the contents of his legacy.
But even now one can say that the fundamental contents of the legacy of John Paul II, as is the case with all his predecessors and successors, is the person of Jesus, the Son of God, who made everything he had heard from the Father known to his disciples in the Spirit of Love. In this way, he made himself their friend. What did the Son of God hear from the Father? He heard himself. Thus everything that he revealed to his disciples was in fact himself. Christ gave them his own divine reality as a son and through this he communicated to them the fatherhood of God. Son, Father and Spirit of Love: on these three was based the drama that was represented by the life of John Paul II.
For almost twenty-six years this Polish Pope, together with Christ, wrote the encyclical Redemptor hominis. He did not put into this encyclical his thoughts on the subject of the redemption of man. Aware of the fact that redemptive Revelation is not an account by God of God but the giving of His son as a sacrifice for us, John Paul II did not direct his thought to Christ so as to gather ideas and formulate concepts on that love but instead, he sought, first and foremost, to achieve transparency in his own actions so that the men entrusted to his pastoral care could, through him, grasp the greatness of man, which is based upon man's 'assimilation' to God. John Paul II wrote this encyclical with his life, which was formed by the spiritual presence of St. Stanislav, the Bishop and martyr of Krakow, and by the presence of St. Peter in Rome. From them he learnt to take care of his brethren and to help them to root themselves in the Word on which God based history and the universe.
The witness of John Paul II to the person of the Son of God, and through him to the person of God the Father, is organically linked to the human experience. Thanks to this experience, his Petrine strengthening of the faith of his brothers in Christ also strengthened their faith in their own humanity. He showed them their divine greatness and the dignity of the truth that is given to man as a task for him. Without this divine truth and without this work for that truth, man cannot be himself.
In the light of the experience of such a 'double meaning' the experience of the person of Christ who exists in a triune way and the experience of the person of man who in the same way exists in communion John Paul II found in the pages of Holy Scripture words that were eternally new because they are human-divine and divine-human words. The experience of man understood in the light of Holy Scripture and the reading of Holy Scripture in the light of this experience allowed him to discover Christ in those events and words that are conditioned by history and culture. The Word of God, indeed, enters events and words defined by time and space without being afraid of being overwhelmed by their smallness: regal love never fears engaging in service.
For these reasons, reflection on the spiritual legacy of John Paul II and an understanding of its contents require a daily effort linked indissolubly to the achievement of change in one's life. Without a constant conversion to divine matters, which are eternally new, thought about what this Pope left to us will be reduced to short-lived emotions and high speeches. Without conversion to divine matters, we will not persevere in our wish to stand before his spiritual presence amongst us and for us.
His purely spiritual presence becomes for us a requirement that is even greater than it was before, that is to say when it was physically possible to touch his hand. It is no longer enough to quote the words that he pronounced, for example, in the Victory Square of Warsaw, or in Paris or in Santiago di Compostella. For that matter, an overly frequent and shallow quoting of his words cancels the contents that are impressed within them. His words should be converted into our lives. They must come into us and not only be on our lips at moments of emotion. Even the Word of God would be empty if God were not in that Word. Our most brilliant thoughts could not allow that Word to rise again. The same happens with human words.
They are empty when the person who pronounces them or repeats them is not present within them.
Christ prepared Karol Wojtyla for the mission of St. Peter from the beginning of his life. He taught him to be present in what he said so as understand more effectively what is meant by the fact that in the words of Christ is present the Word of God proclaimed, on the one hand, by the Prophets, and on the other, by the desire of man to exist in a way that is totally different from the way he exists now. I am deeply convinced that Karol Wojtyla in a certain way 'felt' that Christ was preparing him for the mission of strengthening his brethren in their self-entrustment to God who, through His son, came down to the boundaries of human matters and shifted those boundaries to celestial heights. From the first years of his life, indeed, God asked 'more' from him than from others [cf. Jn 21, 15-18]. Karol Wojtyla constantly heard the words 'leave everything and follow me!'.
The thought of Bishop Karol and then of Pope John Paul II had mystical-poetic dimensions. Indeed, that thought sprang from experience of the beauty of the truth about man. It was not an experience of objects that floated in his thoughts or in those thoughts of those people the traces of whom had been fixed by other men in books. He lived what came to him, what resisted him, and at the same time with its beauty he guided it towards the most beautiful and the truest reality.
Beauty! More than any of his predecessors, John Paul II spoke with courageous love about the beauty of man, the beauty of his body, the beauty of the relationship that links people in the space of sexual difference. In lighting within men, and in particular within the young, love for the beauty of man, the Pope showed them the love that is already present in them towards He whose beauty makes them beautiful by being reflected in them. With courageous sensitivity natural to great love, he spoke about women in such a way as to surprise everyone. He followed in the footsteps of Christ who never spoke harsh words to a woman and who had the most beautiful and profound dialogues with women because women, more than men, were able to respond to the gift of love: Fiat mihi! They served him and he served them with an even greater devotion. John Paul II saw in them the image of the Church through which he sought with his priestly love to unite men in the love that is God. The practice of the priestly service of Christ for the Bride-Church formed in John Paul II his vision of women and of their presence as mothers and ladies in society and the Church. With his 'may it happen to me according to your word', women make it possible for society to be a society and the Church to be a Church. Priests must help women in this task.
The beauty of man, experienced in a self-entrusting to the beginning of all things visible and invisible, led John Paul II ad Christum Redemptorem, to Christ the Redeemer. And this was the title that he originally intended to give to his first encyclical (Redemptor hominis). Through the experience of the beauty of man passed the road that John Paul II followed towards the only hope, towards the cross: Ave crux, spes unica! Each man bears his own cross and it is specifically this cross, and not the cross of another person, that he must bear upon his shoulders; and it is this cross that man, growing towards the truth about man that is revealed in that cross, must carry to his own grave.
The thought of John Paul II, in growing in the experience of the beauty towards the mystery that man is thought of by God in His Word before the creation of the world, did not have anything of the nature of an ideology in it. His thought that he 'kept pure in his conscience' imposed nothing on anybody but merely reawakened them in the same way that in the poem by Norwid the 'marble' is reawakened. This Pope, in entrusting himself to other people, entrusted to them their own thoughts so that they might fulfil them in faith, in hope, and in love. And in this he expressed his pastoral care for the men that had been entrusted to him and whom God had intended to experience the freedom of the children of God. This was a difficult road to follow and it will always be a difficult road to follow. This road, in fact, passes through suffering and death itself. But only he who accepts the destiny of the ear of grain thrown into the earth will yield much fruit. Only such a person as this thinks logically because he thinks in a way that is coherent with the unfolding of the future, which is infinitely larger than can ever be conceived.
John Paul II looked at man in the perspective of a future as great as this. For this reason, he drew near to man with great respect. With sensitive firmness he addressed words to man that reminded him of the duty to work on the difficult gift of freedom around which John Paul II revolved his priestly thought. By experience he knew what ill treatment at the hands of forms of totalitarianism meant. He had experienced not only the brutal wickedness of Nazi totalitarianism and later of Communist totalitarianism but also that wickedness that devastates the human person with slogans and orders of the day that are gradually inculcated in the followers of systems in which it is licit for every person to do as he pleases and one should avoid only what is rejected by the majority that holds power at a given moment. John Paul II taught people to say 'no' with courage to all those who present themselves as defenders of man but who in reality defend only their own desire to use him as an instrument by which to secure their own interests and follow their own pleasures.
In a decisive and uncompromising way John Paul II defended the love whose beauty calls man to work so as to rise again. The following verses of Norwid were a source of inspiration for John Paul II: 'beauty is the form of love.../beauty is to make us enthusiastic/ about work work is to rise again'.
Of work directed towards rising again Karol Wojtyla spoke in his philosophy which was coherent with the truth about man, that truth whose boundaries are established by God. Of work directed towards rising again John Paul II spoke from the first day of his pontificate: he called us to free ourselves from fear when faced with enemies and also in relation to ourselves. He also spoke about it in his testament. He did not have anything to bequeath except a hard-working spirit entrusted to all-merciful God and the Virgin Mother. Work directed towards rising again did not allow him to dedicate very much time to the administration of the institutions of the Church. He led the Church in a simple way, living with the people that had been entrusted to him, and together with that people he walked towards the Teacher. This is how he governed Krakow, and this is how he governed Rome. In various ways he repeated the words of Christ and addressed them to everyone: 'rise up and walk!' When the Teacher is approaching death, one should not sleep.
The essential moment of the work of John Paul directed towards rising again was his pastoral practice of the Petrine primacy. He practiced it with strength and with respect for those who believed differently, and he demonstrated his readiness to reconsider this primacy together with our brothers of the Church of the East. Indeed, he knew what breathing with two lungs means for the life of the Church. This Pope carried out the Petrine primacy with prayer. He did so, for example, during the celebration of prayer at the Coliseum when he honoured the memory of the martyrs of both Churches and of other Christian communities. He did the same at Assisi when he raised the prayers of the representatives of the various religions to the heights of the prayer of the Lord 'Our Father'. With the courage of St. Peter he asked forgiveness of those to whom men of the Church had caused injury. Only those who know that Christ came for the 'sick' and not for those who have no need of a physician ask for forgiveness. With the courage of St. Peter, John Paul II purified the memory of the people of God.
This Pope did not cultivate politics and specifically for this reason he exercised a very great influence upon politics. He did not measure his words in a political way. In them, indeed, was to be heard 'Yes, Yes!' or 'No! No!'. In his words there was no place for half-truths. When he defended the rights and duties of the human person, he defended the right and duty of the human person to become love, that is to say a friend of God and of men. He defended the freedom of everyone by defending the right and the duty of man to unite with God, who came down from His heights to unite Himself with us. Living with prayer in the light that emanates from Jesus meant that John Paul II 'became a disciple of the kingdom of heaven' who is 'similar to the owner of a house who takes from his treasure chest both new and old things' [Mt 13, 52]. Thus those who define John Paul II with the terms 'progressive' or 'conservative' are far from the truth: the desire for love rises above all political adjectives.
When Andrej Gromyko sat in front of him and told him his tale about the great freedom that the Soviet regime had given to religion, John Paul II looked at him and smiled. I think that Gromyko encountered difficulty in going on with his lies even though in this field he had had a great deal of practice. But who knows whether the expression of the Pope and his smile did not, in fact, help the Soviet minister to live, at least for an instant, the freedom of false witness. Perhaps thanks to that non-ideological expression of the Pope, Andrej Gromyko felt less alone. Perhaps, compared to what he had done up until that moment, he thought differently about those men who were giving their lives for the truth, that truth against which he himself was fighting.
Prayer gave form to the Petrine witness of John Paul II to the Redeemer of man. Every time that I was allowed to enter his private chapel my gaze settled on the white statement of prayer, a statement entrusted to the Crucified One and his mother Totus tuus ego sum. This white rock of prayer remains in my memory and, indeed, has become increasingly rooted in my memory. Now neither time nor space limit his presence. The Petrine witness of John Paul II immersed in prayer became strengthened with the years to become completed in the paschal event of his dying and in the last act of his life his death on the eve of Divine Mercy. It was then that he wrote the last sentence of his encyclical Redemptor hominis. He wrote it in suffering, in his cross that was carried behind him towards the Redeemer. He wrote it with the most profound words that human language knows: with silence. On every cross that is borne by man behind Christ and then placed on Golgotha next to the cross of Christ is revealed the personal truth of that man, that truth that God intended for him in His Son before the creation of the world [cf. Eph 1, 4]. To this truth and to his glory one goes with one's cross on one's shoulders and one passes through it as though one were going through a door. Indeed, one day at the beginning of his pontificate John Paul II said to someone:
'only death will free me from the cross that I have taken upon myself'.
When silence fell on John Paul II those people who were present at the side of his body sang the Te Deum. The people who were in St. Peter's square and in other parts of the world were speechless. In them the question of the meaning of life was transformed into prayer and into a vigil. In them the witness borne by John Paul II to the Redeemer was raised to those heights that rise above the institutional structures of the Church. For understandable reasons, these structures work at a slower rhythm. The people of God, instead, immediately acclaimed John Paul II a saint and bestowed upon him the title 'the Great'. This is the third event of its kind in the history of the Church. The first took place sixteen hundred years ago (Leo the Great, 400-461) and the second occurred fourteen hundred years ago (Gregory the Great, 540-604). Everything indicates that the presence of John Paul II after his death will influence us with greater force than was the case during his life. He is not dead; he is alive, but alive in another world.
When his body was taken away from St. Peter's Square the people of God said goodbye to it with an applause. Thus do the Romans greet and continue to greet those who on the stage of this world have performed well the role that was entrusted to them. The applause of the people of God announced urbi et orbi that this actor who was leaving the scene had immersed himself well in that 'mask' (person) that was the mission with which he had entered the stage that passes by and which God in His eternity had entrusted to him.