John Paul II was a Counterculturist

CREED AND CULTURE: JESUIT STUDIES OF POPE JOHN PAUL II, by Joseph W. Koterski, S.J., and John C. Conley, S.J., eds., St. Joseph’s University Press, PA, 2004, xi + 256 pp., $35.00

The John Paul II Jesuit Symposium began in 1980 and since 1990 has sponsored a biennial conference devoted to the teaching of John Paul II. The book reviewed here presents the papers read at the 1998 conference at Georgetown University and the 2000 conference held at Xavier University. All the papers and the responses to them were read by Jesuits. There are eleven papers, six of which are followed by responses. I will say a bit about a few of the papers and simply mention the others.

Father Martin J. Tripole shows that Pope John Paul was a counterculturist, and that this can be seen in three special areas. In one area, John Paul insisted that there is objective truth, that there is objective morality, that human life at every stage of its existence has objective value. In another area, the Pope said “that, as a result of the Incarnation, a secular conception of human life is no longer adequate, and yet our society continues to foster a secular conception and political agenda as it if were the only one acceptable.” In a third area, the Pope said that, “in a society that links the pleasure principle with a ‘culture of death’, suffering seems to serve no useful purpose,” yet, Father Tripole writes, “the Pope wrote one of the most profound Church statements delineating the significance of human suffering.” And one aspect of the Pope’s thought is that the redemption Jesus accomplished by his suffering is constantly in a certain sense being accomplished through the loving union of our suffering with Christ’s.

I was heartened by the response to Father Tripole’s paper given by Father William S. Kurz. Speaking of the countercultural future of the Church, he gives an instance from his own university of how certain persons and certain articles have contributed to the formation of a large group of countercultural students. He says: “After two generations who did not received solid catechesis, there is a growing hunger in the young (and the dissatisfied of all ages) for solid and clear Catholic teachings, for straightforward direction in how to live one’s life, for unambiguous distinctions between right and wrong behaviors, for an end to the relativistic confusion rampant in so many parishes.”

In a long article, Father Raymond Gawronski gives a most interesting political, military, religious, ethnic, and cultural history of John Paul II’s native land.

Father John C. Haughey deals with some of the problems involved in the relationship between faith and culture. One of the problems is discovering what elements of a culture are compatible with faith. This is a difficult problem. As an extreme case of this, he instances the attempts of the early Jesuits in China, who took a long time to discover what Chinese culture was, long before judging what elements of it could safely be accepted by Christians. Another aspect of the problem, which might easily lie hidden from the faith-bearers, is whether they themselves might be hampered by their own culture in certain ways in dealing with a non-Christian culture.

Father Arthur R. Madigan continues with an application of the same topic by his presentation “The New Evangelization of American Intellectual Culture: Context, Resistances, Strategies.” He finds American intellectual culture to be liberal, post-Protestant, pragmatic, and filled with debate. Some resistances to Catholic teaching, he says, are atheism, post-Protestantism, biblical controversy which can hinder a presentation of the Bible, and many current sexual views. Some strategies he mentions are: providing lots of pre-evangelization, using listener-friendly language, becoming involved in political and cultural debates, dialoguing with the professions, and cultivating the literary, visual, and performing arts.

Father Mitchell Pacwa presents the papal teaching concerning the New Age Movement. Cardinal Dulles writes an excellent summation of the teaching of John Paul II on the priesthood, and gives another talk on John Paul’s teaching on the enrichment and transmission of faith. John J. Conley writes on John Paul as a theologian of art. Peter F. Ryan writes on nature and grace concerning their relationship in the human desire for fulfillment. Joseph A. Bracken deals with the many complications of interreligious dialogue, and Stephen Fields with the related field of nature and grace.

Rev. Leonard A. Kennedy, C.S.B.
The Academy of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom
Barry’s Bay, ON, Canada

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