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The Wisdom of John Paul II: The Pope on Life's Most Vital Questions

The Wisdom of John Paul II: The Pope on Life's Most Vital Questions

by Nick Bakalar
Culled from the Pope's encyclicals, apostolic letters, addresses, occasional speeches, and other writings, The Wisdom of John Paul II is a powerful and illuminating distillation of the Pope's most moving, wise, and penetrating statements on the issues that concern us most.

Pope John Paul's fresh and inspiring words address a range of important


Culled from the Pope's encyclicals, apostolic letters, addresses, occasional speeches, and other writings, The Wisdom of John Paul II is a powerful and illuminating distillation of the Pope's most moving, wise, and penetrating statements on the issues that concern us most.

Pope John Paul's fresh and inspiring words address a range of important issues---spirituality in modern life, human rights and religious freedom, marriage and family, morality, peace, prayer, women's roles, poverty, and many other concerns vital to Christian life and thought. A beacon of light for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, The Wisdom of John Paul II offers a direct access to the bold and noble thoughts of the premier spiritual leader of our time.

Product Details

NewStar Media, Incorporated
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged, 2 Cassettes
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4.30(w) x 7.16(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

contemporary spirituality

Pope John Paul calls on Christians to renew their spiritual lives. The Pope insists that just as the body needs earthly food for growth, the soul needs to drink from the living waters of the Gospel. Only through tending to both physical and spiritual needs can a person lead a fully integrated life.

John Paul recognizes the value of the awakening of the religious sense in contemporary spiritual movements. These movements, for example, urge a deeper respect for the earth and transcend merely rational forms of religion. They awaken the imagination and religious sensibilities that have been buried under modern materialism and secularization. But the Pope also clearly rejects modern forms of spirituality that conflict with the Gospel message and confuse rather than clarify the human being's relationship to God.

John Paul emphasizes in particular the centrality of the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance. Christians witness God's love for humankind in the eucharistic meal and receive God's mercy in the sacrament of penance. Through participation in the sacraments, Christians today deepen their spiritual journeys.

In the race for technological progress, human beings have become estranged from themselves. As a result, they turn to new spiritual movements that attempt to bridge this chasm. Although John Paul believes that the Church can learn from contemporary movements in spirituality, he holds firmly to the past two thousand years of Christian tradition. Christians in the modern world face the challenge of meeting new, complex needs while at the same time holding fast to their Biblical heritage.

Contemporary Spirituality

When individuals and communities do not see a rigorous respect for the moral, cultural and spiritual requirements, based on the dignity of the person and on the proper identity of each community, beginning with the family and religious societies, then all the rest-availability of goods, abundance of technical resources applied to daily life, a certain level of material well-being-will prove unsatisfying and in the end contemptible.

encyclical: on social concerns (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis), 1987

Development which is merely economic is incapable of setting man free; on the contrary, it will end by enslaving him further. Development that does not include the cultural, transcendent and religious dimensions of man and society, to the extent that it does not recognize the existence of such dimensions and does not endeavor to direct its goals and priorities toward the same, is even less conducive to authentic liberation. Human beings are totally free only when they are completely themselves, in the fullness of their rights and duties. The same can be said about society as a whole.

encyclical: on social concerns (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis), 1987

The increasing religious indifference leads to the loss of the sense of God and of His holiness, which, in turn, is translated into a loss of a sense of the sacred, of mystery and of the capacity for wonder. These are human dispositions which predispose a person to dialogue and to an encounter with God. Such indifference almost inevitably leads to a false moral autonomy and a secularistic lifestyle which excludes God. The loss of the sense of God is followed by a loss of the sense of sin, which has its roots in the moral conscience of the individual. This is a great obstacle to conversion.

Lineamenta for the assembly of the synod of bishops for america, September 18, 1996

In a world pervaded by audiovisual messages of every kind, it is necessary to recover areas of silence which allow God to make His voice heard, and the soul to understand and welcome it. This is what we are taught by the shining example of countless saints and blesseds who have preceded us, glorifying God with the prayerful recollection of their life, and of martyrs, who for love chose "the silence" of the total gift of their life as a response to God's love perceived in the Word and in the Eucharist.

address to the congregation for divine worship,

May 3, 1996

Many people today are puzzled and ask: What is the point of the consecrated life? Why embrace this kind of life when there are so many unmet needs in the areas of charity and of evangelization itself to which one can respond even without assuming the particular commitments of the consecrated life? Is the consecrated life not a kind of "waste" of human energies which might be used more efficiently for a greater good, for the benefit of humanity and the church? . . . What in people's eyes can seem a waste is, for the individuals captivated in the depths of their heart by the beauty and goodness of the Lord, an obvious response of love, a joyful expression of gratitude for having been admitted in a unique way to the knowledge of the Son and to a sharing in His divine mission in the world.

exhortation on the consecrated life, March 25, 1996

Lent is thus a providential opportunity for fostering the spiritual detachment from riches necessary if we are to open ourselves to God. As Christians, we must direct our entire lives to Him, for we know that in this world we have no fixed abode: "our commonwealth is in heaven" (Phil 3:20). At the end of Lent, the celebration of the Paschal Mystery shows how the Lenten journey of purification culminates in the free and loving gift of self to the Father. It is by taking this path that Christ's disciples learn how to rise above themselves and their selfish interests in order to encounter in love their brothers and sisters.

message for lent 1996

It is helpful to recall that a modern state cannot make atheism or religion one of its political ordinances. The state, while distancing itself from all extremes of fanaticism or secularism, should encourage a harmonious social climate and a suitable legislation which enables every person and every religious confession to live their faith freely, to express that faith in the context of public life and to count on adequate resources and opportunities to bring its spiritual, moral and civic benefits to bear on the life of the nation.

the doctrine of freedom and solidarity

Homily at the Mass in Havana's Revolution Plaza, January 25, 1998

American Catholics, in common with other Christians and all believers, have a responsibility to ensure that the mystery of God and the truth about humanity that is revealed in the mystery of God are not banished from public life.

moral truth, conscience and american democracy

Ad Limina Address to U.S. Bishops, June 27, 1998

The disciple of Christ is constantly challenged by a spreading "practical atheism"-an indifference to God's loving plan which obscures the religious and moral sense of the human heart. Many either think and act as if God did not exist, or tend to "privatize" religious belief and practice, so that there exists a bias toward indifferentism and the elimination of any real reference to binding truths and moral values. When the basic principles which inspire and direct human behavior are fragmentary and even at times contradictory, society increasingly struggles to maintain harmony and a sense of its own destiny. In a desire to find some common ground on which to build its programs and policies, it tends to restrict the contribution of those whose moral conscience is formed by their religious beliefs.

Ad Limina address to bishops from new jersey

and pennsylvania, November 11, 1993

The Church feels the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human beings, the duty to help this liberation become firmly established (cf. EN, 30); but she also feels the corresponding duty to proclaim liberation in its integral and profound meanings, as Jesus proclaimed and realized it (cf. EN, 9). Liberation made up of reconciliation and forgiveness. Liberation springing from the reality of being children of God, whom we are able to call Abba, Father (Rom 8:15), a reality which makes us recognize in every man a brother of ours, capable of being transformed in his heart through God's mercy. Liberation that, with the energy of love, urges us toward fellowship, the summit and fullness of which we find in the Lord. Liberation as the overcoming of the various forms of slavery and man-made idols, and as the growth of the new man. Liberation that in the framework of the Church's proper mission is not reduced to the simple and narrow economic, political, social or cultural dimension, and is not sacrificed to the demands of any strategy, practice or short-term solution (cf. EN, 33).

address to latin american bishops at puebla,

February 8, 1979

It is not an exaggeration to say that man's relationship to God and the demand for a religious "experience" are the crux of a profound crisis affecting the human spirit. While the secularization of many aspects of life continues, there is a new quest for "spirituality" as evidenced in the appearance of many religious and healing movements which look to respond to the crisis of values in Western society. This stirring of the homo religiosus produces some positive and constructive results, such as the search for new meaning in life, a new ecological sensitivity and the desire to go beyond a cold, rationalistic religiosity. On the other hand, this religious reawakening includes some very ambiguous elements which are incompatible with the Christian faith.

beyond new age ideas: spiritual renewal

Ad Limina Address to U.S. Bishops, May 28, 1993

Modern rationalism does not tolerate mystery. It does not accept the mystery of man as male and female nor is it willing to admit that the full truth about man has been revealed in Jesus Christ. In particular, it does not accept the great mystery proclaimed in the Letter to the Ephesians, but radically opposes it. It may well acknowledge, in the context of a vague deism, the possibility and even the need for a supreme or divine being, but it firmly rejects the idea of a God who became man in order to save man. For rationalism it is unthinkable that God should be the redeemer, much less that He should be the bridegroom, the primordial and unique source of the human love between spouses. Rationalism provides a radically different way of looking at creation and the meaning of human existence. But once man begins to lose sight of a God who loves him, a God who calls man through Christ to live in Him and with Him, and once the family no longer has the possibility of sharing in the great mystery, what is left except the mere temporal dimension of life? Earthly life becomes nothing more than the scenario of a battle for existence, of a desperate search for gain, and financial gain before all else.

letter to families for the international year of the family, February 22, 1994

To many people, mercy and conversion may seem like poor tools for solving social problems. Some are tempted to accept ideologies that use force to carry out their programs and impose their vision. Such means sometimes produce what appear to be successes. But these successes are not real. Force and manipulation have nothing to do with true human development and the defense of human dignity. Catholic social teaching is totally different, not only as regards goals, but also as regards the means to be used. For the Christian, putting right human ills must necessarily take into account the reality of creation and redemption. It means treating every human being as a unique child of God, a brother or sister of Jesus Christ. The path of human solidarity is the path of service; and true service means selfless love, open to the needs of all, without distinction of persons, with the explicit purpose of reinforcing each person's sense of God-given dignity.

address to catholic charities, california,

September 13, 1987

Every age poses new challenges and new temptations for the People of God on their pilgrimage, and our own is no exception. We face a growing secularism that tries to exclude God and religious truth from human affairs. We face an insidious relativism that undermines the absolute truth of Christ and the truths of faith, and tempts believers to think of them as merely one set of beliefs or opinions among others. We face a materialistic consumerism that offers superficially attractive but empty promises conferring material comfort at the price of inner emptiness. We face an alluring hedonism that offers a whole series of pleasures that will never satisfy the human heart. All these attitudes can influence our sense of good and evil at the very moment when social and scientific progress requires strong ethical guidance. Once alienated from Christian faith and practice by these and other deceptions, people often commit themselves to passing fads, or to bizarre beliefs that are either shallow or fanatical.

address to laity, st. mary's cathedral, san francisco, September 18, 1987

A few years ago, there was much talk of the secularized world, the post-Christian era. Fashion changes, but a profound reality remains. Christians today must be formed to live in a world which largely ignores God or which, in religious matters, in place of an exacting and fraternal dialogue, stimulating for all, too often founders in a debasing indifferentism, if it does not remain in a scornful attitude of "suspicion" in the name of the progress it has made in the field of scientific "explanations." To "hold on" in this world, to offer to all a "dialogue of salvation" in which each person feels respected in his or her most basic dignity, the dignity of one who is seeking God, we need a catechesis which trains the young people and adults of our communities to remain clear and consistent in their faith, to affirm serenely their Christian and Catholic identity, to "see Him who is invisible" and to adhere so firmly to the absoluteness of God that they can be witnesses to Him in a materialistic civilization that denies Him.

catechesis in our time, October 1979

human rights

In his world travels, Pope John Paul has taken a very direct approach to governments that do not live up to basic standards of human rights. He visited Buenos Aires, where he referred directly to the Argentine government's "dirty war" and pointedly held a meeting with one of the few bishops in the country who had spoken out against the government. In Africa, in 1985, he made a direct appeal to President Mobutu of Zaire and condemned South Africa's apartheid. In South Korea, he spoke both publicly and privately with the president about the need for greater democracy and greater respect for personal liberty. No government is spared: The Holy Father has condemned equally governments of the left and the right for what he perceives as violations of human rights.

There is little question that the Pope's urgings have had practical effect. Mikhail Gorbachev gave the Holy Father much credit for the liberalization of Eastern Europe, and Lech Walesa acknowledged the Pope's aid as essential in preserving the gains of Solidarity in Poland.

Meet the Author

Nick Bakalar is a writer, based in New York. Richard Balkin is a literary agent and freelance writer, based in Amherst, Massachusetts. Father John White is a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York.

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