Friday, April 14, 2006

Book Review: John Paul the Great: Rembering a Spiritual Father

I want a referral fee from Peggy Noonan.

Even before I was finished reading this book, I was recommending it to my parish Lector Group (the wife of one member owns the local Catholic bookstore across the street from our church. I need to give her the ISBN number so she can order copies). I told another friend of mine, during lunch, that he had to read this book. He wrote it down--he has learned to take my recommendations seriously.

Ms. Noonan's book begins with the essay published in the Wall Street Journal at the time of John Paul II's death last April: "I Saw A Saint At Sunset." Although I read it before, her essay still grabs my heart. Though diminished physically, JPII still exuded spiritual power and charisma. People still flocked to see him, to be near him. The book then jumps back to the death of Paul VI and John Paul I, detailing some of the strange coincidences that happened along the way to election and elevation of Karol Wojtyla to the papacy.

Of course, for those of us who believe, all this was not coincidence at all. Rather this is the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Interwoven with the background of JPII is Ms. Noonan's own spiritual journey; how her faith and her Catholicism deepened due to the influence JPII had on the Church and the world. She discusses his theology, how the death of the members of his immediate family by the time Karol Wojtyla was a young adult influenced him and his devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. She shows how he became a priest during the reign of the Nazi party, who had nailed the seminary doors shut, and how those obstacles influenced his view of the priesthood and may account for his seeming lack of response to the scandals of the pedophile priests in the U.S. She talks about the effect of a Polish Pope on Poland and on the Polish Communist Government and how, by merely speaking the truth of the faith and the history of the Polish people, JPII helped bring on the collapse of Communism in Europe.

JPII began as a parish priest, a bishop and a cardinal of a diocese and dealt with the problems that the laity bring to Church every day. When he became pope, Cardinal Wojtyla became parish priest to the world.

Ms. Noonan interviews those who worked with JPII, those who analyzed and watched him and lived with him. She quotes from his sermons, his encyclicals, his poetry.

And she tells how this all affected her personally--pebbles and Rosary.

This book is much more satisfying than Father Joe by Tony Hendra. For Ms. Noonan not only discusses the Big Picture, she relates it to the personal and she seems to understand the message. And she does this in 235 pages.

I read this book straight through, cover to cover. And then I went back and dipped into it. No matter where I open it, I find something worth reading, pondering, meditating on. I want to underline and highlight and Post-It Note (tm) the entire book. The only problem is that this copy belongs to my local public library. Which means, of course, I'm going to have to buy a copy. And maybe a couple of more when it comes out in paperback, for my family, so I can share.

This book is a great introduction to some of the themes and ideas of JPII and has piqued my interest to read more of what he wrote, more of what he said. Although JPII was pope for almost all of my entire adult life, I was busy with career, marriage, family, and didn't pay enough attention. And I forgot how dramatic the power of Solidarity was. I forgot Mother Teresa lecturing President Clinton and his wife.

Ms. Noonan ends with JPII's funeral and how "spiritually dead" and "too sophisticated for Church" Europeans overwhelmed the Vatican during his funeral. She speaks of Cardinal Ratzinger's surprisingly powerful eulogy. And she discusses how, when the bells of Rome and the Vatican rang, signally the election of a new pope, the people emptied out of offices and homes and cafes and ran to St. Peter's square to find out who it was.

And I agree with her conclusions about why they did.

On the March Hare scale: 5 out 5 bookmarks. (I would be interested reading a review of this book by a non-Catholic and get their take on it. For it is a very Catholic book.)