One who preaches to the peope the word of faith is not saying things that are likely to please them, but must expect to meet with opposition. Jesus did not promise upholstered chairs or Cabinet posts, but only his Baptism and his chalice. In saying that, we have identified the two fundamental sacraments, Baptism and Holy Eucharist, as the essence of gift to humanity. But we have also made clear what it means to receive Baptism and Holy Eucharist: being ready to suffer for the truth and for love. The Pope knows this. That is why, in an address to the American bishops, he alluded to the words of Saint Paul: “Brothers in Christ, when we preach the truth in love, we must expect to be criticized, for we cannot please everyone. But we do nevertheless, have a genuine contribution to make to the salvation of everyone. For that reason, we are humbly convinced that God is with us in our service to the truth and that he ‘does not give us the spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline’ (2Tim 1:7)”.
The spirit of cowardice -that is assuredly not a characteristic that one would attribute to John Paul II. That is why it had to be realized from the beginning [of his papacy] that one day, sooner or later, he would have to face opposition. Significantly, that opposition was strongest when the Pope, in his talks in America, addressed the world that is typically Western- when he addressed our world, when he brought into it the salt of the Gospel, when he exposed our wounds to the light of Christ’s message and revealed them as wounds.
In this criticism there are some elements that we might even find humorous. In the so-called “position papers” with which we were bombarded before the papal election, we were told: above all, a Pope must be open to the world. And I find it somewhat comical that the same people are telling him now that he should not go so much into the world, but should spend more time at home and read. We were also told: the Pope must be charismatic, not bureaucratic. And I find it amusing that it is precisely the individual who customarily speaks of the hierarchy as a “Church of wolves” who now reminds the Pope that the Church cannot be led by charism alone. But there are other, more serious, criticisms that must be taken more seriously. We are told, for example, that the Pope is the product of a conservative theology that is appropriate for a conservative country, but that he is obviously not familiar with the West and its quite different situation. It is said, moreover, that, by reason of his pastoral role, he should not simply decree and decide; he should discuss and convince.
But one who truly listens knows that this Pope has not spent his life in a small and narrow world -and not just because he has already travelled widely in the world, because he has always been surrounded by young people whose enthusiasms, problems, and questions about a world that is, in this sense, still undivided are everywhere the same, but also, more especially, because, as a man, he has himself known and endured all the depths of human life and its sufferings.
In the realm of the human heart, he has discovered the world of the human being and has pondered and suffered it anew. By reason of such journeyings into the adventure of human existence, he can speak with intimate knowledge and can make the word of faith perceptible again in all its permanence -the word that, in that sense, is certainly conservative, for it protects the ground of human nature. But, precisely in so doing, it is creative because it thus bestows ont he individual the possibility of maturity and progress, which cannot exist without a goal. One who listens carefully to the Pope’s words, sees as well that they are not issued as commands, but bear within them the whole history of a life that has been nourished by the centuries-long history of the Faith, and regards humanity anew from this perspective; that he looks at himself with self-criticism, whereas we usually turn away and do not look at ourselves. Thus the Pope makes visible to us why what is permanent is also always something new.
From: Ordinariatskorrespondenz, no23, October 25, 1979