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Pope John Paul II: Theologian and Mary's Bard

Pope John Paul II: Theologian and Mary's Bard

Bruno Forte

"Totus Tuus": "Totally Yours!" These are the words that accompany John Paul II's coat of arms, a golden Crucifix against a blue backdrop, next to which -in the lower right hand section- a golden M stands out, Mary's initial. The coat of arms first of all is inspired by Christianity's central mystery, that of the redemption fulfilled by the Son of God on the Cross, the revelation and gift of infinite love, thanks to which once and forever Heaven descended on earth and put down its roots here. The vertical part of the Crucifix has however been moved to provide room for the majestic capital M that reminds us of the Mother's presence below the Cross and her singular participation in the Redeemer's work.

Hence, two decisive elements of the Polish Pope's spiritual identity and mission are expressed in this coat of arms; first of all, His passionate following of Christ, the real centre and heart of everything he has been and achieved, a following that has become increasingly transparent until the current and mysterious participation in the Master's Mystery. Secondly, next to Christ's central position and primacy, there is the intense love for Mary, the Virgin Mother to whom he has totally offered himself: "Totus Tuus." In no way does Mary take the place of her Son; she stands next to Him until the terrible and supreme hour of the Crucifixion. She welcomes Him as a gift and in turn gives Him away; when He dies she receives from Him her mission as the Mother of the beloved disciple, and in Him also of each disciple of the redeeming love. John Paul II therefore ardently loves Mary; from Her and with Her he learns the intimacy and the amazement of a totally singular relationship with God. In Her he sees himself as a son of the Son; thanks to her example and her intercession he draws strength for his mission as the servant of the servants of God until the very end, well beyond all measure of tiredness. In its intensity and profoundness this relationship with the Virgin Mother, although studied less in-depth by the interpreters of this papacy compared to the other decisive relationship with Christ, is none the less the key for understanding this Pope's work and his message.

At the school of Mary, Wojtyla learns and bears witness to intimacy with God; he learns the constantly renewed capability to be amazed when facing the Mystery; he learns his mastery of the "maternal" language that is the language of the heart, capable of being heard beyond the sandbanks of self-imprisoned reason, evoking eternity in time, the invisible within the poor marks on the stage of this world that passes. It is an ancient language that young Karol learned from an adored presence, which too soon became an absence: "On your white grave" -he wrote in the springtime of his nineteen years when visiting his mother's tomb -"the white flowers of love are in bloom. / How many years have already vanished / without you -how many years? / On your white grave / now closed for years / something as inexplicable as death / appears to rise. / On your white grave, / Mother, my lost love, / lost to my filial love / a precious ..." Later he was to write intensely moving verses, lending his voice to the Virgin Mary in that "maternal " language, which is the language of intimacy with the invisible Loved One: "My difficult and grown-up son. My simple son, / In me no doubt you become accustomed to the thoughts of men / and in the shadow of these thoughts you wait for the profound moment of the heart / which happens at a different time for each man / ... Enclosed within this moment you do not change / and to this great simplicity you bring each thing that is in me / so that, if mothers recognize the lightning of the heart in the eyes of their children, / I should remain totally engrossed in your Secret" ("The Mother," Poems by Karol Wojtyla). To Mary John Paul II entrusts both himself and each of us, that she may help us to learn the maternal language of love, the language of unity with God that changes the heart and also life.

At the school of the Mother, Wojtyla learns to experience his own mission, understood as a gift received and passed on; the listening Virgin becomes the Mother of love. United with her, he discovers he is loved by the Son who came in time, that he is a brother for all His disciples, the shepherd of a people born from the generation of the Word in our flesh. "I am John, the fisherman. There is very little / in me for You to love" says the Poet Pope speaking for all of us. And this voice is the memory of an encounter: "I still feel the thin gravel under my feet, on the shores of the lake / and all of a sudden Him." It is from that encounter that a life, a new life, is forever born, a life he will yet again request for himself and for each of us in Pompeii: "But He wished me to call you Mother. / And I pray that it is thus and that this word shall not lose its value ... / it is really difficult to fathom the words / the meaning of which he has instilled in both of us / because it is in them that all ancient love is hidden" (ibid.).

Life invoked for all is a gift and a promise for everyone, as the words Wojtyla wrote when he was thirty years old tell us, and that today assume the fascination of a prophecy: "Your intense tranquility will stay with me forever / the only outlet for my journey, and one day will be mine / so much that I will experience this as a river transported by its transparent bed / even should the body remain inert." Hence, as a theologian and as Mary's bard, the Pope sends this message of hope to all of us, a message stronger than any darkness and any interruption: hope in God, in His justice, in His peace; the hope expressed in the "Magnificat," the ancient and yet always new hymn to the Virgin, Mother of the Son, and our Mother, Mary.


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