Following his frank and forthright conversations in 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope', Pope John Paul II wrote more explicitly on his vocation and role as a bishop, hoping through his words to both explain to the laity and clergy, as well as teach those who were fellow-bishops (albeit without the papal authority he himself carried) what it is like to be a bishop. My favourite part of the book is the first section; being someone who has spent the greater part of his life in one form or another of discernment of vocation, it is fascinating to see what vocational aspects are most relavent to a pope. From both the practical aspect of knowing this particular pope, as well as the general aspect of learning more about what his vision of what a bishop and pope should be, John Paul II has provided an interesting insight into why he did the things he did. Vocation is a mystery, and authority from God is also a mystery. It might not seem so from outside, but it is a heavy burden with which to be entrusted. 'Do you know what you have done?' This is a question that might be asked of the cardinals by a new pope; this is a question we might ask ourselves. However, John Paul II recasts it in asking if we know what God has done for us, in the midst of all the world's troubles and joys. The gospel of John records, 'You did not choose me, but I chose you.' Pope John Paul II, far from being a perfect person, was nonetheless a good and faithful servant to his vision of what he was chosen to be, and worked to bear the fruit of his ministry that will last. This book explains that this was important to him, and will stand as a testimony of sorts to what he expects the leaders of the church to be and to do. Leaders of the church are expected to carry a lot of burdens - they must be theologians, pastors, shepherds, colleagues, faithful witnesses and more (and this is before they must be administrators and managers, as well as general workers in the vineyard). There are chapters devoted to each of these roles, cast in caring, theological and spiritual tones. The audience for this particular work is rather narrow if taken as a direct charge (few of us will become Roman Catholic bishops, after all, and even fewer will become popes). However, this book does give insight into the leadership principles that guided Pope John Paul II in his own words and thoughts, and as such, is an interesting guide as we enter a new era with a new pope.
John Paul II's thinking has often been described as difficult to follow. And, this widely published view deterred me from reading his works. But, his master work, namely his letter of suffering called "salfivici doloris" convinced me of his deep holiness and greatness. Here is a man who in 40 or so pages can shed light on what is means to suffer and can explain its salvific meaning. He gives the answer to the age old question posed by Job.
John Paul speaks a deeply profound and spiritual language, a language which engages the whole person, mind, spirit and emotions. The title of the book "Rise, let us be our way" echoed through my mind for weeks after reading this book. This phrase of Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane as he readies himself for the cross is given a frutiful response in the life of John Paul. Even now, it strike me that John Paul gave an enfleshed response to the call of his master. On the balcony in St Peter's, he looked awful, almost no longer human, and yet he continued faithfully and did indeed rise and go on his way. If we listen to what he says on page 75 of this lovely book, we will understand him a little better:
"I remember that at the beginning the sick intimidated me. I needed a lot of courage to stand before a sick person and enter, so to speak, into his physical and spiritual pain, not to bretray discomfort. Only later did I begun to grasp the profound meaning of the mystery of human suffering. In the weakenss of the sick, I saw emerging ever more clearly a new strength - the strength of mercy. In a sense, the sick provoke mercy. Through their prayers and sacrifices, they not only ask for mercy but create a "space for mercy" or better, open up spaces for mercy. By their illness and suffering they call forth acts of mercy and create the possibility of accomplishing them".
John Paul II in his last days opened up a cosmos of space for mercy - having acted as pastor for so long, the roles had turned, he now had to learnt to be the recipient of mercy, as if, to ready himself for the stupendous mercy of God on entering into eternity. Indeed, the "rise, let us be on our way" was given a definitive response by John Paul in his last days. May he (an Ikon of Christ) rest in peace and plead for us before the Father.
I think that it is incumbent on me to preface this review by admitting that it would be extremely difficult for me to award a book written by the Holy Father anything less than five stars. The very high regard I feel for the Papacy and the current occupant of that office may very well cloud my judgment and anyone who reads this review should keep that in mind. That said, I found this to be a very well written and interesting little book. John Paul II wrote this book for the most part as a book of instruction for his Bishops. Within it's pages he lays out in a very clear way what he thinks the duties of a Bishop are and he does this by telling the story of his years as a Bishop in Poland. The Pope makes it very clear that while the first priority of a Bishop is to preach the Gospel, he must also be a shepherd to his flock. Again and again His Holiness hammers on this point and makes it very clear that he expects his Bishops to get out of their office and be among the people. He is very proud of the fact that even with his Pontifical duties he has visited almost every Parish under his official care as Bishop of Rome. This book would never have been published in this manner however if it were only useful to Bishops and there is indeed much information here for everyone else. Many people of all faiths are fascinated by the Pope's struggle with the Communist authorities in Poland and many of the stories in this book deal with that subject. There are also a fair number of accounts of the Nazi occupation and the brave efforts of the Polish people to rid themselves of this curse. There is little doubt that the writings of this Pope will be invaluable to future historians as they delve into 20th century Europe. These stories of a courageous people who risked so much in the pursuit of freedom, not only to worship but also the freedom to live their lives in a free and open society are truly inspiring. Finally, this book although written for the Bishops is not written in a way that will put off the average reader. With the exception of a few references to Church documents that bear their titles in Latin there is little here that will be out of reach to almost any reader. Catholics will of course find this book to be more interesting than will other faiths but people of almost any religious inclination will be able to find inspiration here. This book may be small but it packs a huge punch.
If it is true that only History can truly judge a man, then Pope John Paul II will surely stand out as the figure of the twentieth century. In a time that created more tyrants and murderous -isms than ever before, when men murdered and died to defend madmen, one man stands almost alone in that century: Poland's Pope.
The comparison with Ghandi is deliberate. But I would propose this is a man grater even than the Indian lawyer who took up spinning and salt-collecting to bring down an empire. John Paul II liberated Europe from the long echo of World War II, resurrecting his ancient Polish nation and freeing Russians, Ukranians, Slavs, Serbs and many more from the oppression of atheist communism. And the only shot fired was the one that hit and nearly killed him.
This book is his reflections on an intensely personal journey. It is a book that speaks to the heart of those with a vocation to the Catholic priesthood, but also to non-Catholic believers too. It shows the Evangelical Protestant and the western liberal secularist that Catholicism can be as real now as when Peter first stepped into Rome almost 2,000 years ago.
It is easy to denigrate the grossness of much of Catholicism. Read this book and you will see that at least one man knew how to live as a real Catholic and Christian. Its the joy of our time that this man became the Pope.
"Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way" is Blessed John Paul the Great's book that specifically focuses on the role of a bishop. Partly autobiographical, partly instructive and partly historical, it has something for every member of the faithful. Composed of short essays organized into chapters, it leads the reader through his vocation and the ministry, responsibilities, fatherhood and collegiality of bishops before concluding with a brief overview of the Polish saints who most moved John Paul.
I read this in short, before bed sessions, for which it was perfect. It helps the reader understand how John Paul saw the world and his place in it. It helps us appreciate his life and the challenges facing our bishops. Finally, it helps us reflect the calls in our own lives. In the end, you will be ready to Rise, and Be On Your Way.