Pope John Paul II

On August 6, 1944, German troops occupying Poland conducted one of the most draconian security sweeps of the entire war. Nazi soldiers combed the city, smashed down doors and rounded up thousands of men. In a basement apartment in Warsaw a young man prayed as he heard the troops approaching. As they drew closer he lay spread-eagled on the floor as he called out to God. Amazingly, the Nazis missed the door leading to his apartment, and his life was spared. That man was Karol Wojtyla--today known as Pope John Paul II. In a new book titled Great Souls, former Time magazine senior correspondent David Aikman recounts this dramatic scene, and he helps us understand why simply doing our duty can turn ordinary men into great heroes. As a child, Wojtyla lost his mother, elder brother, and then his father. These tragedies might have crushed most people but Wojtyla had already developed an extraordinary prayer life. While in his twenties, Aikman writes, Wojtyla learned from a godly teacher "the paradoxical truth of Christian spiritual life--that suffering can be an entrance-gate to deep spiritual joy and to a sense of extraordinary closeness to God." Wojtyla's beloved Poland was occupied by the Nazis until 1945, when they were forced out by the Soviets, who took their place. It was at that time that Wojtyla began a college course in moral theology on "the right to life." As a Christian persecuted for his faith under the two worst totalitarian regimes of the century, Wojtyla believed to the core of his being in the inherent dignity of the human person. This conviction has lasted throughout his life. In addition to his studies and parish work, Wojtyla wrote brilliant plays, poems, essays, and scholarly studies. But most of all, Aikman says, "he prayed--constantly. Before lectures, between lectures, or after lectures--on his knees in the chapel." When he became pope in 1978, the result of all that prayer was evident in his inaugural sermon. "Be not afraid!" he said. He recognized, you see, that fear is a sin because it denies the sovereignty of God. And he recognized that as a leader of the Church, and unwaveringly opposed to the powerful Communist empire, he had to give people the courage to resist evil. And courageous he was. When he saw Russian tanks poised to invade Poland, the Pope announced he would go and stand with his people if the Soviets crossed the border. The Soviet tanks did not move. The Pope knew he might face assassination--and indeed, someone did try to assassinate him--yet he continued to tell the world, "Be not afraid". John Paul II casts a heroic shadow across Eastern Europe: Along with Ronald Reagan, he was the most significant influence in bringing the Soviet Empire to its knees. And that brings us to a great paradox of heroism. True heroes, you see, don't set out to become heroes. They simply do their duty. In an era when some Christian leaders are telling us to bow out of politics because we're losing the culture war, we need to remember how this Pope gave people great courage to endure far worse assaults on their faith and on humanity than American Christians face. And in doing so, he changed the world. Tell your kids being a hero isn't about success or power, it's about doing our duty faithfully and having the courage to stand against all odds. That's true heroism.


Chuck Colson


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