Tag Archives: John paul II

Unleashing our gifts for Christ

Dr. Paul Kengor

It was 30 years ago, December 1987. Speaking from St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to seek God’s will with the talents we’ve received, in causes small or large. It was a poignant message in time, and also poignantly timeless.

That year had seen tremendous breakthroughs by leaders of the world’s temporal powers. That very month, on December 8, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty—the greatest nuclear-missile-elimination treaty in history. The Cold War was peacefully ending.

Ronald Reagan personally saw such achievements as him using his talents to accomplish God’s will. “Whatever time I have left is for Him,” Reagan pledged after surviving an assassination attempt in March 1981. He would use his talents for God, especially against an evil empire.

John Paul II might have had such larger achievements in mind (and smaller ones, too) when he gave a blessing from St. Peter’s at the close of the year, Christmas week, where he pointed to the parable of the talents. “The story of the human race described by Sacred Scripture is, even after the fall into sin, a story of constant achievements,” said the pontiff, “in response to the divine vocation given from the beginning to man and to woman.”

The Pope applied this philosophical statement to practical realities, to all men and women and their gifts. Such could be a challenging task, but it was a duty nonetheless. “Anyone wishing to renounce the difficult yet noble task of improving the lot of man in his totality, and of all people,” averred the Pope, “with the excuse that the struggle is difficult and that constant effort is required, or simply because of the experience of defeat and the need to begin again, that person would be betraying the will of God the Creator.” The Pope pointed to “the Lord Jesus Himself, in the parable of the talents,” who emphasized the severe treatment given to the man who hid the gifts he received.

“It falls to us,” said the Holy Father, “who receive the gifts of God in order to make them fruitful, to ‘sow’ and ‘reap.’” A deeper pondering of these severe words “will make us commit ourselves more resolutely to the duty, which is urgent for everyone today,” to work together for others, for the whole human being, and for all people.

The achievements then being made by men like John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were an extension of their commitment to do the work of God on behalf of others, for the whole human being, for all people. It was always a struggle, often fraught with defeat. It was, nonetheless, a commitment to be resolutely pursued.

In a speech at Notre Dame on May 17, 1981, Ronald Reagan had stated: “When great causes are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”

Yes, duty—to do right, and to resist evil.

As John Paul II’s Catechism stated (section 409): “The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, often at great cost to himself.”

That applied not just to John Paul II, to Ronald Reagan, and their battles, but ours. Yes, also ours.

Will you use yours? Will you use the talents God has given you? Will you stand up to the secular forces today threatening our religious freedom, or will you cower in fear of being called names for standing for what’s right?

At Christmas time, we think of Christ and gifts. Well, here’s a gift that we, in turn, can return to Christ by putting to good use the unmistakable talents bestowed upon us.

DR. PAUL KENGOR, PH.D. is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.

Jesus’ mission to reveal the Father

If you polled Christians, asking the reason for Jesus’ incarnation, most would say he came to redeem humanity — to open heaven so we could one day be with him forever in heaven as adopted sons and daughters.

novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

True. But Jesus also came to reveal the Father, who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4). The invisible nature of God became visible in and through Jesus’ actions.

The Catechism teaches that “it pleased God … to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature” (#51).

Sadly, with so many young people (and grown adults) with no concept of a loving father, how does the Church communicate the love of God the Father, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ?

The crisis of fatherhood is epic, and the statistics are alarming. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that nearly half of children (43%) are being raised without a dad at home, and 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The youth suicide rate is five times higher for kids without a dad.

There is no easy answer, but we are all called in our own particular way to mirror God the Father’s love to our own children and be surrogate fathers to people who are lacking that example.

The first time I ever saw my dad cry was at his father’s funeral. I was six years old, and the image of my father tearing up when he said his last goodbye will stay with me forever. He loved his father deeply.

George Novecosky with his six sons in May 2012

George Novecosky with his six sons in May 2012

Now it’s my turn. My father — George Novecosky — has cancer and I’m faced with the prospect of saying goodbye to him. Fortunately, he’s making it easy for us with his refreshing good humor. In a documentary I made on my parents’ spiritual legacy a few years ago, he quipped, “I’m not afraid to die, but I’m in no hurry!”

In his encyclical Rich in Mercy, Pope St. John Paul II taught that “the truth, revealed in Christ, about God the ‘Father of mercies,’ enables us to see him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering” (#2).

My father’s spiritual legacy will live on in his nine children and 17 grandchildren. He taught us to live well, to love well and to remember that our end is to live forever in the Father’s House.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

EDITOR’S NOTE: George Novecosky was received into the arms of Our Lord on July 30, 2016.

John Paul II

This graphic novel of St. John Paul II’s life is gripping for young and old . . .

BarJohn Paul II
Dominique Bar, Louis-Bernard Koch
Ignatius Press, 2014
80 pages, $16.99 hardcover

This richly illustrated book tells John Paul II’s fascinating and deeply inspiring story in a graphic novel format. As a young man, he witnessed the Nazi and Soviet invasion of his country. As a young priest, he stood up to the communists. As pope, he traveled the world to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people around the world.

Young people will be drawn to the well-crafted pictures and simple text that tell the dramatic and inspiring story of one of the most important figures of the 20th century, one that many are already calling “John Paul the Great.”

Order: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The futility of business ethics

Andreas Widmer writes that business ethics without a clear understanding of the meaning and significance of work is a bit like playing ball without any rules. He suggests a shift from a focus on rules and regulations, from a focus on business ethics as a separate topic, to an integrated focus on teaching young entrepreneurs about business as a vocation . . .

Andreas Widmer

Andreas Widmer

Imagine you were leading a large sports team without being told exactly what game you’re playing. Someone places a nondescript ball in front of you and says: “Play!” So you start. Every so often when you touch the ball, the ref’s whistle admonishes you.

You stop, are told that this is not allowed, you shrug your shoulders and play on. The referee’s calls are mystifying, even arbitrary, and for you the game’s objective becomes simply to circumvent or avoid the ref all together.

Business ethics without a clear understanding of the meaning and significance of work is a bit like playing ball without any rules. When we think of business ethics, we think of regulations, laws and codes of behaviors: basically a litany of don’ts.

The list multiplies rapidly. After every scandal, there is a call for more regulation. After any new regulations, businesses devise new strategies to deal with these regulations — in essence, to figure out how to have them affect their business as little as possible. It seems a reasonable enough response if seen from the perspective of “avoiding the ref.” Except that this, of course, is the recipe for the next scandal, and the cycle begins anew.

It’s no wonder that popular opinion condemns business as selfish, corrupt and damaging to society. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. In reality, most businesses are run in a very different way than what I just described. Not because of any industry regulation or government law, but because they act out of their leaders’ fundamental understanding of what business is all about. This view is often informed by their faith.

God is a worker. The first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that he is creative: He conceived of and formed the world out of nothing. Then he made humans. He says that he wanted to make them in his image: a subject, immortal, a worker. This is where we find the primary purpose of business: God invited us to participate in his creative power. Every time we go to work, every time we engage in business, we accept that invitation and in fact, imitate God.

This is why Blessed John Paul II says that when we work, we don’t just “make more,” but we “become more.” Work is a path to holiness.

The ethics of any specific action finds its foundation and purpose in the intrinsic meaning and significance of that very action. This is why any kind of ethics in a relativistic society is at best transient and at worst completely incompatible with the common good. If I cannot ascertain the Truth, how will I know how to produce goods that are truly good and services that truly serve?

When approached from the deep meaning and significance of human work, however, business ethics becomes an instinctive exercise in excellence. It’s not how well I know the rules that makes me a better athlete, it’s that I’ve effectively internalized the game. That’s how an athlete gets what’s called “in the zone,” and it’s what happens when an athlete achieves perfection in his game.

And so it goes with business: If I internalize the very essence of business, it’s no longer about rules or regulations, but about perfection and excellence. It’s not about short-term or long-term, but about transcendence; not about profit and loss, but about sustainability; and not about me, but about others.

John Mackey of Whole Foods didn’t create his store to meet rules or regulations, but he offered products aimed at perfection and excellence. It’s the reputation of that excellence which made Whole Foods into the icon of healthy groceries.

Tom Monaghan didn’t focus as much on short-term performance as he did on making Domino’s a permanent and rewarding presence for his customers and employees.  His approach allowed Domino’s to become one of the most positively recognized companies in the world. François Michelin didn’t set out to create a profit, but harmony between his company and the consumer, work force, investors and society. He credits this harmony with the immense success during his tenure.

Any business that can compete and has a positive impact in the long run is inherently other-directed. It is in giving that we receive. That holds true in business as well as in one’s personal life. Think of your last interaction with any company: Customers reward good products and positive service with loyalty — the critical ingredient in any company’s successful future.

What I propose then is to shift from a focus on rules and regulations, from a focus on business ethics as a separate topic, to an integrated focus on teaching young entrepreneurs about business as a vocation. Let’s teach the next generation that business is about more than making a living. Let’s teach them to make a meaningful and fulfilling life. The results will speak for themselves.

ANDREAS WIDMER is director of entrepreneurship programs at The Catholic University of America. He is the author of “The Pope & The CEO: Pope John Paul II’s Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard.”

John Paul vs. unions

How public sector unions’ demands stack up against Catholic social teaching . . .

For many Catholics, the debate over changing state employee collective-bargaining “rights” is resolved with an easy answer: The Church supports unions so any move to tamper with longstanding contract provisions must be unjust.

But a closer reading of Catholic social teaching offers a perspective that may surprise people on both sides of the issue.

Dignity of work

The approaching 30th anniversary of Laborem Exercens, Blessed John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical on the dignity of work, presents Catholics and others with an opportunity to take a fresh look at what the Church has to say about work and the relationship between employee and employer, whether in union or non-union settings.

Published on the 90th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum, which inaugurated much of the Church’s discussion about unions and worker rights, Laborem Exercens takes the 1891 encyclical to a deeper level.

George Wiegel

“The key themes of Laborem Exercens,” said George Weigel, distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., “are the innate dignity of work, which is to be understood as an exercise in human creativity rather than a punishment for original sin, and human work as our participation in God’s ongoing creation of the world.”

Although the encyclical goes on to call unions “an indispensable element of social life” and recognizes the use of strikes as legitimate under certain conditions and within limits, it also says: “Just efforts to secure the rights of workers who are united by the same profession should always take into account the limitations imposed by the general economic situation of the country” (#20).

Even though Catholic social teaching contains a long-standing bias in favor of unions, the Church has always seen its social teaching as dynamic, according to Fr. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich. This means that conditions described, for example, in Rerum Novarum are not necessarily the same as those occurring today in places like Ohio and Wisconsin, where state budget crises have led to restrictions on public-sector employee collective-bargaining provisions.

This spring, state governments across the country took swift action to limit the power of organized labor in public schools. Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Idaho and Michigan were the first, and Tennessee’s governor signed a law last month ending collective bargaining and giving local school boards the full authority to operate their districts in the manner they choose.

As Weigel wrote in an April 1 column in The Pilot, the kinds of workers both Leo XIII and John Paul II had in mind in their encyclicals on work were very different from“unionized American public school teachers who make decent salaries with good health and pension benefits, often work nine months of the year and are sometimes difficult to fire even if they commit crimes.”

Weigel told Legatus Magazine that most Catholics, including bishops and priests, are relatively uninformed about the social doctrine of the Church, its themes and development.

Father Sirico said he thinks this is because many priests, especially younger ones, are not interested in these issues, and some older ones have failed to update themselves on the subject.

“Those who pay any attention today,” Weigel added, “know that the Church supported the trade-union movement in the late 19th century, and therefore assume that the Church must support everything unions propose today. That simply isn’t the case: The times and circumstances have changed, as has the nature of union activity.

“When unions support abortion-on-demand, they must be opposed. When unions oppose measures that offer enhanced educational opportunity to poor children, they should be asked to examine their consciences.”

Political action

Laborem Exercens also addresses another element of union activity seen today in the relationship between the Democratic Party and unions like the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The encyclical cautions unions against having close ties with political parties.

“Unions,” John Paul wrote in Laborem Exercens, “do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them” (#20).

Fr. Robert Sirico

Father Sirico said the pope’s reference here was to the bogus unions of the Communist parties. But, he added, “We see that this really has happened in the U.S., especially with the publicemployee unions. They are in lockstep with one political party and they advance that agenda. What’s most troubling to good Catholics, especially those with a history of union membership, is that these unions have turned on the most fundamental teachings of the Church with regard to marriage and life. They have become the strongest political forces in our country.”

Furthermore, in Laborem Exercens, John Paul states that man must work out of regard for others, not only his own family, but for society, his country and the human family. He also is to consider future generations.

State workers who are being asked to accept limits on collective bargaining provisions because the states that employ them are struggling financially are finding it hard to see this obligation amid the present conflict, Fr. Sirico said.

“This is a whole historical trajectory that has taken place and a momentum that has built,” he said. “The workers themselves are kind of caught in the middle of this thing. Obviously their [union] leadership has not served them well. If they had given concessions over time and adapted to the marketplace, they would not be in the drastic situation they’re in now where they have to, in effect, hold an entire state hostage to achieve their own goals.”

Weigel added, “Public sector workers, like everyone else, have a responsibility to act for the common good, and not simply on their own behalf. A union that doesn’t look out for its own is an absurdity. A union that only looks out for its own is a problem.”

News reports about states’ efforts to limit collective bargaining typically call collective bargaining a “right.” However, Fr. Sirico said he sees no “right” to collective bargaining implicit in the social teachings of the Church, especially if it’s preserved at the expense of a foundering state budget. In the eyes of the Church, he said, even a strike has to be a last resort, not an ultimatum, and the disruption it causes must be proportionate to the expectation of good.

“You can’t just assert a right and not care about all the other effects that take place,” he said. “Wisconsin is a good example. If the unions don’t concede, if there aren’t some revisions to the way in which contracts and all of the benefits are administered, if they bankrupt an entire state, this is not supportive of the common good, which is what work needs to do. There has to be a proportionate benefit and not just for one section of people at the expense of others.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.
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Sources

Rerum Novarum and Laborem Exercens are available online at papalencyclicals.net or vatican.va

Another good source for this topic is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Nine Days That Changed the World

New Gingrich film explores John Paul II’s groundbreaking 1979 visit to Poland . . .

gingrichNine Days That Changed the World
Hosted by Newt & Callista Gingrich
On DVD Now.
Unrated, 94 min.

This fascinating documentary examines Pope John Paul II’s return to his homeland in 1979, less than a year after being elected pope. Nearly one-third of all Poles turned out to see the Pope in person. Polish, American and Italian scholars and leaders discuss what transpired over those nine days that moved Poles to throw off the shackles of Communism. The momentum of this visit led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Purchase the DVD

John Paul II and America

Ambassador Ray Flynn writes that John Paul challenged America to be a moral leader . . .

Ambassador Raymond Flynn

I recently participated in a special and memorable discussion to commemorate the fifth anniversary Pope John Paul II’s death. In fact, the moderator acknowledged that it was the best program that he had ever participated in — quite a comment given his many years of media experience.

One of the panelists was Fr. Andrew Grelak of Chelsea, Mass. As a young man, he studied for the priesthood in Poland during Pope John Paul II’s historic 1979 visit. Poland’s Communist government at first strongly opposed the trip, but public opinion was so overwhelming that they reluctantly agreed. The emotion was overwhelming as Fr. Grelak relived the Pope’s visit with tears in his eyes.

Poland and Eastern Europe were never the same after John Paul said, “Be not afraid.” The Communist leader and head of the Polish government at the time, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev later told me the very same thing. Tanks and weapons couldn’t stand up to the truth of the Holy Father’s message.

I witnessed the same phenomenon while speaking with the striking union workers in Gdansk shipyard as armed troops surrounded us. In introducing me to the thousands of Solidarity workers, Lech Walesa said, “World opinion and truth are on our side, and the Mayor of Boston is here with us today to bring support from the freedom-loving people of the United States.”

Walesa presented me with a badge with the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa. On the picture were two names: Solidarno (labor movement) and John Paul II. Nearly all of the striking workers wore this button. The faith these courageous workers had in Our Lady — and their confidence in the Pope — was remarkable. They not only stood up to the communist troops, but they defeated them without firing a gun. I have met and worked with many world leaders, but no one could inspire a nation like Karol Wojtyla did in 1978.

I was with the Pope many times over the years, but I always felt it wasn’t the big headline things that he did and said that made him great. It was his simple gestures of kindness and the attention he paid to ordinary people. On the TV special I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Sr. Florine Licavoli told us that she once brought a group of handicapped pilgrims to Rome, hoping to get a glimpse of John Paul at his weekly audience. But when the Pope learned of their presence, he arranged to meet them even though he was gravely ill. I personally saw his kindness with so many people, some of them troubled and sick. But that only motivated him to reach out even more.

I was in Rome reporting for national television on April 2, 2005, the day he died. I saw the outpouring of love and affection for the man I truly loved and admired. People drove all night on buses to be present at his funeral. Thousands of people — old and young — came from Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia and other parts of the world. It was a truly remarkable show of love and respect for the man they called Holy Father. People lined up all night and day waiting for the opportunity to walk past his casket and say a prayer.

The day of his funeral was one of the most memorable days of my life. I spoke to three United States presidents, the future pope (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), a king, prime ministers and several world religious leaders. The genuine affection they had for Pope John Paul II was apparent. Bill Clinton and George Bush both told me the same thing. The United States had lost a great friend. Pope John Paul II loved America and its people. He knew the U.S. and its goodness.

He constantly challenged our political leaders to be a force for good. He sometimes criticized them on issues of war and peace — and certainly on the critical issue of the respect for all human life. But I can still remember Oct. 1, 1979, as if it were yesterday. While standing on the runway at Logan Airport in Boston, the Pope said, “America has opened her heart to me. And on my part I come to you — America — with sentiments of friendship, reverence and esteem. I come as one who already knows you and loves you, as one who wishes you to fulfill completely your noble destiny of service to the world.

“Permit me to express my sentiments in the lyrics of your own song, ‘America, God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.’

“May the peace of the Lord be with you always, America.”

Pope John Paul II challenged America to be a moral leader. I’m happy to report that millions of Americans wake up every morning and try to live up to that challenge. Pope John Paul II will always be part of America.

Raymond L. Flynn is the former United States Ambassador to the Holy See, Mayor of Boston, and bestselling author of “The Accidental Pope” and “Pope John Paul II: A Personal Portrait of the Pope and the Man.”