Sunday, January 15, 2006

John Paul the Great - Part I

I am aware that this blog has resulted in the purchase of at least one book in the past. Stunning results. May I then, with my vast and impressive array of book sales, recommend to you another book? Alright, then, I will.

Peggy Noonan has just produced another literary gem, John Paul The Great. Buy this book, and be blessed and understand the heart of a great man, and the admiration of an honest, hopeful woman who writes of him.

Over the course of the decline and loss of John Paul last spring, I posted several thoughts about this truly great man. This book is moving on many different levels, and strikes many of the same cords that I have been feeling about faith, the journey of life, and what the church might become for a hungry world. John Paul had much to teach us, if we listened. Peggy Noonan listened, and reflected well.

Noonan speaks of a public audience she attended in 2003, at a time when John Paul's health was beginning to fail:

"We entered the Paul VI Audience Hall, an enormous concrete structure, cavernous and modern, like a big suburban church, or an evangelical McChurch at the edge of a city....People were coming in single file and in groups, hundreds of them and then thousands. As I walked among them, I heard the languages of France, England, Mexico, Austria, the Czech Republic. There were groups from West Africa, Germany, Poland, Scotland, Portugal, and Brazil. A Romanian chorus of middle aged women began to sing softly in their seats. When they finished, a choir from Bialystok, Poland, thirty young women and men, began to sing lustily.

Suddenly, a rustling up front. Dozens of tall African women danced in, laughing and clapping in floor-length white cotton dresses. On the hems were sown the words, "Archdiocese of Freetown", in Sierra Leone. They sat next to Catholic schoolchildren from Rwanda, who were clapping and shaking tambourines.

I thought: The whole church is here."

As I read this, my eyes filled with tears. The whole church!

We Americans have funny ideas sometimes about what the church is supposed to look like. I think when we get to Heaven, we are going to be surprised, as it will look, smell, and feel much like Ms. Noonan has described here. It might be scary, at first.

The challenge for us now, while we are here, is to work towards building relationships and communities of faith that reflect the characteristics of on earth. This will be hard and messy work, and perhaps challenge many of our conventions. However, this is work worth doing.

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