Connie and I recently watched Karol: A Man Who Became Pope. It portrays Karol Wojtyla’s life

  • from his late teens, when the Nazi’s invaded his city and nation,
  • through WWII,
  • then through decades of Communist rule (as a satellite of the Soviet Union),
  • up to the day he became Pope John Paul II (1978).

I. A Real-life Example: The Future Pope Working Under Nazi and Communist Oppression in Poland

He was becoming a man of prayer, and preparing for future usefulness, but was also very much involved in the crazy realities of life with his people in the hell that was Nazi Poland.
Karol Wojtyla, (pronounced something like “VoyTEEya”) was known as a man of prayer, and it seems to me that his life-long habits (and style) of prayer – developed in his late teens – were a Karol Wojtyla, John Paul IIkey factor in his effectiveness in the real world and in his continuing rise to greater and greater worldly power.

He was introduced to “mystical prayer” early in WWII

by an older man (Jan Tyranowsky) who became a spiritual mentor to several young adults. I was familiar with the story from previous study, and though this version is a movie, not a documentary, it still rings pretty true.

A strong, intelligent, active, well-liked young man slumped in despair as the Nazis destroy nearly all that is of value to him…
One poignant scene shows him discovering a poster announcing the murder (“execution”) of a good friend, a young priest, by the Nazis. Wojtyla sinks to the ground in sorrow as people walk by. His whole world has become one of violence and insanity, and his friends are being destroyed. But as he slumps there against the wall in sorrow and presumably in despair, he is holding a book Tyranowsky had given him, by St. John of the Cross on prayer.

What a bizarre juxtaposition that scene presents. A strong, intelligent, active, well-liked young man slumped in despair as the Nazis destroy nearly all that is of value to him – and clearly threaten his own life – yet he is holding on to the obscure work of an obscure and very non-violent monk from four hundred years prior.

And my emotional reaction was – “get a clue, Dude!

What good is contemplative prayer against the Nazis?!”

No doubt many things called “prayer” are quite useless in every respect, but nothing is more relevant to social conditions than the transformation of persons that comes from prayer at its best. – Dallas Willard

Fortunately, he did not listen to me.Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II

Throughout the Nazi occupation Wojtyla kept working (in a quarry), he kept praying, and he kept secretly preparing for ordination as a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. He was also involved in an underground protest drama group. He was becoming a man of prayer, and preparing for future usefulness, but was also very much involved in the crazy realities of life with his people in the hell that was Nazi Poland.

In the movie Tyranowski tells the future Pope that they have to win by love, not by violence.  The Nazi form of the evil will go away; but if they do not win by love, it will only return under another name.

II. How Did He DO That?

The evil returned, perhaps a little less viciously, under Communist rule when WWII ended in 1945. The Communists, after all, at least hoped to develop some economic activity in Poland.

There was no dealing with the insanity of Nazism. But as priest, and eventually as bishop,

Wojtyla was able to deal tenuously with the Communist leadership

— i.e. converse with them, and actually on occasion win a concession or two. Of course it’s just a movie — we don’t know the actual substance and “dance” of those conversations; and besides, they were in Polish, not English like in the movie. But it was a complex and dangerous environment and required the utmost in integrity, good judgment and sensitivity.

Some of those leaders wanted him dead. Others thought his continued presence was important, and that he could perhaps be manipulated. He always expected to die a martyr’s death. Still, he walked into these lions’ dens and talked with them. And thus he played a significant part in the eventual collapse of Communism in Poland.

But I thought as we watched, “How did he DO that?”

How could he walk into those offices and maintain his integrity and still on occasion actually achieve some good? What are the tricks and tools of such operations? “How did he DO that?” How did he know what to say, what strategies to use?

III. Dallas Willard’s Answer to My Question: Maybe He Did It By Prayer

Then a couple of days later I found this awesome quote in Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, p 185.

How misguided are those who regard prayer as irrelevant to social conditions!

First Willard introduces the topic :

O. Hardman has an excellent description of how the one immersed in prayer then meets the world with its stupid policies, its grasping for privilege and security, its suspicion, ingratitude, and resistance to good:

Bingo! “… stupid policies … grasping … suspicion … resistance to good”  Willard is writing about our own days, our government, schools, religious establishments, media, economic interactions, etc. What Wojtyla faced was perhaps more blatantly violent and volatile. Unfortunately the general tendency is the same, as is the certainty of our frustration in trying to deal with it all.

“To realise the vision and to exercise the sympathy with which prayer has endowed him”

Then Willard quotes O. Hardman’s The Ideals of Asceticism from 1924.

Continuing instant in prayer, after the conclusion of each period of definite communion with God, he will set himself to undertake every legitimate risk, to do the right without fear of consequences, and to embrace in loving purpose those who are opposed to him no less than those who are in agreement with him, in the attempt to realise the vision and to exercise the sympathy with which prayer has endowed him.

When I read that sentence I thought, “THAT’s how he did it! Of course.”

    • Legitimate risk …
    • fearlessness (which is directly associated with truthfulness) …
    • love …
    • purposefulness …
    • vision …
    • sympathy …

— sounds like Jesus.

Sounds like what SHOULD come from real prayer.

The many groups into which his fellows are divided will be seen by him in the light of the whole, and he will ever strive to bridge gulfs and so assist in the realisation of that living unity …

A higher, truer perspective, and much wiser and more powerful. And one the world often does not want to welcome.

… that living unity which is experienced by him in anticipation when, in his moments of intensest prayer, he is caught up to God and filled with the joy of union.

Mystical? Yes. But also true.

Economic, social, political, national, and racial antagonisms are waiting for this sole solution of the deadlock which they present. There is no other way.

Does that mean we need do nothing else? Well, duh. Of course not. The people from whom we learn these things, including Wojtyla himself, were very active and have tended to have considerable impact on the world.

I am not Roman Catholic, nor could I in good conscience become Roman Catholic. There is much in the spiritual practice, theology, and actions of John Paul II that I can not subscribe to. But there is much there for all of us to learn from. We likely would do more good for the world by imitating him than by ignoring him.

Then Willard adds some further comments of his own.

How misguided are those who regard prayer as irrelevant to social conditions!

No doubt many things called “prayer” are quite useless in every respect, but nothing is more relevant to social conditions than the transformation of persons that comes from prayer at its best in the life of the disciple of Christ.

We probably had better be living lives of prayer.

Karol Wojtyla is one very real example of that. There have been many others – may there be many more!

IV. Read It For Yourself

The quotes are from a three-page section on “Prayer” in Willard’s book. Short, but it’s a very good three pages – probably worth the price of the book. Certainly worth a trip to the library. Hardman’s book, which I have read, is also valuable, though more difficult, and also probably worth a trip to the library.

How could Hardman have written such things, and Willard have wisely quoted him, if they had not both had some level of experience with it? It sounds to me like the voice(s) of experience here. Otherwise, how would they know? Who could believe it without experience?


See also: The Quiet Places in Our Lives Make Our Public Activity Safer.

 

Featured Articles

Religion Running Government, Theocracy, We would regret it

Theocracy (Religion Runs the Government) – We Would Deeply Regret It

I am a church person, a person of faith. But I don't think we need a government that rules as if it were the voice of God. This nation's Constitution was written partly in order to help us avoid theocracy. Unfortunately there are Americans today who clearly think the...
Read More
Gun on Bible

Christians Should Not Enforce the Bible.

Here's another example of the misunderstanding and misuse of Scripture by the 'religious right'.  This was quoted to me to show that no Christian could ever vote for Democrats. "Don't you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be...
Read More
100 quotes

100 Quotes

Nerd alert! This is a list that used to be behind the quote widget on the upper right of the page. They are from various places, maybe half from my personal reading (books). I'm not documenting sources because I don't have time or did not record them. There's good...
Read More

The Civilized Are Responsible

Originally published in 1976. My how times have not changed. The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless...
Read More

The Moral Priorities of Jesus – What Did Jesus Teach?

He said, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' but do not do what I say?" Maybe he meant it. This short book (40 pages) is available as a free pdf, or as a paperback at LULU.com (see the links below). It treats the following issues.  Here, each chapter title is followed by...
Read More
Threat leads to assault. Hate leads to violence.

Hitler Defended Christian Morality and Family Values

Current prominent figures, speaking words the "Christian Right" wants to hear, are not the first national leaders to use Christian morality as a rallying cry. These words are from 1933: "The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which...
Read More
Neighbor

If You Do Not Love Your Neighbor Whom You CAN See – Can You Love God?

The author of "1 John" makes a simple, blunt, very logical analysis of our emotional attachments - or professed attachments. (1 John 4:20) If you do not love your brother whom you can see, how can you love God whom you cannot see? Well, John, that's easy! We do it all...
Read More

German Christians Sold Out to Power and Glory

[A Review of Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by Charles Marsh, 2014] This book is not written to coddle nor to discomfort whatever our self-image is as American Christians today; Marsh is trying to show reality. To me, two eras of Bonhoeffer's life seem...
Read More
Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II

John Paul II: Private Prayer and the Dangers of Public Life

Connie and I recently watched Karol: A Man Who Became Pope. It portrays Karol Wojtyla's life from his late teens, when the Nazi's invaded his city and nation, through WWII, then through decades of Communist rule (as a satellite of the Soviet Union), up to the day he...
Read More
hand writes with a pen in a notebook

The Quiet Places in Our Lives Make Our Public Activity Safer

Contemplation and Public Action The public good is most in danger when the voluntary visits to contemplation are neglected in favor of immediate communitarian action. We don't have to go off and become full-time contemplatives. But times of stepping aside from the...
Read More
Moral economic behavior stressed by Isaiah

Are Economic Matters a Moral Issue? Isaiah Thinks So.

In spite of Isaiah, and other Bible sources, we’ve all heard this - something like: I. It is NOT the government’s place to interfere in economic matters - tell people how they should spend their money or how they should treat their employees. That warps economic...
Read More
fish racism

Jesus and Racism – Samaritan Lives Matter – Black Lives Matter

Samaritans in Jesus' day were both religiously and racially despised. The phrase "Samaritan lives matter" would have been very offensive to the Jewish culture in which Jesus was raised and in which he was a teacher and doer of good. But to Jesus, clearly Samaritan...
Read More

"THIS IS HOW they made the pleasant land desolate."

The Bible fairly often makes a direct connection between the desolation of a land (and its people - and, obviously, its economic life) and moral corruption in the people's prior social, legal, and economic patterns. Here's an example from Zechariah 7. The residents...
Read More
Jesus - What Does He Want?

Why I Pay Attention to Jesus Christ

WHY? Why should we focus any more on Jesus Christ than on Abraham or Moses or Isaiah? Or on the laws in the Bible, or prophecy, or the end of the world? Is focus on Jesus more needed than pointing out sins – especially other people’s sins? Is Christ actually more...
Read More
brick-layer at work

The Kingdom of God. God’s New Economy. We Are Called To Do It.

"Over and against these senseless modern myths ... there is the "myth" of the God of goodness who has chosen people to prepare a kingdom of justice, truth, and love on earth. This myth dies hard. Why should we refuse to admit that Christ taught it to us?" [from Andre...
Read More

Is Jesus’ Style “Judge Thy Neighbor”? Is That Jesus’ New Commandment?

Jesus was a highly respected teacher of morality and of the spiritual life. So, logically enough, a man asked him to take a stand on a moral issue between the man and his brother (Luke 12:13-15) - Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide...
Read More

Why Many Christians Do Not Vote Republican

This was written about 12 years ago (as of today, in February 2017). Wow. And the problems remain, and have grown; which means these things still need thinking and talking about. References and Bible quotations...
Read More
Jesus - What Does He Want?

Is Trump a Christian? How Could We Tell?

There was some excitement among certain Republican Christians when Dobson said Trump had become a "baby" Christian and should be cut some slack on that basis. Two problems with that: A novice at practicing the Christian faith is not someone we should automatically...
Read More

Prophets MUST Improvise, In and For Our Cities.

The prophet’s task is to “reorder” and “refashion” the urban environment to be more just and peaceable. Yet ... the work of social transformation must be based on a deep inner transformation. That's the burden of this excellent book (quote from p97). Resurrection City...
Read More

Two Types of Religion – Authority, Love

Sometimes I feel there are obviously two primary modes for religious practice in this world. That amazement is the opposite of complacency and self-satisfaction. And that gentleness is very different from constant critique and...
Read More

On War – and Its Effects on Humans

Quotes from the e-newsletter I get from Information Clearing House. ... the United States, for generations, has sustained two parallel but opposed states of mind about military atrocities and human rights: one of U.S. benevolence, generally held by the public, and the...
Read More

Turn the Other Cheek – means Resist Them NonViolently

I. THE PROBLEM: Jesus says to turn the other cheek. [See a summary of this post.] Is it ever appropriate for Christians to resist authority? Many of us feel there is much in the behavior of our national leaders that cries out for criticism and resistance. Are...
Read More