The Springtime of John Paul II

April 3, 2009

From First Things:

In his celebrated Christian allegory The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis represents evil’s hold on the world with the image of an enduring winter—Narnia under the power of the White Witch, who makes it “always winter and never Christmas.” According to prophecies, the coming of Aslan the Lion—Lewis’ Christ-figure—is to be marked by the end of winter and the appearance of springtime. At one point the human visitors to Narnia are quoted a proverbial refrain obviously well known to the good local folk:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

Throughout his twenty-seven-year papacy John Paul II often employed the image of spring in a similar vein. In his 1990 Redemptoris Missio, he wrote: “As the third millennium of the redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs.” In his 1995 address to the United Nations, he added, “the tears of this century have prepared the ground for a new springtime of the human spirit.” And in his 1998 remarks to pilgrims gathered in Rome for Pentecost, he spoke of the Holy Spirit’s bringing “a new springtime in the Church.”

Some have suggested that this unflagging confidence in the coming of spring says more about John Paul than about the contemporary reality of the Church and society—his naively sunny optimism that, after a century of bloodshed and human suffering, things must get better. Those who read the pope this way typically contrast his outlook with that of his close friend and papal successor, Joseph Ratzinger, who balanced, they suggest, John Paul’s positive mindset with a more realistic (perhaps pessimistic) approach.

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