Both John Paul II and Fr. Popieluszko, in the particular way in which God was calling them, stood for the inherent dignity and truth about man that, no matter what external force can take away, human freedom cannot be suppressed, and is a basic and intrinsic right given by God. Whenever reflecting on the (typically modern) suppression of human freedom by external forces, I recall the words of Chesterton:
Freedom is doomed to destruction at every turn, unless there is a recognized right to freedom. And if there are rights, there is an authority to which we appeal for them." (G.K.'s Weekly, April 28, 1928)
While communism sought to offer freedom to the proletariat by seeking to address the alienation of man from his labor and capital, Wojtyla and Popieluszko (the latter through his chaplaincy of Solidarnosc) proclaimed the truth that true freedom cannot be had apart from the truth about the human being. Who is man? Why is he free? Why does his freedom surpass that passing and illusory freedom promised by the authroities? Both proclaimed that true freedom comes from God, is an inalienable part of being created inHis image and likeness, and that if we fail to protect the inherent dignity of each human being, and his right to freedom, everything else that was meant to liberate man will ultimately lead to his enslavement. And so these two Polish priests suffered as a result of their bold challenges to the system and proclamation of the Gospel. Both were stalked by the secret police, both were followed and placed under surveillance, yet both also persevered in their peaceful witness to the truth.
"Oppose evil with good." This was Fr. Popieluszko's motto, and this desire to always do the good was what drove the communist authorities crazy in their dealings with Wojtyla. Two different men, two different cities, and two different generations--yet both men were incorruptible and ultimately paid the price, while conquering the evil which they opposed. Wojtyla was systematically opposed, yet caused fear in the authorities. The authorities feared Popieluszko, and could only resort to kidnapping him, beating him multiple times, and throwing him into a river to squelch his message of freedom, joy, and peace to the people of Poland.
Needless to say, I think we have much to learn from the example of these two (soon to be) saints--although we enjoy the "freedoms" of our country, we do struggle against secular humanism which ultimately fails to address the truth about man in the same way that commusim did. For the truth about man transcends all political systems, all material values, and all economic markets--we are made for eternity, and our freedom to choose goodd derives from the ability to participate in the work of God, and in doing so, to become more of who we are meant to be.
This becoming who we are meant to be is, of course, one work of the liturgy upon us--which leads me to today's update. We are now in Utah for Christmas, and were able to visit our favorite church (where we were united in Matrimony), the Cathedral of the Madeleine. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the new Benedictine setup on the altar--an arrangement that Pope Benedict has praised in his book, Spirit of the Liturgy. The altar crucifix helps the people call to mind that sacrifice that is being re-presented, and reminds the priest of the saving work in which he is participating--without the distractions of the congregation. All are united around the crucifix of Our Lord, the true Light of the world, to whom we all pray ad orientem.
In addition to this new setup, I was blown away by the cathedral's new vestments. I don't know who made them (yet), but they certainly look a bit like St. Bede's studio in Australia. Fine, nobly simple vestments are faithful to the Church's tradition of honoring Christ, present in the priest and the Eucharist, and give God his due--hey, you wouldn't show up to a wedding wearing a t-shirt. When the priest wears vestments that are beautiful, rich, lavish, yet nobly simple, we are reminded of the great mystery that is taking place--a fitting reminder for the Advent season--Jesus Christ, the redeemer of mankind, comes to us to offer Himself to us in an intimate communion of love. We receive the grace of God and truly become (more of a) new creation in Christ. The beauty of the liturgy--the sights, sounds, smells, and noises sanctifies our senses and increases in us the ability to perceive the world throguh divine eyes--leading to an increase of what JPII called the "peace of the interior gaze," a way of seeing the world that leads to true intimace with God and others. Videri sequitur esse, as JPII has said in the theology of the body.
Indeed, John Paul II provides a hermeneutic of proper vision that can help one understand the right disposition needed towards God and other human beings. In taking human embodiment very seriously, John Paul points to the central role that vision plays in manifesting a proper stance toward God and the world. “The look expresses what is in the heart. The look, I would say, expresses man as a whole.” Commenting on the axiom operari sequitur esse (operation follows being), John Paul II notices Christ seeking to show that “man ‘looks’ in conformity with what he is: intueri sequitur esse (looking follows being).” Thus, the inner state of the human being, his stance toward God, is made manifest through the way the person looks at the world and people around him. The reality of sin, concupiscence, “has the effect that in the interior, in the ‘heart,’ in man and woman’s interior horizon, the meaning of the body proper to the person itself is obscured.” One can choose to see the other in conformity with the spousal meaning of the body, in which each human being is seen with a fullness of vision within the full dimension of his or her subjectivity.
In order, therefore, to live in right relation with others, one must recapture the ability to see in a way that is in conformity with the deepest truths about the human person. It is necessary to acquire a vision of the world and of other human beings, in their relation to God, through an “inner dimension of a share in the vision of the Creator Himself.” Saint Paul wrote, “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” Thus, one must acquire a way of looking at the world, which expresses the purity of the interior of the person. Such purity leads to the “peace of the interior gaze, which creates precisely the fullness of the intimacy of persons.” Thus, human intimacy, right relationships between persons, is established on the basis of a proper way of looking.
Kudos to liturgies that help to elevate our senses and enable us to grow in our ability to perceive the world with the divine gaze. By gazing upon the newborn Christ, the baby in the manger, may we all grow in our ability to see the world the way it ought to be seen.