“The power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear” (Crossing The Threshold of Hope, 219).
Karol Wojtyła, later known as Pope John Paul II, was a man deeply attuned to the sufferings of his time. His early life, first under the Nazi’s and later under the communists, revealed how in the midst of tyranny and oppression, the human person and his fundamental dignity could not be compromised. It was in the midst of the horrors of the concentration camps during the Second World War that John Paul II became interested in man as not only the creator of language and the subject of literature but also man as “the central theme” of his work.
With the subsequent closure of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and the deportation of most of the distinguished faculty and respected scholars to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, John Paul II worked as a laborer in a stone quarry attached to Solvay chemical plant. During the often grueling and excruciating labor, John Paul II recognized the intrinsic worth and dignity of the human person and understood that suffering has meaning and value since the human person is able to consider and understand that suffering is “essential to the nature of man.” These same words echoed by John Paul II were later to play a crucial role in his understanding of the salvific meaning of suffering within the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.
Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris (“On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering”) that the Redemption accomplished through the Cross of Christ opened the way to eternal life. He also reaffirmed that “every man becomes the way for the Church” because suffering seems almost “inseparable from man’s earthly existence.” John Paul II further distinguished between the sufferings of the body and the sufferings of the spirit, mainly physical and moral suffering, in his letter. He also defined suffering as the experience of an evil, a sort of distortion of the good, and pain as the subjective experience of an event or thing in reality. Pain, in most cases, does not adequately measure up to the totality of suffering—physical and moral—that can inflict and disrupt the normal functioning of the human person. John Paul II raises questions concerning the problem of pain and evil, particularly within the objective moral order in which humans have value and meaning beyond rational being. The value and meaning of suffering within the larger objective moral order is contained within a Christian understanding of the Paschal Mystery, specifically the theology of redemptive suffering.
During the celebration of the Jubilee in 2000, Pope John Paul II offered a number of general audiences in St. Peter’s Square that focused on the theme of salvation history. He proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the beginning and the completion of the created order. Jesus’ mission involved more than the saving action that liberated humanity from sin but which also brought forth a new creation, allowing for humanity’s participation in the divine life. The “eternal redemption” offered by Christ exceeded in value the Old Covenant sacrifices in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is portrayed in the New Testament and Sacred Tradition as the long-expected Messiah, whose prophecies were fulfilled in His radical sacrifice on the Cross. The life and mission of the Son of God culminate in the Paschal mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.
In addressing the redemption of suffering, John Paul II also emphasized the redeemer of man, Jesus Christ in another Apostolic Letter, Redemptor Hominis [Redemption of Man]. Jesus Christ is the “centre of the universe and of history.” Christians’ natural orientation, which the Church takes up in its life and mission, is thus toward Christ the Redeemer. The Church acts as a living sacrament or sign in its relationship with Christ, the bridegroom. The celebration of the Eucharist allows for us to re-present the salvific mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection while also participating in the divine life offered by Christ. The Eucharist is then the “efficacious sign of grace and reconciliation with God, and the pledge of eternal life.” Consequently, the Church remains the bond or link between God and humanity contained within the mystery of Redemption, humanity’s liberation from sin, and the renewal of the created order.
Alex Slavsky is a senior majoring in theology and philosophy. He is joyously awaiting with heartfelt expectation for the day that St. John Paul the Great is declared a Doctor of the Church, thus joining the other thirty-six men and women known for “elucidating the faith by their words or example.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.