Pope John Paul II as an Author
Most people know of John Paul II’s papal encyclicals and letters. What a lot of people, including a lot of Catholics, don’t know is that he authored many books:
Sign of Contradiction (1979)
Love and Responsibility (1960, Polish; 1980, English translation)
The Way to Christ: Spiritual Exercises (1982)
Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994)
Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination (1996)
The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan (1997)
Pope John Paul II: In My Own Words (1998)
Forgiveness: Thoughts for the New Millennium (1999)
Get Up, Let Us Go (2004)
Lessons for Living (2004)
Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium (2005)
JP2 is best known for being the first Polish pope, and then as a theologian and philosopher in his own right, before and during his papacy. He was also a poet and playwright. Like the several languages he spoke fluently, this man was also of several talents, interests, and abilities. During Nazi occupation and then under Communist control, freedom of thought was not encouraged and freedom of speech not tolerated. Plays and poetry were two ways that patriotic citizens maintained their heritage.
Not only did John Paul II write books, he also wrote plays. Besides plays based on biblical characters like David, Job, and Jeremiah, he also wrote plays like Our God’s Brother, The Jeweler’s Shop, and The Radiation of Fatherhood: A Mystery, dealing with the universal themes of faith and practicing it in day-to-day life. The last two he wrote under the pseudonym of Andrzej Jawien to avoid being caught by KGB agents in Soviet-controlled Poland.
Since the time of the Nazi occupation during World War II and throughout the Soviet control of Poland during the Cold War, resistance to Fascism and Communism took expression in the arts, especially in plays, prose, and poetry. Authors tried to keep the flames of freedom burning in the hearts of their countrymen despite the occupation and oppression. A common safeguard to avoid arrest and possible torture was to use a pseudonym whenever writing such material.
The Jeweler’s Shop is a three-act play still available in English today. The setting is, as the title suggests, a jewelry shop, and the main characters are three couples who enter the store. Each couple has a different struggle, as well as a different understanding and experience of love, doubt, fear, disappointment, disillusion, and hope. The moral of the story is to not give up, which applies not just to married life, but also to religious and spiritual life and to an oppressed people whose country has been occupied or controlled by another nation.
John Paul II also wrote poetry. Through his poems, you get a glimpse into his heart and soul as a man and a human being. He wrote some poems during and after World War II, during his priesthood, during his episcopacy (the time spent in the government of the church as a bishop, archbishop, and a cardinal), and even during his pontificate. The poems show a tender, vulnerable, yet still very confident nature of the man who became the Bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church.
Here is a sample of his poetry from a poem he wrote in 1939 about his mother, Emilia, who had died tragically when Karol (John Paul’s name at birth and his baptismal name) was only 9 years old.
“Over This, Your White Grave“
Over this, your white grave
the flowers of life in white —
so many years without you —
how many have passed out of sight?
Over this your white grave
covered for years, there is a stir
in the air, something uplifting
and, like death, beyond comprehension.
Over this your white grave
oh, mother, can such loving cease?
for all his filial adoration
Give her eternal peace —
John Paul II had a very strong devotion to the Virgin Mary, which was probably based not only on his staunch Catholic upbringing, but also on his Polish heritage and his need to be a son and have a mother he could turn to for comfort. Mary was not a substitute for his mother, Emilia, but the mother of Christ was still his spiritual mother, because Jesus, her biological son, was also his spiritual brother.