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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: The Way to Christ: Spiritual Excercises by Pope John Paul II
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Stanislaw Grygiel
Professor, JPII Institute in Rome
I want more explanations about a 'A Practical Catholic'
Carl A. Anderson:
The bottom line is simply what we would say today is a "practicing Catholic". That is, someone in good standing in his parish, who is able to and does participate in the sacramental life of the Church, and that is why the parish priest should be consulted during the admission process of a new member.

Janet Smith
How has reading this book affected your own relationship with God?
Carl A. Anderson:
These spiritual exercises provide a profound personal experience of deepening one's relationship with the Lord, for example, the Pope says at one point, "Christianity is the religion of choice." Christianity, he says, is about the believers decision to choose Christ. We may think we know, on any particular day, the full reality of this choice, but we come to learn and these lectures are a good example, that this choice continually becomes a more personal and more profound choice.

Stanislaw Grygiel:
Thank you for your question. Reading this book I was recollecting what I have lived 40 years ago in Kraków when listening to Bishop Wojtyla. It is there that I learned the best and the most secure way to God. This way is the truth and the goodness that happen in the beauty which is the form of love. Wojtyla taught us that love of truth and of goodness has place in our body. If so, then we ought to love the body, we ought to respect it: in every situation, approaching the body of another, we ought to bow and to take off our shoes, that we do not trample what is happening in it. The human body is an epiphany (revelation) of divinely human and of humanly divine love, which constitutes the human being’s structure.

What is the role of the John Paul II Institute in Rome, Washington and worldwide in advancing the teaching and spirituality of Pope John Paul II?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
The John Paul II Institute in Rome, in Washington and in the other countries in the world tries to read philosophically and theologically what is written by God in the being of men and women. Nobody can be a complete person if he/she does not live in the communion with the others. The philosophical pattern of this communion is man’s and woman’s union, whereas the theological pattern is the Trinitarian dialogue of the love the Father and the Son are living. In the light of this truth, the Institute deepens the Christian vision of marriage, family and society. In this way, the Institute promotes the spiritual life, because spiritual life identifies itself with the dialogue man is living in with others and with God who is present in all creation. The conjugal life from its nature should be a spiritual life. Otherwise it will be only a transaction made for some interests. The Institute is doing the research in the light of the divinely human and humanly divine mystery of the human person.

Tim Plante
What achievements has the Institute had?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
First of all, I would like to say that the Institute is present already in nine countries in the world (Australia, Africa, Mexico, United States, Brazil, Spain, Rome, India, and Austria), and we are ready to open the new ones (South Korea and Lebanon). It is a wonderful grace to have achieved such success in only 25 years. During these 25 years the Institute has formed thousands of students, priests and laymen, who now are working in the universities, seminaries, Church councils for marriage and family and so on. They spread the Christian understanding of the human person. Some of our professors have been nominated bishops and even cardinals (Caffarra, Ouellet and Scola). I am convinced that the Institute’s research serves to strengthen the intellectual and spiritual life of the Church and that of the society.

Montebello, CA
In “A Talk for Male Students,” the Pope said men have a special responsibility to spread the Gospel. What is a man’s unique role in this regard, and how does this apply to being a Knight of Columbus?
Carl A. Anderson:
The Pope emphasizes God as creator and father. In these two ways, men have a special responsibility to spread the Gospel, especially in regard to their marriages, and in the defense of life and the upbringing of their children. This is in part the reason why the Knights of Columbus emphasize so strongly the member's responsibility as husband and father in regard to his family and in the social dimension, why we put such importance on defending the right to life.

Stanislaw Grygiel:
In the Soviet Union the women observed the faith, they were more courageous than the men were. The man tries to conquer something without committing himself to whom/what he is conquering. Therefore he is superficial of what he is conquering. But if and when he receives the gift of faith, then he is already sent to the others to preach to them this event. Wojtyla reminds the young students of the fact that Jesus said just to the Apostles: “Go and teach!” But before being sent the man ought to be taught by the woman how to receive the faith, the love, the hope; that is, how to be free, autonomous. The man who is taught by the woman how to receive these gifts and how to live them knows how to serve others. He behaves in the way the Knight ought to behave. I think that the Knights of Columbus are Knights thanks to the love their women are giving them. I dare say that the Knight should behave towards women in the way the Angel behaved towards the Virgin Mary during the Annunciation.

Maria C.
Wallingford, Conn.
Can you explain the Holy Father’s attraction to ministering to young people and young families?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
Wojtyla himself was attracted by the beauty of human beings, by the love which unites man and woman. He loved love. He loved others and their love. He was attracted by the beauty of the love. The beauty of love renders beautiful the human body, the human thoughts and the human actions in which it has a place and operates. His reflections indicate where we ought to go if we want to meet beauty itself, that is to say God who is the eternal Beauty. The young people realized that Wojtyla’s life was a beautiful reflection of the Beauty of God. With his life he indicated to them that in marriage, in family, in Church, they will be embraced by the Beauty of Trinitarian Love opened for all of us in Jesus. Wojtyla did not keep them for himself; he led them always beyond his own person. He was attracted by God and being attracted by God, he could be a good priest pontifex, which means, the man who builds the bridges that unite this riverside with the other we cannot yet see.

In a few weeks we’ll be commemorating the second anniversary of Pope John Paul’s death. Would either of you care to share any personal memories of him?
Carl A. Anderson:
There are so many personal memories it is hard to single out only a few. There were so many occasions of seeing him embrace in a very personal way, handicapped and sick people who had come to see him. This was always a very moving experience: to be with him at those times. Also, it was amazing to be with him and see how he endeavored to communicate the Gospel message through every means available. We all know his efforts in poetry, plays, works of philosophy, even at times, singing, especially in meetings with youth. I remember one of the last times I was with him personally with my family, and he was unable to speak as we were leaving. He just continually made the sign of the cross over and over as we walked out of the room, and I thought, how like him to use even this means of communication to signal what perhaps he thought was a final farewell.

Stanislaw Grygiel:
When Pope John Paul II was dying, I was in St Peter’s Square. There was an enormous crowd of young praying people. The news of his death reached me just as I was speaking about him on Polish Television. On the spur of this moment, I said: “Just now, in this instant, John Paul II has written the last word of his encyclical letter “Redemptor hominis”, which he was writing with all his life, with his body, with his thoughts and actions. He was dying like he was living, and he was living like he was dying.” One of his last words was this: “Let me go there!” “Here” he was free, because he was always going “there”. My daughter, when she was a child walking with the Pope in his apartment, was asked by him: “How do you find me here?” and she answered: “Here you are living like a king, but you have not changed yourself. You are here like you were in Kraków”.

Stephen Spurrier
Pope John Paul II delivered these sermons to students in the early 1960s and 1970s, which obviously were different times culturally than now. Would you say his teaching is “stuck in time”?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
Priest, bishop and pope, John Paul spoke always about the dialogue-relation between man and God, and among men themselves. It is true that this dialogue fulfills itself in concrete situations, but philosophy, theology and, before all, the teaching the Church is giving us are neither sociology nor politics. The reality they are meditating on realizes itself in sociological, cultural and political conditions, but cannot be reduced to them. Wojtyla did not tolerate such reduction. The cross, which was always proclaimed by Wojtyla, is not a political event; it is the most adamant judgment we know on the political and cultural conditions we live in. That is why the sermons Wojtyla had done in 60s and 70s in Poland are not “stuck in time”. The times are changing but the mystery of the Christ’s presence in human beings is always the same.

Robert Camilleri
Las Vegas, Nevada
What was it in the background of Pope John Paul II that made him one of the most beloved Popes of all time?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
I think that the people loved him and continue loving him because, quite simply, he loved the people. God is love. Wojtyla became love in communion with God. The people are looking for love, they are longing for love. No one can live without love. They can live without things, without possessions, but without love, no. In John Paul II they saw love, and they responded. Love calls to love. He loved the love of men and women. He understood very well what it means to be loved and to love.

Damien Lenster
San Antonio
In one of the sermons in the book from 1972, the Pope talked about “contraceptive propaganda” and its harmful effects on married life, the family and society. Thirty-five years later, we still face the issue. What more needs to be done?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
I think that always we were and we will be assailed by this propaganda. In his sermons Wojtyla suggests what we ought to do. First of all it does not suffice to use the scientific, medical arguments in our talks against this propaganda. We ought to introduce the people into the experience of love, that is, into the experience of revealing and giving oneself to the other, especially in the relation of man-woman. He who gives himself to another person does not use her for his own aims and interests. The relation of wife-husband is a drama of vocation. We ought to teach men and women to listen to each other; they are defenseless because they do not know to listen to this voice, so propaganda is overcoming them. Wojtyla led the young people to the contemplation of the Annunciation, in which it is clear that in the moment of conception we have already to do with the person whose dignity has supernatural character.

James Henry
In light of this collection and John Paul’s theological outlook generally, what would you say will be his greatest theological legacy?
Carl A. Anderson:
Of course, theologians will debate this for many years. One could say that his insistence on the dignity of the human person, his inalienable right to freedom and the inviolability of his conscience, ultimately through the Pope's trips to Poland, changed the world and may change the world in the future as we engage in a greater dialogue with Islam. I would also add that he has made a unique and magnificent contribution by profoundly understanding the relationships within the family as mirroring the relationships within the Trinity. This Trinitarian understanding of the human person and the family is incredibly rich theologically and opens to the Church new and exciting possibilities in its pastoral care.

Stanislaw Grygiel:
I think that his greatest theological legacy will be his teaching about the beauty of the human body. This teaching will provoke the new theological vision of the human body’s beauty in which the drama of love has placed the human person. Man is the truth that reveals itself in his/her body. Therefore the marriage is epiphany of the truth that man and woman are given to work. This anthropology will be done in the light of God’s beauty reflected on men’s and women’s, thoughts and actions.

Tony Genco, Deputy Grand Knight
Woodbridge, Ontario Canada Council 13630
Having been in the presence of our future Saint John Paul II one could feel his holiness encapsulate you. What was it that the Pope did to create a discipline in his faith that permitted him to grow and how can we learn from that discipline?
Carl A. Anderson:
What became increasingly clear as we learned more about the Pope's private life is that he spent hours each day at prayer, and that this spiritual discipline gave him great strength, not only spiritually, but also intellectually and physically.

Stanislaw Grygiel:
His holiness derived from his being entrusted to God. He has given himself into the hands of God. One time after the assassination attempt, I told him, Holy Father, it seems God has used you in a cruel way to teach us a lesson. He looked at me and said, “There is nothing more beautiful than being an instrument in the hand of God, especially for a priest.” Of course, only God is holy, and it seemed to me that he was touching this holiness of God every day, every evening, every moment. It is God's holiness that we would feel in his presence.

Phil G.
New York City
Could you elaborate on the connection that John Paul II saw between our inner spiritual lives and our external Christian witness?
Carl A. Anderson:
The power of John Paul II's witness was in large measure because people understood that his external Christian witness was a result of his inner spiritual life radiating through to his every day activity. His example is something each of us should take to heart in living out our own spiritual lives and making sure that that inner formation results in a life that provides a clear example of the Gospel of Life and helps create a civilization of love. He strove to break down the dichotomy of the modern world between intellectual and physical realities resulting from the idea of Descartes that "I think therefore I am." Human reality for John Paul II was something much more than consciousness; it was also acting a life fully consistent with the Gospel.

Stanislaw Grygiel:
Being a witness, he was transparent. He was like a crystal, a glass container. Every day he cleansed this window glass, in order to be transparent. If this glass is cloudy or dirty, you cannot shine as a witness to the world. You could see through him the other world, something more than he was. He was a witness to something more than he was, because he was in dialogue with something more, that is, his Father in heaven.

Paul M.
Odessa, Texas
How are the themes of this book reflected in the works of the Knights of Columbus?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
The themes of this book are reflected in the pro-life works of our Order. They are reflected in the defense of the defenseless, especially of those who are living in their mothers’ wombs and those who are sick and old. The charity that is one of the pillars of the spiritual life of the Knights of Columbus manifests itself in the Order’s work in such a beautiful way, that it calls others to change their life and, if they do not, this calling turns to remorse in their conscience. The Order’s works of charity remind all of us that, as says St. John of the Cross, the spiritual master of John Paul II, “At the end of your life, you will be judged by your love.”

Mark Arnold, Field Agent
Wichita, KS, USA
Do you think that perhaps councils should do more programming with the specific intention of helping members grow in their knowledge and practice of the faith?
Carl A. Anderson:
Many councils do great work in this area, but of course more work can always be done. First councils can participate as councils in this book club discussion. Also, in regard to formation, the Supreme Council will be initiating new programs in the coming fraternal year to encourage precisely such formation. The Order's longstanding emphasis on the Mass, the rosary, and Eucharistic adoration is designed to aid in the practice of the faith. Father McGivney founded the Order 125 years ago to aid in both the spiritual and temporal well being of our members, and it is a commitment that we do, and should, take seriously.

Mark Arnold, Field Agent
Wichita, KS USA
Obviously our KofC councils excel when it comes to service projects, but shouldn’t intentional faith formation and evangelization of our members also be a high priority for our local councils?
Carl A. Anderson:
This is a good point and we should always strive to do more. To that end, we are putting together several initiatives in the near future to encourage this priority.

The Pope was an innovator in prayer, such as adding a new mystery to the Rosary. Why did he do this?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
I did not speak to him about the rosary. We recited many times together the rosary when we were traveling together. I think that he felt that some mysteries of Jesus' life were absent in the rosary, I think it was his interest in human and divine love that compelled him to add these mysteries. We have the Wedding at Cana, the mystery of married love there, and the institution of the Eucharist, which is the reception of Him who is Love. It was quite natural for him to do so, especially to introduce the idea of Eucharist into the rosary, which is the love of God, the mystery of the priesthood and the priesthood of all the baptized.

Springfield, Mass.
I enjoyed the chapter (seven) on conversion, particularly the references to conscience. How is it that so many can be so numb to the promptings of conscience?
Carl A. Anderson:
The answer is complicated, but a few observations. First, obviously, consciences must be formed. This is a difficult thing in a culture that has lost the sense of natural law, or if you will, the idea that there are moral standards by which we are judged. Also, conscience requires careful and diligent efforts of formation. There is almost no sense today that this is necessary. Many people confuse conscience with sincere belief or emotion, which are two very different things.

College Park, Md
Throughout the retreat, the Pope was leading his readers/participants to a greater awareness of conscience and its development through prayer. Does this approach derive from Eastern spirituality?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
I think so. He was a great poet, he was very sensitive to poetry, and to contemplation of beauty. Beauty that God created, beauty that God is. His contemplation certainly was a style of the Eastern Christian tradition. He was close to the spirituality of the Orthodox Church.

Rome, Italy
How does Pope John Paul’s assertion that the divine image of God exists in each of us and needs to be nurtured relate to modern society, where so many people are focused on their material needs rather than spiritual?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
The modern society is focused almost exclusively on the material needs and on inventing the objects that can satisfy them, because the people either do not see or will not see the reality of man, they do not perceive him as a burning bush which is inflamed by the presence of God, by “I am who I am.” In consequence, society misses the witnesses of the truth God is. In modern society there is a lack of Knights, of men who are ready to give even their life in defense of the defenseless. This society needs men who, having the rich instruments useful for doing beautiful things, live as if they had nothing. The Knights, especially those of Columbus, should know that all is grace. Only knowing it will they be free, and they will set free others.

Miami, FL
John Paul was fairly outspoken in his talks about atheism. How was his message received by the Communist authorities? Was he censored at all?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
The cross is not a political event, but it is the most severe judgment on the political systems of today. The communist regime feared him because he was outside their system. He was a free man because he could not be bribed, because he was poor. He was poor because he had everything he needed in Christ. He was like Moses at the Burning Bush, ridding himself of the shackles of the world. Poorness was his condition of personal freedom. In the end they tried to kill him, because of the cross, his witness to the cross.

Robert Camilleri
Las Vegas, Nevada
What do you believe will be the legacy of Pope Paul II?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
The legacy of John Paul will be his teaching about the beauty of the human body. This will be his greatest legacy. He initiated the Theologu of the Human Body, all in the light of Incarnation. In the light of Jesus Christ's body, he makes a theological and philosophical argument about the human body. This body has the dream of love; it is imbued with a nuptial meaning. So John Paul's great contribution is his view of the marriage relationship, between a man and a woman. The Church will not be the same because of his teaching in this area. Another great legacy will be his pilgrimages. He went out and met millions of people, to awaken them to Christ, to awaken them to their own beauty and dignity.

Bill Briere, Wyoming State Deputy
Laramie, Wyoming, USA
Cardinal Wojtyla first gave his "Spiritual Exercises" to college students 40 years ago. Do you see his advice as being even more relevant to young people today, as they consider their own potential for good in light of John Paul the Great's legacy?
Carl A. Anderson:
Certainly they are as relevant today and in many ways more relevant because the crisis created by secularist society has today a stronger impact on youth in the West than it did in the 1960s. However, we have to remember that the Pope gave these exercises to students who were under tremendous pressure to reject Christianity and to live a totally secular life. Remember his great struggle to build a Church in Nova Hueta, the new Communist city that had been constructed with no room for churches, because "the new person" would have no need for the illusion of God. This stark reality is only in the last few years making itself felt with great force in the United States and elsewhere, but it is our secular society rather than a government that is imposing this view on the youth of today.

The Pope said that men have a special responsibility to spread the Gospel. What do you believe is a man’s unique role in this regard, and how does this apply to being a Knight of Columbus?
Stanislaw Grygiel:
In the Order of the Knights, and I am a Knight I am proud to say, Charity stands out as the first principle. This is a beautiful principle. What does this mean? To defend the defenseless, to help the helpless. That is Charity, that is Love. This Charity must also be found in the love of marriages and in family. Knights ought to behave toward their wives as the Angel behaved toward the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation. With reverence, and great respect.

Judy Miller
Plano, TX United States
Does the Knights of Columbus offer any scholarships to women trying to get an education?
Carl A. Anderson:
Yes, we do have scholarships for women, including scholarships for vocations, for sons and daughters of deceased military and police members, and for daughters of members based on merit.

Prescott, AZ
How do you see the themes of these homilies, made when Pope John Paul II was a cardinal, reflected in his later years as pope? Is man’s role in abortion, addressed by Pope John Paul II, an issue that is often overlooked by society?
Carl A. Anderson:
With reference to the first part of your question, what is striking about these homilies is how consistent they are with what he would say decades later in his pontificate. Also, it is striking to hear a bishop nearly fifty years ago speaking with such candor and directness to youth. A good example of this is his discussion of man's role in abortion, which today we are beginning to realize is significant but which the Pope understood years earlier, as a result of his serious reflection on his own pastoral experience.

Stanislaw Grygiel:
Wojtyla was always attracted by the mystery of man’s being love. For this reason he taught young men and women to love. It is in the light of such love that we ought to look at man and to contemplate his being from the moment of his/her conception. Modern society overlooks a man’s role in abortion, because the civilization of this society is made by the calculating reason which detaches the people from the reality. Man is not as united as woman with the child present in her womb, unless he says to her with all his being: “I am you and you are me!” Abortion is an infinitely greater tragedy for woman than for man. The woman every day hears the “voice”: “I am here in you, I am coming. Wait for me!” The man ought to hear the voice of the woman and in her voice he will hear the “voice” of his son or daughter.

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