At Advent Season in this, The Year of Our Lord 2006, the Caribbean and wider world are again at kairos, that painfully challenging intersection of opportunity and risk that ever marks the great hinges of history.
So, having now spent a fair amount of time highlighting several key challenges posed by the subtler of the two major external threats we face -- that from a rapidly morally disintegrating Western Culture -- it is time for us to take a leaf from the book of the men of Issachar, circa 1,000 BC:
[a] understand our times,
[b] know what to do, and
[c] have the courage to resolutely do what needs to be done
. . . in the face of the risks and threats we face, in light of the opportunities that are before us, if we will but open our eyes.
Immediately, though, an obvious question comes to mind: what of the threat of Islamism?
The answer is that -- similar to the disastrous failure of Appeasement by Britain and France in the 1930's in the face of the rising tidal wave of Hitler's Nazi regime in Germany -- the real potency of the Islamist threat lies not in that threat itself, but in our persistent wishful thinking, self-doubt and attitude of denial in the face of mounting danger. In short, we have got to first resolutely face the truth about ourselves and the tidal wave of secularism, apostasy and amorality from the North (i.e. within the gates of Western Culture), before we can do something about the rising invasion from without. After all, an enemy who freely walks and talks among us in culturally nuanced accents as one of our own, is always far more dangerous than one not yet fully within the gates.
In that light, a glance at the recent past in Poland is an excellent example; for, this is the decisive point where the Cold War was won. As John Harmon McElroy reminds us (and as we will almost certainly not see in our friendly local newspaper or history book -- much less, hear from the local or international talking heads pontificating in exemplary illustration of the fallacy of confident manner!):
The 1981 summer English Seminar in Poznan, Poland, had ended, and the twenty-six British and American instructors and the more than two hundred students had gathered for the farewell party. A young woman from one of my classes told me of John Paul II’s first visit to Poland as pope and the pilgrimage she and her classmates made to Czestochowa to worship with him at the shrine of their homeland’s holiest icon, “the Black Madonna,” at Jasna Gora.
“There we were with the Holy Father,” she said, “thousands of us, praying silently with him, and you could feel the power rising up through the trees.” From the way she said this, I knew that what she said was true, and that what she was describing was the power of the Holy Spirit, which in the summer of 1981 in Poland was as palpably present to me as the country’s tawny wheat fields, turbid rivers, and leafy woodlands.
In class, my students never spoke of religion. But there was something in the manner of a good many of them—a peacefulness of demeanor, a kindly way of addressing each other—that suggested the inner serenity of deeply held Christian beliefs. A couple of the instructors at the seminar called this “the Solidarity spirit.”
They were referring, of course, to the formative Christian spirit of the labor union . . . that was also a national freedom movement whose general strike the previous summer (1980) had compelled the communist government of Poland to grant it legal status. Just a few months later, in December 1981, twenty-five years ago this month, the union would be outlawed and many of its leaders imprisoned.
But without the visit of John Paul II to Poland in 1979, there would have been no Solidarity in 1980. And without Solidarity in Poland in 1980, there would have been no disintegration of the Iron Curtain nine years later, no crumbling of the Soviet empire, and no dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1991 . . . .
My students patiently explained to me the connection between Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland and the founding of Solidarity. After the conclave of his fellow cardinals elected him head of the Roman Catholic Church in 1978, Karol Wojtyla naturally wanted to visit his beloved native country. And his countrymen wanted him to come. After all, it was no small matter in a country where 97 percent of the people professed Roman Catholicism that a Polish cardinal had become the first non-Italian pope in five hundred years.
Thus was set up the breakthrough. As Peggy Noonan so eloquently sums up:
I think I know the moment Soviet communism began its fall. It happened in public. Anyone could see it. It was one of the great spiritual moments of the 20th century, maybe the greatest . . . .
John Paul was a new pope, raised to the papacy just eight months before. The day after he became pope he made it clear he would like to return as pope to his native Poland to see his people.
The communists who ran the Polish regime faced a quandary. If they didn't allow the new Pope to return to his homeland, they would look defensive and frightened, as if they feared that he had more power than they . . . On the other hand, if they let him return, the people might rise up against the government, which might in turn trigger an invasion by the Soviet Union.
The Polish government decided that it would be too great an embarrassment to refuse the pope . . . . Two months before the pope's arrival, the Polish communist apparatus took steps to restrain the enthusiasm of the people . . . .
On June 2, 1979, the pope arrived in Poland. What followed will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
He knelt and kissed the ground, the dull gray tarmac of the airport outside Warsaw. The silent churches of Poland at that moment began to ring their bells. The pope traveled by motorcade from the airport to the Old City of Warsaw.
The government had feared hundreds or thousands or even tens of thousands would line the streets and highways.
By the end of the day, with the people lining the streets and highways plus the people massed outside Warsaw and then inside it--all of them cheering and throwing flowers and applauding and singing--more than a million had come.
In Victory Square in the Old City the pope gave a mass. Communist officials watched from the windows of nearby hotels. The pope gave what papal biographer George Weigel called the greatest sermon of John Paul's life.
Why, the pope asked, had God lifted a Pole to the papacy? Perhaps it was because of how Poland had suffered for centuries, and through the 20th century had become "the land of a particularly responsible witness" to God. The people of Poland, he suggested, had been chosen for a great role, to understand, humbly but surely, that they were the repository of a special "witness of His cross and His resurrection." He asked then if the people of Poland accepted the obligations of such a role in history.
The crowd responded with thunder.
"We want God!" they shouted, together. "We want God!"
What a moment in modern history: We want God. From the mouths of modern men and women living in a modern atheistic dictatorship . . . .
The pope then tellingly observed, in words that should ring in our own hearts in our own crisis today:
The pope was speaking on the Vigil of Pentecost, that moment in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit came down to Christ's apostles, who had been hiding in fear after his crucifixion, filling them with courage and joy. John Paul picked up this theme. What was the greatest of the works of God? Man. Who redeemed man? Christ. Therefore, he declared, "Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man! Without Christ it is impossible to understand the history of Poland." Those who oppose Christ, he said, still live within the Christian context of history.
Christ, the pope declared, was not only the past of Poland--he was "the future . . . our Polish future."
The massed crowd thundered its response. "We want God!" it roared.
The pope had not directly challenged the government. He had not called for an uprising. He had not told the people of Catholic Poland to push back against their atheist masters. He simply stated the obvious. In Mr. Weigel's words: "Poland was not a communist country; Poland was a Catholic nation saddled with a communist state."
So, too, in our day, we must first of all state the obvious truths of the gospel that those who would impose an atheistic, amoral spirit on Caribbean and Western Culture are all too eager to suppress. For, we are not an atheistic civilisation; we are a Christian civilisation that -- through our own apostasy, lust and greed for riches through exploiting our brothers, and resulting failure to rise to deceitful challenges from within -- have been bewitched, lassoed and saddled by those riding on a tidal wave of secularism, apostasy and neo-paganism.
Then, we can rise to our own Blonie Fields moment, the moment when the Spirit of Christ came down on Poland and broke the back of godless Communism:
. . . it was in the Blonie Field, in Krakow--the Blonia Krakowskie, the fields just beyond the city--that the great transcendent moment of the pope's trip took place. It was the moment when, for those looking back, the new world opened. It was the moment, some said later, that Soviet communism's fall became inevitable.
It was a week into the trip, June 10, 1979. It was a sunny day. The pope was to hold a public mass. The communist government had not allowed it to be publicized, but Poles had spread the word . . . .
They started coming early, and by the time the mass began it was the biggest gathering of humanity in the entire history of Poland. Two million or three million people came, no one is sure, maybe more. For a mass.
And it was there, at the end of his trip, in the Blonie field, that John Paul took on communism directly, by focusing on communism's attempt to kill the religious heritage of a country that had for a thousand years believed in Christ.
This is what he said:
Is it possible to dismiss Christ and everything which he brought into the annals of the human being? Of course it is possible. The human being is free. The human being can say to God, "No." The human being can say to Christ, "No." But the critical question is: Should he? And in the name of what "should" he? With what argument, what reasoning, what value held by the will or the heart does one bring oneself, one's loved ones, one's countrymen and nation to reject, to say "no" to Him with whom we have all lived for one thousand years? He who formed the basis of our identity and has Himself remained its basis ever since. . . .
As a bishop does in the sacrament of Confirmation so do I today extend my hands in that apostolic gesture over all who are gathered here today, my compatriots. And so I speak for Christ himself: "Receive the Holy Spirit!"
I speak too for St. Paul: "Do not quench the Spirit!"
I speak again for St. Paul: "Do not grieve the Spirit of God!"
You must be strong, my brothers and sisters! You must be strong with the strength that faith gives! You must be strong with the strength of faith! You must be faithful! You need this strength today more than any other period of our history. . . .
You must be strong with love, which is stronger than death. . . . When we are strong with the Spirit of God, we are also strong with the faith of man. . . . There is therefore no need to fear. . . . So . . . I beg you: Never lose your trust, do not be defeated, do not be discouraged. . . . Always seek spiritual power from Him from whom countless generations of our fathers and mothers have found it. Never detach yourselves from Him. Never lose your spiritual freedom.
They went home from that field a changed country. After that mass they would never be the same.
And, in our day, by a mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God, we too can turn the tide. For, as the Pope so aptly said in June 1979:
"Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man! Without Christ it is impossible to understand . . . history . . . ." Those who oppose Christ . . . still live within the Christian context of history.
Indeed, let us now even dare to speak for the Apostle Peter:
Ac 3:19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets . . .So, by God's grace in the face of Jesus, let us now penitently pray; at Christmas in this the year of our Lord, 2006:
Oh, God that hast Poland,* have mercy on us today, and pour out your liberating Spirit, even here in the Caribbean and in the whole world! In Jesus' name. AMEN, and AMEN
* Title of a traditional Polish Officer's Anthem
UPDATE: Dec 19