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Saturday, April 2, 2011

St. John Paul II and the Radiation of the Supernatural

St. John Paul II and the Radiation of the Supernatural

By Jim J. McCrea
First Published in 2002

Wherever Pope John Paul II travels in the world, he often attracts hundreds of thousands of people to hear and see him. I believe that there is more to this attraction than his status as Vicar of Christ for the faithful on earth. For the World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002, I watched the Pope get off the plane, walk over, and then make his first speech for that event. I then saw him on television again, presiding at the Mass at Downsview airport which was the concluding event of WYD.

My reaction upon seeing him on television was a tremendous sense of spiritual joy. This was from what I believe is the presence of God shining through him. In His inner eternal life, God is infinite purity, goodness, peace, order, happiness, and joy. God created man precisely to share in His infinitely blessed life of absolute happiness for all eternity. In other words, we were created to be united to the Real.

Those who live an intense supernatural interior life, fed by prayer, meditation, contemplation, mortification, and the sacraments, exist in intimate contact with the Ultimate Reality who is God, and so to speak, form a window through which others can see this Ultimate Reality. God lives in such people so profoundly that the light of the supernatural radiates through their being and overflows onto others in a way that can be perceived and which has a tremendous influence.

Not only in seeing Pope John Paul II on television, but also viewing still pictures of him brings one great spiritual joy and comfort. Even in still images, something of the almighty fatherly care of God can be seen in the Holy Father which cuts oppressive evils down to size. Many others have similar reactions, particularly when seeing him in person. In the Pope's presence, grown men burst into tears, and otherwise, people sense a tremendous spiritual electricity. Despite his frail physical appearance, he is so attractive a human being and has such an effect upon others, because something of the infinite joy of God shines through him. His mere bodily appearance generates a spiritual consolation. In his preaching and works, John Paul II is fruitful in producing goodness upon the earth and illuminating it with the Truth, precisely because he lives in such intimate union with God. This, no doubt, comes from the Pope's intense prayer life. It is reported that he prays up to seven hours per day, and spends two hours per day before the Blessed Sacrament.

Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard in his book, "The Soul of the Apostolate" discusses the necessity of the interior supernatural life of God dwelling in the soul (by the power of the Holy Spirit) if one is to be a fruitful worker for God in this life. Modernists do not see the supernatural, rather they come to exclusively value empirically visible tangible reality. In many cases, God for them is little but the visible goodness that can be seen in physically observable good works.

Thus, for them, social justice and the visible community (while very good in themselves, derived from the Gospels) is the be-all and end-all of the Faith, ignoring supernatural elements such as the Mass as Sacrifice, Eucharistic Adoration, interior prayer, personal virtue, sexual purity, mortification, the Cross, judgment, heaven, and hell. The Faith is thus reduced to naturalistic humanitarian social service. Social justice becomes a substitute for orthodoxy, rather than an expression of it conducted in the light of supernatural realities - true social justice, which is based upon justice to persons which is founded upon the right to life from the moment of conception to natural death because each person is made in the image of God. The horizontal empirical needs of one's neighbor are given exclusive focus, while forgetting that the glorification of God and the eternal salvation of the soul are primary (some modernists focus exclusively on reforming structures, forgetting that good structures will not work if the people within them lack holiness and morality. The priest who makes himself readily available to hear confessions is facilitating peace and justice in society perhaps more than anything else. This is forgotten when sin is seen in structures rather than in individuals. Priests should preach on sin and its consequences).

Of course it is an essential part of the mission of the Church to help the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. But as Chautard explains in his book, one must be first filled with the presence of God through generous sacrificial prayer to be effective at all in Christ's vineyard. Only prayer can give this to a person. It is impossible to acquire by one's own efforts. As Christ said: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in Me and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Those who give themselves to "good works" without God's inner life animating them, are less useful from God's point of view. Despite apparent success and the acclaim of others of "how much good they are doing", it is possible they could be doing harm in the long run.

This is perhaps because they are operating from natural enthusiasm, a natural desire for results which makes them feel good, and from a hunger for the applause of others, rather than from motives of supernatural charity. They may be doing harm rather than good precisely because they are not working in accordance with the will of God. They are communicating the contagion of their own vanity, rather than the supernatural unction of Christ. Mother Teresa was a true model of helping the destitute because she put God's truth and the supernatural first. Her Missionaries of Charity flourish the way they do, in a large part, because they spend at least one hour in Eucharistic Adoration each day.

As with John Paul II, others have been noted to be effective in doing good to others, simply through the supernatural which they radiate, even if it seems they are not doing much from the natural tangible point of view. Contemplation, or a profound supernatural union with God, is not only necessary for action, but is an end in itself and has an efficacy all of its own. I quote from The Soul of the Apostolate:

"The professor who has no interior life imagines he has done all that is required of him if he keeps within the limits of the program of his examination. But if he is a man of prayer, some word will now and again slip out, not only from his lips but from his heart: some sentiment or other will show itself in his expression, some significant gesture will escape him. Yes, the mere way he makes the sign of the Cross or says a prayer before or after class - even a class in mathematics! - may have a more profound influence on his students than a whole sermon." (p. 116)

"St. John Vianney had a voice so weak that it could not reach most of the crowd that surged around him. But if people could hardly hear him, they saw him; they saw a living monstrance of God, and the mere sight of him overwhelmed those who were there, and converted them. A lawyer had just returned from Ars. Someone asked him what it was that impressed him. He said: "I have seen God in a man." (p. 121)

Those who have a profound interior life, like Pope John Paul II, move closer towards their goal which is the face-to-face vision of God in heaven. Not only this, they are very powerful in assisting in the salvation of others. We are on a journey in this life, and the goal for each of us is eternal heaven. What is often forgotten by many Catholics is the fact that the most important activity in our lives, with respect to ourselves and others, is the saving of our soul and helping others to save theirs.

Heaven is not a sure thing for us in this life (unless one has been confirmed in grace), but eternal hell is a possibility if we misuse our free will. We must always be vigilant, not only for ourselves, but for our neighbor as well. Often topics such as bettering the world or what our faith can do for us in this life are stressed in homilies at Mass, but as important as these are, they are secondary. This life lasts only for a time. Heaven and hell last forever; they contain vastly greater good and evil respectively than anything possible on this earth. What is at stake for each of us is infinite.

There is a common misconception that advanced mystical holiness results in a person becoming peculiar, strange, and eccentric. The opposite is in fact the case. God's supernatural life dwelling in a soul tends to make it more normal. Supernatural grace heals human nature. As this supernatural life grows in the soul, the kinks, imbalances, and peculiarities of the soul are straightened out.

As the soul grows in grace it tends more towards the natural, and more and more of its actions become appropriate to the situation at hand. A "holy" person who is odd, angry, aggressive, or controlling is probably not as deeply holy as he hoped. (It may be objected that there were saints who were odd, and that many devout people have noticeable personality flaws. But whenever this is so, it is despite their sanctity, not because of it. Perhaps it is these areas of abnormality into which the transforming power of Christ has not yet reached).

We may be surprised to find that one of the surpassing happinesses of heaven is that heaven is utterly more natural than nature on earth. With respect to this, the philosophers tell us that being as being or "that which is" has transcendental properties - that is, properties which belong to being as being so that everything that exists partakes of them. Some of these transcendentals are *unity,* *intelligibility,* *goodness,* and *beauty.*

Unity means that insofar as something has being, it is one thing. When something is made multiple by being disassembled, it ceases to be what it is. Intelligibility means that insofar as something has being, it makes sense to our intellects. When we observe natural things around us such as clouds, trees, animals, mountains, and man-made things such as houses and cars, our intellects understand what they are, rather than registering a meaningless pattern of sensations. Goodness means that insofar as something has being, it is an object of love or attraction. If we study reality on the metaphysical level, we can see that the multitude of entities within it have affinities for each other - e.g. the chicks for their mother, the earth for the rain, and male for female. Being as being is beautiful. Any objective ugliness encountered within something means that some non-being is mingled with it. In the same way, any evil encountered within something means that it contains non-being - since evil is a privation of due being or good.
The property of *naturalness* can also be considered a transcendental. Being as being is natural. As intelligibility addresses the intellect, as goodness addresses the will, and as beauty addresses both the intellect and affectivity, naturalness addresses the affectivity (spiritual emotion). It might best be described as the feeling and comfort of "home." It is the comfort of an old shoe or the lack of strain and comfort of an old friend whose behavior is precisely synchronized with your personality.

Nature in the outdoors is natural because everything is there as God intended it. It has an appropriateness and lack of strain beyond the power of man to produce. Flowing water or a fire in a fireplace are soothing precisely because of their naturalness. To be natural is the opposite of anything gaudy, contrived, inappropriate, artificial - in short, anything that seems out of place or "sticks out like a sore thumb."

Since naturalness is a transcendental, anything which displays unnaturalness has some non-being mingled with it (in which case it would also contain  unintelligibility, evil, and ugliness). If naturalness is a transcendental property of being, the higher the level of being, the greater the naturalness. Heaven is far more natural than the physical universe because its level of being is far higher. Thus, as our souls ascend higher toward Heaven, we do not more and more depart from the domain of the normal and more and more enter the region of the bizarre, but encounter what is more and more deeply natural -- the more deeply does everything have a "right" feel, and the more deeply do we feel at home.

The ultimate and eternal happiness in heaven is the face-to-face vision of God and an ineffable personal union with Him. Whereas all else is being (or "that which is") in a finite mode - circumscribed by limitations, God is Pure Being who has no limitations and who is completely uncircumscribed. God is Infinite Existence. The transcendentals apply to Him to an infinite degree. The most universally known transcendental, as applied to God, is infinite goodness. This is expressed in His infinite love. As St. John the Apostle says: "God is Love" (1 John 4:8). It is our deepest desire to love and to be loved, and this will be fulfilled perfectly in heaven.

The transcendental naturalness must also apply to God to an infinite degree. God, being supernatural, is not a-natural or unnatural. He is infinitely natural. In union with God in heaven, we will have an infinite sense that we are home.

This brings us full circle - back to Pope John Paul II. He is so personally attractive and radiates God's light so, because he is exceedingly natural and balanced as a person. It is a naturalness and balance that only the intense supernatural life dwelling within him can explain. It is precisely for this reason that the integrists (extreme traditionalists) oppose him.

Although integrism is a reaction against modernism, it is an over-reaction. It rejects what is valid about modernity and the proper adaptations which the post-conciliar popes have made to the modern world (such as communicating the Ancient Truth in modern language). Instead, integrists cling to fossilized forms of the past, with an exaggerated supernaturalism which is disconnected from what is validly good and natural in the earthly sphere.

The result of such a practice could be a person who is extremely pious and follows the traditional rubrics scrupulously, yet radiates no warmth, kindness, or natural charity towards others. Such a person is only interested in the "soul," and does not affirm the natural human need for wholeness in the physical or emotional sphere.

With such an exaggerated supernaturalism, it is forgotten that man is a composite of body and soul and that God intends the integrity of the whole person. Pope John Paul II is so effective as an apostle because he affirms all that is good and natural - both supernaturally and earthly.

He knows that the most important thing is the salvation of the soul, but he is at the same time the foremost defender of human dignity and human rights in the world. He defends the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death. This is expressed in his opposition to laws that allow the destruction of the unborn, and in his support for the poor and downtrodden in his advancement of a valid social justice. In his World Youth Day he demonstrates his practical concern for the young, thus reaching them with the Gospel and the Message of Life. He adapts himself to whatever is valid in other religions, systems, and cultures.

Unlike what the integrist believes, goodness and truth are not confined to a specific traditional form of "Catholic" but are to be recognized wherever they exist. This is precisely what John Paul II does. He knows that to effectively evangelize, one must first recognize the partial truth and goodness that others have and then build upon that to bring them to the fullness of the truth that exists only in the Catholic Church. John Paul II demonstrates in his person that he is the head of the one religion which is fully good, true, one, intelligible, and natural.

** Endnote - Although many refer to angels, demons, and human souls as supernatural beings, they are not. These are designated "preternatural." God is the only supernatural being. God is unique in that he infinitely transcends anything else, no matter how exalted it might be, hence God has a unique supernatural essence. However, the quality of being supernatural can be communicated to man by God as a gift, so that man partakes of God's nature. This gift of the supernatural to man is known as sanctifying grace. The level of grace, which corresponds to the level of charity in the soul, can always increase throughout one's life on this earth. It is precisely this intense supernatural light which radiates from those who are in profound communion with God.