John Paul in Poland image of the Holy Spirit

Each year is new and this year God, speaking through the Church, asks the Holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth.

I see the world from my eyes, my mind, my heart, my life experiences and my story. In fact there is no other way to see the world. With my mind I can speak to each of the seven billion human beings. I can visit each country and travel anywhere. I can visit in my mind the most distant star in the cosmos. I can encompass the whole of creation in my mind and heart.  In a very real sense the whole of creation, the whole earth is within me.

It follows that, unless I am renewed, the face of the earth will never be renewed. The world needs renewed people for the prayer to the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled, each person on this earth, especially those who are Catholics and Christians.

It is worth reflecting in the light of the above what actually happened to many people in Poland in June 1979 when Pope John Paul 2 returned as Pope for the first time among his Polish people, one year after being elected Pope. Those days he spent in Poland over Pentecost and Trinity Sunday led to a huge change for humanity: the face of the earth was renewed. We can learn from what happened and await with joyful hope what will one day happen in our own English world. How? I do not know: in our time? I do not know. Who or what will be the instrument of change? I do not know. But God never abandons his people and he will not abandon even us in the spiritual desert in which we live.

John Paul in Warsaw Victory Square Saturday 2nd June 1979 the Vigil of Pentecost 1

John Paul 2 in Victory Square Warsaw Vigil of Pentecost Saturday 2 June 1979

In Poland in early June 1979 the communist authorities risked the visit because Karol Józef Wojtyla had been discreet when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow. But now he spoke with the authority of the first Polish successor of Peter, the Pope and Bishop of Rome. He was not “anti-communist”; his words were about the identity of Poland and its people and he was well aware of his own role and destiny in this context.

He bravely out-flanked official atheistic communism that day and throughout his two-week stay. It is said the Holy Spirit through St John Paul changed the course of history in that visit as it inspired many Polish people to have a new courage in the face of the atheistic oppression they had suffered since 1939. It was these people who spear-headed the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Many Poles identified with the person of the Pope, the Polish man who had climbed to the top of the tree and had shared directly in so many of the awesome sufferings of the people.

Somehow, by God’s grace, he had remained untouched by the corruption and evil of the atheistic communist regime. He was like a lone Gandalf standing against the hordes of the evil orcs in the Lord of the Rings. We must not forget that what happened in Poland directly affects our British lives as a part of the European continent. Here is an important part of his extraordinary speech on Saturday 2nd June 1979 in Victory Square in Warsaw, the vigil of Pentecost:

It is impossible without Christ to understand and appraise the contribution of the Polish nation to the development of man and his humanity in the past and its contribution today also: “This old oak tree has grown in such a way and has not been knocked down by any wind since its root is Christ” (Poem of Piotr Skarga). It is necessary to follow the traces of what, or rather who, Christ was for the sons and daughters of this land down the generations. Not only for those who openly believed in him and professed him with the faith of the Church, but also for those who appeared to be at a distance, outside the Church. For those who doubted or were opposed.

Without Christ it is impossible to understand the history of Poland, especially the history of the people who have passed or are passing through this land. The history of people. The history of the nation is above all the history of people. And the history of each person unfolds in Jesus Christ. In him it becomes the history of salvation.

Today, here in Victory Square, in the capital of Poland, I am asking with all of you, through the great Eucharistic prayer, that Christ will not cease to be for us an open book of life for the future, for our Polish future.

We are before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the ancient and contemporary history of Poland this tomb has a special basis, a special reason for its existence. In how many places in our native land has that soldier fallen! In how many places in Europe and the world has he cried with his death that there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland marked on its map! On how many battlefields has that solider given witness to the rights of man, indelibly inscribed in the inviolable rights of the people, by falling for “our freedom and yours”!

I wish to kneel before this tomb to venerate every seed that falls into the earth and dies and thus bears fruit. It may be the seed of the blood of a soldier shed on the battlefield, or the sacrifice of martyrdom in concentration camps or in prisons.

John Paul in Poland June 1979 with Prime Minister Gen.Wojciech Jaruzelski

John Paul 2 meeting with GeneralWojciech Jaruzelski, Head of the communist government in Poland in 1979. Pope JP2 looks on patiently, kindly and in humility.  General Jaruzelski seems embarrassed, shy and on the back foot.

He ended in his deep, theatrical voice, rich with emotion and passion, with a Pentecost cry that led to an explosion of clapping, a continuous standing ovation for twenty minutes and more:

And I cry—I who am a Son of the land of Poland and who am also Pope John Paul II—I cry from all the depths of this Millennium, I cry on the vigil of Pentecost:

Let your Spirit descend.
Let your Spirit descend.
and renew the face of the earth,
the face of THIS land.

I wonder why the Holy Spirit seems so absent in in our country and in the West in general? It is not as if we are lacking modern Papal prophets! Listen to Pope Francis in a recent speech:

“An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it. I think a question that we are not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature? Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”

His imminent encyclical on Environmental issues (Laudato Si) will pull no punches regarding who is responsible for the dire threats to the very survival of the Earth’s eco-system! It is our own greed and indifference, our blindness to injustice and folly. But we are very slow to listen, perhaps too caught up with our own concerns.

What I pray for is the fundamental change of heart and mind for us in our English world that will enable the formation of a group who have the mind of Christ, in whom alone we too will find our identity, the purpose of our lives and joy, strength and freedom.

I pray that those who see the urgency of the need will pray earnestly for this change to happen in them.

Who or what will be the agent of the all-powerful Holy Spirit in our circumstances for this small or large group of people I do not know. There are those who are in love with God and the Church all over our country, from all Christian denominations; they do not know how to let God the Holy Spirit renew them and the often small and dwindling community of faith to which they belong.

My hunch is that we must learn to do what is written in the feast of St. Barnabas, today the 11 June: “Tell of the glories of the Lord and his might, speaking of the marvellous deeds he has done”. Clearly we first need to experience personally His Power, and then share in an appropriate way with others. I feel it would be best to do this sharing in the first instance with those who are like-minded, longing for the fire of peaceful love and mercy to come into them. Later on when this quiet peace leaves us confident in our relationship with God and with others, the Holy Spirit will help us to spread peace, love and mercy to those who may be indifferent, uninterested, immersed in the round of home life and all it entails, with little thought for things eternal.

Let us remain open to every possibility and ready to grasp the clarity of the light of God that will lead us onwards.

Fr. Jonathan

Fr. Jonathan