Thursday, 30 January 2014

Book review: I am so much in God’s hands


A first (and hopefully last) in a series of book reviews of books I haven’t and will not read, today’s post looks at the upcoming publication of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s personal notes from 1962-2003. A book I would love to read, but won’t.

Imagine that some hitherto unpublished text by your favorite author, thinker or personality has come to light - e.g., some of Aristotle’s works thought lost with the burning of the library at Alexandria, a previously unknown treatise by Voltaire, a new novel by Hesse or the memoirs of Marilyn Monroe (whatever your personal preference). You’d be queueing up to pre-order it as soon as possible (as I did with Camus’ “The First Man,” first published in 1994 - 34 years after his death) and be keen to get hold of any extracts or quotes from it as soon as they were released or even leaked.

So why don’t I feel the same about the upcoming publications of John Paul II’s “I am so much in God’s hands” - 640 pages of new material by probably my favorite thinker of the 20th century, if not of all time (based on having read almost all of his extensive corpus of writings)? Wouldn’t I take great pleasure in reading new words penned by him? Wouldn’t they be edifying, thought provoking and intellectually satisfying? Wouldn’t they further boost my admiration for him? I am certain they would do all that and possibly more.

Yet, I won’t ever read that book.

The reason for this is simple, and follows from my respect and love for its author, who in his Last Will and Testament had the following to say:
“I leave no property behind me of which it is necessary to dispose. Regarding those items of daily use of which I made use, I ask that they be distributed as may appear opportune. My personal notes are to be burned. I ask that Don Stanisław oversees this and thank him for the collaboration and help so prolonged over the years and so comprehensive. All other thanks, instead, I leave in my heart before God Himself, because it is difficult to express them.”
The book about to be published (initially in Polish) contains the “personal notes” that John Paul II ordered to be burned in his will. They are his personal writings, written in the knowledge of their being private and not destined for publication and commercial distribution. Like the diary of a friend, I would not dream of reading it without their express permission.

So, how is it possible that these personal notes will be published? What happened to “Don Stanislaw,” entrusted in John Paul II’s will with executing the burning of his personal notes? Has he been obstructed from carrying out the Pope’s last wishes?

No. To add insult to injury, it is “Don Stanisław” (a. k. a., the now-Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz) who is behind the book’s publication.

How, you ask, is that possible?! Well, Cardinal Dziwisz gives the following explanation:
“I didn’t burn John Paul II’s notes, because they are the key to interpreting his spirituality, his innermost self: his relationships with God, others, and himself. They somehow reveal another side of the person, whom we knew as Bishop in Kraków and in Rome, Peter of our times, a Pastor of the universal Church. They even show his life much earlier, in the years when he was ordained a bishop and was taking over the bishopric in Kraków. They allow us to look at the intimate personal relation of faith with God, the Creator, Giver of life, the Master and Teacher. They also show sources of his spirituality - his inner strength and a definite will to serve Christ till the last breath of his life.”
OK, I see that the text is rich and precious (and I didn’t ask for an ad for the book), but that wasn’t the question. Let’s try again:
“However, I was not courageous enough to burn these sheets of paper and notebooks with his personal notes, which he had left, because they include important information about his life. I saw them on the desk of the Holy Father, but I had never read them.”
Now, that makes more sense - not complying with the Pope’s orders was a failing - the absence of courage. And admitting that he had never read them while John Paul II was alive should have given him a hint about what was to happen with them after the Pope’s death.

I don’t mean to suggest any malicious motives on the part of Cardinal Dziwisz, but, Don Stanisław, how could you?!