Mabel Aghadiuno reviews a book of selected writings of Pope John Paul II during the last year of his life.
[New City magazine]
Reading Silence Transformed into Life deeply moved me. It is a modest book of 135 pages but its contents are powerful. The words are those of John Paul II written or spoken during the last 12 months of his life. The audience varies from young people to those working in mass media. The talks are inspiring, challenging, uplifting and – at times – very personal. The book is accessible because he speaks from the heart to the heart. Like a prophet, he deciphers the signs of the times knowing where God wants to lead the world. There is an answer for everything. In response to the migration of peoples, he speaks about encouraging a ‘mutual fertilization of cultures’ which presumes ‘knowledge and openness between cultures in an atmosphere of true understanding and goodwill’. He urges young people not to be afraid to proclaim the gospel of the cross or to swim against the tide. To everyone he declares,
‘No man or woman of good will can renounce the struggle to overcome evil with good. This fight can be fought effectively with the weapons of love.’
He says that we are all called to holiness and that only holy people can renew humanity.
However set against the background of those words, there is silence that grows as the months pass. It is the silence of someone whose physical body is decaying, whose power of speech and oration lessens. This silence becomes increasingly sonorous. The power and authority behind the words is the testimony of John Paul’s own life and death. I remember that during his last days a woman gave her opinion about the coverage of his illness on the radio. This woman, an atheist, was in a hospice, suffering from a terminal illness. She commented that John Paul had taught her not to be afraid of death; he taught her how to die.
John Paul says,
‘Human life is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each of its stages. The commandment, “You shall not kill,” always requires respecting and promoting human life from its beginning to its natural end. It is a command that applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces a person’s ability to be self-reliant. He goes on to say that if growing old, with its inevitable conditions, is accepted serenely in the light of faith, it can become an invaluable opportunity for better understanding the mystery of the Cross, which gives full meaning to human existence.’
For me John Paul’s greatest work is his silence. His own words are embodied in his life: ‘There is no greater love than that of the cross; there is no truer freedom than that of love; there is no more complete brotherhood than that which is born from the cross of Jesus.’