16 October 1978: Election of John Paul II

Where were you when you heard the news that a man from Poland had been elected to the See of Peter?

It was on this date in 1978.   Wow.  39 years.

Apropos recent debates that have strongly emerged in the Church, I note a couple passages from his encyclicals.

First, from his 1993 Encyclical Veritatis splendor 103-4:

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. “It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question.” But what are the “concrete possibilities of man”? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

In this context, appropriate allowance is made both for God’s mercy towards the sinner who converts and for the understanding of human weakness. Such understanding never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances. It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values.

Next, from his 1995 Evangelium vitae 57 [note how he uses the word “innocent”]:

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. “Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action”.

As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being “there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the ‘poorest of the poor’ on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Marine Mom says:

    70th Anniversary of Militia Immaculatae as well
    Today, in Boston at St Francis Chapel in the Prudential Center
    The relics of St John Paul II, St Maximilian Kolbe and St Fausttina (Marian Saints of Mercy)
    where permanently enshrined . All are welcome

  2. benedetta says:

    Good, true, and beautiful.

  3. JackG says:

    I was at work that day when an employee, a young Jewish guy, blasts into the office, his arms over his head pumping his fists, joyfully yelling, “We have a Polish Pope! We have Polish Pope!”

    I don’t know what surprised me most, a Polish Pope being elected or a young Jewish guy so forcefully announcing his election.

  4. ex seaxe says:

    So, no “collateral damage” allowed then.

  5. In a sign language class, waiting for the prof to show up.

  6. Benedict Joseph says:

    A memory long held with deep thanksgiving is now more salt in a wound daily ripped anew.
    How did we get here from there?

  7. Amos says:

    “How did we get here from there?”

    John Paul II was a stepping stone. I don’t think you realize all the other bizarre things he did in midst of all the good. He was a mixed and confused Pope. Francis et al is simply taking it to the next level. If JPII can ask St. John the Baptist to protect Isalm or allow all Assisi meetings, then Francis can look at these events (and many more) and say “oh look, a new way of understanding the way other religions work and how salvation works” and then apply this supposed change to moral doctrine. If doctrines of the faith can supposedly change to “new understandings” then so can morals.

  8. Where was I?
    Sitting in the ABC Radio remote location in St Peter’s Square, explaining to the radio news correspondents, who were all Jewish, what the translation was, and the significance of what they were seeing.

  9. jeffc says:

    I don’t really remember where I heard it, but I remember hearing it and since I was only 8 years old at the time, the details are sketchy.

  10. Uxixu says:

    Was just a toddler, so would have been completely clueless.

    He was Pope all through my childhood and well into adulthood and I always loved him growing up, but the more I’ve learned, the more I see him in contradictions as I do most of those who became bishops in the 1940s and 1950s. While it’s easy to scorn the likes of Cardinal Mahoney (and his current confreres like Cardinal Cupich, Marx, etc), never had the ancient traditions to be delinquent in passing on what they received… That preceding generation, to include John Paul II, Cardinal Manning, and others should have known better than to abandon so many priceless traditions that we’re trying to painstakingly reestablish.

    Then there was the puzzling way both he and Benedict XVI seemed to select men who opposed their policy to the episcopate as if they were trying to keep it in balance with their supporters, and further made them cardinals… men like Kapser and Marx

  11. mburn16 says:

    “How did we get here from there?”

    But what, precisely, is “there”? I wish to do no disrespect to the late Holy Father, but I think the long arc of history may judge him a bit less kindly than those today whose reference point is Pope Francis.

  12. Mike says:

    17 years old; in Boston Archdiocese; not a clue as to what was happening.

  13. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Unborn, unconceived, existing only in potentia in the mind of God, blessed be He now and forever.

    Having no dog in the fight, no fat on the line, I would echo the moderate views above-expressed. St. JP2 was a great blessing in the swirling Charybdis of the last half centenary. And despite this blessing we find the seeds of chaos in his stagemenship, his actor’s flair, his ecumenical panache.

    Receiving pagan blessings, approving female acolytes (essentially), blessing Islam, allowing Assissi conferences, appointing horrible bishops and cardinals…St. JP2 was the pope who was better than we deserved but less than we needed…

  14. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I hope the next 5 popes are polish.

  15. TWF says:

    Not yet conceived. I will, however, always remember watching his funeral on TV as he went to his reward the year I was received into the Church.

  16. Marine Mom says:

    I stand corrected as of October 16, 2017 MI celebrated its 100 years anniversary
    Sorry Mike that you didn’t have a clue
    Just visit St Francis Chapel the relics are there permanently
    also The chapel is a place of Mercy, Mass daily, Adoration daily, also Confessions heard daily
    St John Paul II, St Maximilian Kolbe, and St Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament, Pray for us.

  17. Dan says:

    I was likely in daycare or something like it.
    I have to admit to also having mixed feelings about John Paul II. As Matthew says “you will know them by their Fruits.” and the church of the 80’s and ’90’s that I grew up in, it seems to me, was one of the most destructive periods of the Catholic Church.
    Still JPII spoke clearly and didn’t leave room for individual interpretation in his encyclicals. There is no question his pontificate was a difficult time in the Church and after VII he was left trying to contain a tornado.

  18. hwriggles4 says:

    As a kid who had only been an altar boy for about a year, I remember 1978 as the Year of the Three Popes. Frankly, all I knew back then about Paul VI was his name was recited during the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass.

    When Paul VI died, it was the summer of 1978. Our family was watching a Saturday afternoon baseball game, which was interrupted by an announcement that Paul VI died that day. A detailed news story of his life followed.

    Shortly later, John Paul I was elected. I remember his death 34 Days later. Friends of ours would come over and we would ride our bicycles to school together. One friend told my mom the Pope died. We both thought he was joking until the announcement was made that evening. I also recall the following Saturday evening Mass our deacon preached on his death.

    My earliest recollection of the beginning of Pope John Paul It’s pontificate was a friend of mine mentioning the new Pope to me as we were wrapping up a Boy Scout meeting that fall. When John Paul II died, I was with a group of Catholic friends doing a service project at the Missionaries of Charity convert in Dallas. We stopped to pray. I also remember as a young college student ushering for Pope John Paul II in 1987 during his visit to San Antonio. Still have my hat and my sash.

  19. jaykay says:

    It was a Monday in 1978 as well – the days were the same as this year. Anyway, since it was 6:18 p.m. Rome time, that would have been 5:18 p.m. British Isles time, so I was undoubtedly getting ready to travel homewards on a train, and thus probably wouldn’t have heard about it until getting home after 7:30 p.m. No Walkman radios or such back then (or if there were early ones, they would have been WAAAY beyond my price range!)

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