"Big Four" Highlights


Saintly Diplomacy

John Paul’s lessons on heroic prudence apply to families

By Jason Godin

George Weigel knows his subject. Bestselling author of Witness to Hope, the authorized biography of St. John Paul II, and Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Weigel delivered an address Feb. 26, titled “St. John Paul II: Lessons for Statesmen” in College Station, Texas. It outlined how the historic pontificate of the Polish pope offered seven examples of heroic prudence, and argued that these lessons may be applied to international affairs today.

Living near College Station, I was fortunate to attend the talk, and it struck me that Weigel’s points could also be applied to the family, the primary and pre-political community we all come from.

Here is a summary of Weigel’s talk, followed by suggestions on how fathers and families might learn from them.

Culture Comes First
For John Paul, Weigel explained, culture “is, was and always will be the most dynamic force in history.” Consequently the statecraft of the saint radiated from the heart of culture – religion – “what people believe” as well as “what people are willing to stake their lives and their children’s lives on.”

Ideas Count, for Good or for Ill
Karol Wojtyła grew up in Poland, occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II and the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The brutalities of both regimes stemmed from a warped view of the human person. Pope John Paul II never forgot that hard lesson as he warned about the path of any contemporary culture “eroded by skepticism, relativism and irony” or by a hedonism and nihilism that “mocks all moral and religious convictions.”

Don’t Psychologize the Adversary
John Paul also “understood that bad guys behave badly because of who they are, what they espouse and what they seek, not because of anything we did to them.”

Speak Loudly and Wield a Supple ‘Stick’
John Paul exercised what Weigel called “dexterity” with a “papal megaphone,” an approach that “lifted up the first freedom, religious freedom” and, in the process, inspired nations and local leaders in their advocacy for greater human rights.

Listen to the Martyrs
The martyrdom of “brave men and women, living and dead, helped strengthen a religiously informed cultural resistance to communism,” Weigel observed, “because it embodied in a unique way the moral pressure that could and should be exerted on communist regimes at their greatest point of vulnerability.”

Keep Core Principles
“The Church cannot be a partisan political actor,” Weigel asserted, “because that contradicts the Eucharistic character of the Church.”

Don’t Play Acolyte to Media Narratives
Weigel added: “Church leaders, clerical and lay, who respond to media-generated narratives about the Catholic Church, rather than to the imperatives of the Gospel, are not going to advance the evangelical mission of the Church or the cause of human dignity and freedom.” They must avoid falling victim to the “tyranny of the possible.”

As the Catechism teaches, prudence “disposes reason to discern in every circumstance our true good” and “to choose the right means for achieving it.” It also “guides” the other virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance “by pointing out their rule and measure” (Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 380). When considered in light of Weigel’s thoughts about the diplomacy of St. John Paul II, it seems to me that heroic prudence could guide the affairs of families just as much as the leaders of countries.

The present cultural moment that confronts the family should sober and sadden any observer. Statistics show families destroyed by divorce and dimensions of destitution, financial and moral. Cultural icons declare that calls to respect the dignity of the human person are the diatribes of bigots. Confrontation has replaced civility. It is a time for heroes, and more of them leading from inside the home.

The family is the natural crucible of such champions. It is the vital source for renewing a healthy order for all, a place where the fearless can advocate for the culturally and spiritually besieged because it sees the body of Christ in the burdened, bruised and broken. It is where one can accompany others with civility and mercy nurtured by truth. In these troubled times, the family is called to partake of the heroic strength and prudence of a shepherd saint to become beacons of light in the days ahead.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.