Emmett Tyrrell

 He revived the spiritual vigor of his Church, reinvigorated ecumenism, acknowledged Christianity's debt to the Jews and the wrongs committed against them, and raised the dignity of human life for all to contemplate. Even in his last weeks, he gave the suffering of the very old meaning. He was a great proponent of freedom, but he insisted it was meaningless unless it pursued the virtues. He was, after all, at bottom an Aristotelian and Thomistic philosopher. He championed reason. John Paul II has been the greatest pope of the last 500 years, as well as one of the great political figures of the 20th century. Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, and of course Hitler, Mao, and Stalin, now have a silver-haired man of God in their ranks.

 Most of this has been dilated upon during the worldwide spectacle of the pope's death, a spectacle unlike anything that might have been anticipated, we are told. His intellect, goodness, and political acumen have all been remarked on, but few have noted its provenance. Unlike any of the other historic figures of the century, the pope was a mystic. Prayer and contemplation of God was the source of all he did in life.

 During the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1940 the 20-year-old Wojtyla came under the spiritual influence of a deeply religious middle-aged layman, Jan Tyranowski, who presided over something called the "Living Rosary." It consisted of groups of 15 or so young men devoted to prayer and contemplation. From this experience, Wojtyla gained his lifelong interest in the mysticism of the Carmelite order and the teachings of the 16th century Spanish Carmelite St. John of the Cross. While the Nazis prowled Poland, Wojtyla meditated and deepened his understanding of St. John's mystical communion with God. All the rest of his life, no matter the demands the world placed on him, his foremost concern was his own communion with God.

 This pope would pray four hours a day, sometimes more. He had as many responsibilities as any head of state, but all his decisions depended on prayer and contemplation. That is what a mystic is, even when he is the head of a 2,000-year-old institution comprised of a billion constituents. Now all the politicians who have hustled off to Rome to bid the pope adieu surely want to be the best that they can be and do the best job they can, but would any of them set aside hours every day to pray when other responsibilities beckoned? That sounds very unprofessional to me. But then, I have missed things over the years.

 Reviewing that memorable 1978 morn in Rome as I wrote it up in "The Conservative Crack-Up," I noticed that nowhere in the book did I mention John Paul II. I was writing about the condition of conservatism in the late 20th century, yet somehow I missed the pope. After the huge send-off the world has given him, it will be difficult to repeat that omission.

Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and co-author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.
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