Friday, May 20, 2005

Fragmentary Book Review: Memory & Identity, by Pope John Paul II

I'm not a Catholic, and unlikely to ever be one, but I enjoyed some of the reflections in Memory and Identity, a sort of memoir by the late Pope John Paul II.

Some of it was particularly hard to understand, using theological terms I'm not familiar with. Plus phrases in latin that I never learnt in high school latin!

But one particular piece leapt off the page and into my heart. It was a wonderful description by John Paul of what God does in redemption:

"In Jesus Christ, God bends down over man to hold out a hand to him, to raise him up and to help him continue his journey with renewed strength. Man cannot get back on his feet unaided: he needs the help of the Holy Spirit. If he refuses this help, he commits what Christ called 'the blasphemy against the Spirit', the sin which 'will not be forgiven' (Matt. 12:31)

Why will it not be forgiven? Because it means there is no desire for pardon. Man refuses the love and the mercy of God, since he believes himself to be God. He believes himself to be capable of self-sufficiency."

That was the most eloquent - and strikingly simple - description of what the unforgivable sin is, and why, that I've ever heard. And this in a book that in other spots is too complex for me.

It's worth plugging through the difficult bits, though, because this Pope lived through unprecedented times in world history, and he talks about living in Poland under the Nazis, and then under the Communists.

It's a refreshingly real look at how faith goes into action, how our faith can engage with philosophy and the issues of the 'real' world.

So, whether you're Catholic or not (I'd like to be one with a small 'c' - meaning 'universal') I recommend you grab a copy of Memory and Identity, and let it make you think.

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