Solzenitzyn once remarked that just about the only thing one man could change was the spirit of the age. No small thing as it happens and, for our age, Pope John Paul was the man who changed the spirit.
It took him a long time to accomplish this in the affluent European cities, but his effect was instantaneous in those countries still under communist tyranny. They were still close enough to real problems and suffering, to recognise the Pope as a champion of their freedom and autonomy, without any intermediaries interpreting his effect. In this, they had the enormous advantage of having a ruling class that no one believed or trusted because it was "the enemy;" and a media class that no one believed either-because it was a mouth-piece of that enemy.
The position of the ordinary citizen in Europe is not as different as one might think-as John Paul pointed out-where the unacknowledged tyranny of commercial interests is deployed and reinforced by means of a media that serves them at every turn. Almost none of the wicked innovations that have been enacted by parliaments across Europe have come about in response to public demand. Abortion, sexual licence, divorce, pornography-the ills that sap a community's moral energy-were all, in reality, good business opportunities which were subtly transformed into ideological aspirations by a compliant and blind media.
Unfortunately, we have been so seduced by the hedonism and materialism that this new tyranny offers, that we have not seen how it increasingly traps and then destroys personal and communal well being in the long-term. John Paul saw it and tackled it head-on and, in doing that, he laid the groundwork for much of what remains to be done.
It is rather fascinating to notice how, even in the so-called "post Christian" society of today, the language of evangelisation never alters. Since the days when the barbarians first invaded Europe and found a Faith that was new, all succeeding generations have been able to draw on the deeply rooted Christianity that has informed every aspect of their lives. Lapses have been followed by repentance and "a firm purpose of amendment" as the old catechism put it. It has been our history for 1500 years and, to quote Chesterton, "the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages; the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect."
It is the same today. In Europe, evangelisation is essentially a call to return to a standard; a reminder of where the path lies and of those who have trodden that well-worn path before. John Paul's unprecedented creation of saints, and emphasis on the martyrs of our own day and the past, is a call to recognise what Chesterton again called "the democracy of the dead;" the important things that our forbears have witnessed to, and laid down their lives for.
The young love him because what he said to them has the inestimable advantage of being new! Badly educated in their religion as many of them are, and misled in the truth by people to whom the Faith has become old and stale, they have responded with enthusiasm to something that makes sense of their lives.
His effect on them was the real lesson of our times; that the truth, the splendid truth, is in the end, stronger and more appealing than the opposition that seeks to silence it forever.
When Veritatis Splendor was published in the late summer of 1993, it was greeted with howls of dismay by media commentators in both the secular and the Catholic press. These are the only people we hear from on almost any subject-and they are, for the most part, a soft and rootless lot-and almost always wrong. They are, however, the filter through which everything must pass before it gets to the public.
You have to feel sorry for them. Precisely when liberal opinion was getting to feel relaxed about tolerating religion-because it seemed to have something to do with human rights, at least in backward old Poland, John Paul slammed the door of approval in their faces. …