Pope St. John Paul II’s Timely Wisdom: ‘We Are in the Forefront Today of a Lively Battle for the Dignity of Man’

BOOK PICK: Reading or rereading ‘A Sign of Contradiction,’ from our historical vantage point, provides a fascinating reprise of the thought of John Paul’s pontificate.

Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope St. John Paul II, baptizes a child in a file photo from 1971.
Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope St. John Paul II, baptizes a child in a file photo from 1971. (photo: Archdiocese of Kracow/CNA)


By Karol Wojtyła (St. John Paul II)

Cluny, 2021 

222 pages, $18.95

To order: clunymedia.com 


“Certainly, there is in this world a powerful reserve of faith, and also a considerable margin of freedom for the Church’s mission. But often it is no more than a margin. One need only take note of the principal tendencies governing the means of social communication, one need only pay attention to what is passed over in silence and what is shouted aloud, one need only to lend an ear to what encounters most opposition, to perceive that even where Christ is accepted there is at the same time opposition to the full truth of his Person, his mission, and his Gospel.”

Prophetic words, now 45 years old, coming from the closing conference of the Lenten retreat preached for a pope by a man who, two and a half years later, would be pope himself. Karol Wojtyła’s retreat for St. Paul VI takes its title from Luke 2:34, where Simeon declares Jesus “a sign of contradiction” who would be responsible for “the rise and fall of many in Israel.”

In 1976 there was no social media, yet it’s the people of our day who doubt the truthfulness of the mass media, given what is censored and what is celebrated. Then again, in 1976, the fastest-growing religious demographic was not those lacking “a reserve of faith.” 

A Sign of Contradiction — the collected 22 conferences the future John Paul preached for the papal court’s Lenten retreat — are serious but nevertheless accessible and profoundly meditative works. They have been out-of-print for some time: After an initial “boom” ca. 1978, when publishers discovered a pope with a “paper trail,” demand for papal table books died down as Catholics found the Polish Pontiff was not light bedtime reading. 

Homilies of John Paul II remain timely for readers. | Cluny

Cluny Media, a young Catholic publishing company “dedicated to preserving and promoting the Catholic literary and intellectual traditions” while treating books as “works of art,” has happily brought A Sign of Contradiction to a new generation of readers.

But why read an almost half-century old retreat? Well, it’s not dated. In fact, it’s quite timely. Consider these thoughts about “truth”:

“Today man is being deprived of his right above all to the truth which affects his inmost being, the realm of his conscience and his relationship with God. This occurs when there is discrimination against this truth in its societal aspects. What is at issue between the unjust civil power and the individual believer is not so much the faith itself — that is, the truth cherished unseen in the heart of the believer — as the outward profession of that faith, the public witness to it. There is no lack of people determined at all costs to drive the truth underground into the catacombs, determined to deprive it of its public witness dimension which is man’s by right.”

Karol Wojtyła may have been thinking of Marxist dictatorships, but the paradox is that this same bludgeon of conscience rights is now the work of “liberal democracies” imposing a dictatorship of relativism with the zeal of a woke Torquemada.

A new generation needs to remind itself just what Jesus revealed about man, as well as how it should gird itself for battle. Spending time again with John Paul II is a great way of doing that. It’s solid spiritual reading … and good insight into why he has been rightly called John Paul the Great.

Reading or rereading A Sign of Contradiction, from our historical vantage point, provides a fascinating reprise of the thought of John Paul’s pontificate, a Christian humanism that took seriously the facts that “Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself” and that “we are in the forefront today of a lively battle for the dignity of man.” 

All views herein are exclusively those of the author.