What the Disciple’s Disciple Witnessed
John Paul the Great
by Peggy Noonan
352 pages, $24.95
Available in bookstores
If you’ve ever been to an evangelical-Protestant conference or revival meeting, you’ve heard a born-again Christian give his “witness.” Someone got up and told how he once was lost and empty but now, having heard the Word of God, passionately preached (see Romans 10:17), finds himself filled to overflowing.
After the talk there was an altar call. Were you to answer it by coming forward to express sorrow for your sins and invite Christ into your heart, you would leave that event lifted, knowing that you, too, were now a new creation (per 2 Corinthians 5:17). After that it would be up to you to grow close to the Lord and, eventually, to begin giving your witness to those who don’t know Jesus.
In her latest book, Peggy Noonan gives her Christian witness.
Noonan, we learn through candid and vivid anecdotes and memories, underwent a Catholic conversion experience (read: the long, slow variety) in the years following her entry into the national spotlight as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. It turns out that Pope John Paul II’s witness gradually proved irresistible to her long-suppressed spiritual appetite. For, in him, she saw not only the Gospel of Christ, passionately preached and lived, but also a spiritual father, warm, wise and worthy of emulation. (The book’s subtitle is Remembering a Spiritual Father.)
Primarily through her column in The Wall Street Journal, Noonan has been boldly witnessing her Catholic faith to non-Catholic audiences for years. Sometimes it’s surprising how far that secular publication allows her to go with explicitly religious — make that specifically Catholic — themes. So her testimony will be somewhat familiar to her regular readers. And yet it’s exhilarating to get the story behind the stories, for Noonan herself is also warm, wise and, in many ways, worthy of a certain amount of emulation.
On the book’s cover, Noonan’s name is set in type larger than that of the book’s title. She likely had little to do with that decision, but it turns out to have been a good one. This is not a biography of the late Holy Father, although it brims with historical highlights of his life plus original insights into his papacy. Instead, it’s a motivational chronicle of Noonan’s return to the faith into which she was born but hadn’t really lived. In a word, that’d make it a witness.
“It was the summer of 2002. I was going through a trial in my life, or rather a series of serious and painful challenges,” she writes. “During that time I often thought of the Pope and of how he felt each morning, waking up to a day in which he might never, ever feel well.”
Nobody puts experience, conscience and intuition into words like Peggy Noonan. And yet this book is not a showcase of her best writing. In fact, at one point, she folds in a Wall Street Journal column that will remind her regular readers of the verbal gifts she has at her disposal. Here she seems slightly out of sorts. A little stilted, even. Maybe she felt overwhelmed trying to capture the essence of so immense and well-known a figure as John Paul II. There are also instances of theological and doctrinal imprecision that likewise ring as inconsistent with her oeuvre.
But make no mistake. Sister Peggy can preach. Hear her out and you’ll get the saving, sanctifying Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its one, holy, Catholic and apostolic fullness. If you could use the lift of a winsome Christian witness this first Lent without John Paul, you could do far worse than to spend a few hours with John Paul the Great.
David Pearson is the
Register’s features editor.
- March 26-April 1, 2006