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From preliminary reviews, I expected this book (by George Weigel, a writer whose works and articles are must reading for me) to be a series of vignettes which highlighted stories the author witnessed (or heard about from others) during his eyewitness times with Pope John Paul II.  I also expected there to be lessons, if you will, in the hope that resulted from these stories as well as insights into John Paul’s character — what he valued, what “made him tick.”

This book, however, did not meet these expectations.  That does not mean I didn’t enjoy the book, but if you are desiring a book that does what the first paragraph above outlines, this book is not for you.

What Mr. Weigel does do is offer, really, his own “mini-autobiography” as it relates to how he came to know Pope John Paul II and how he ended up writing his biographies of the Pope (“Witness to Hope” and “The End and the Beginning”).  In this sense, he offers “autobiographical sketches” which show a fascinating and well-lived life.

The author assumes his readership is very familiar with Catholicism, Catholic history and the Catholic church which can make some of the reading something of a slog for Protestants such as myself.  However, ultimately, I gained a deeper understanding of the Catholic Church’s roots, its formation in the likeness of a nation, its bureaucratic shortcomings and, most enlightening, the contents of some historically important papal encyclicals.

Of the greatest importance, however, the book offers a penetrating look into what many Catholic Church leaders thought of the pope and the inner workings of the church itself, particularly since Vatican II.  It offers insights into John Paul’s thoughts on the relation of the gospel and religion to culture (it is foundational and without it culture decays and devolves) and the importance of objective truth (it is a necessary condition and understanding it/living by it essential to liberty), as well as what he viewed as challenges to be faced in the 21st century and how Christianity should prepare and offer answers.  We also see a John Paul who continually sought God, whose relationship to God formed the core of his being and informed his purpose and peace in this life and resulted in a historically impacting pontificate.

The engaged and perceptive reader will find insights, truths and wisdom on the importance and potential impact of the gospel in history — both epochally (with the fall of Communism being the prime example) and in individual lives.  And in finding these truths and their impacts, one finds indeed, a rich store of Lessons in Hope.

 

 

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