I am moved to write of two very special events associated with our Pope, John Paul II.
The first is his 83rd birthday on the 18th of May. We all wish him the best on this wonderful occasion. The second is to congratulate him on the publication of his newest book, a collection of poems entitled A Roman Tryptych
We all knew that the pope was a poet who wrote as a young priest and a Cardinal. But that he would continue writing poetry to this day has been a great and wonderful surprise to all and just one of the many surprising things about this amazing man. This latest publication of poetry was inspired by a pilgrimage to his homeland in 2002.
The pope through his words wants to show us that there is no conflict between reason and faith, no inconsistency between the human mind and the Christian faith, and no contradiction between truth and beauty.
The book is comprised of three parts, like a beautiful medieval tryptych gracing an altar. One sees from the subtitle that these are poetic meditations taking the reader on a journey of mysticism and contemplation. Each one of the three parts has its own theme and subject matter.
The first part of A Roman Tryptych is entitled “The Stream.” “What do you think mountain stream . . . where will you and I meet? We who rush through. . . ”
Here the narrator contemplates the waters of a mountain stream, constantly flowing, and wandering from their source to their destination. The poet urges the reader to seek the source and destination of their own life by undertaking a journey to seek God. He reminds us that one must never be dissuaded or discouraged from the journey by any obstacle encountered along the way.
The second part of the Tryptych is entitled “Meditation at the threshold of the Sistine Chapel” Painted by the master, Michaelangelo, the frescoes on the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel depict biblical scenes from the creation of the world to the final judgment. The interior of the chapel is not only a place to contemplate civilization’s greatest art, but for John Paul II this chapel is the heart of the Vatican, where his papacy began, and the place that inspires his thoughts about what we must do in the time we have been given, from the day of creation to the final judgment. “You, who are everywhere and everything, show us the way — He shows us…”
The author describes the frescoes: depictions of the saved and the damned, A grieving Blessed Virgin Mother, God sitting in judgment. He does this with expertise and insight, but above all, through the eyes of a priest—poet, someone who knows about the processes of creation. The writing strikes a perfect balance between a declaration and the humble reflections of the artist creating his work. This part of the book explores the great mercy of God, His power and majesty.
The final segment of the Tryptych is entitled “In the Hills of Moria”. It tells the story of Abraham offering his son, Isaac to God . Here one finds thoughts on the subjects of sacrifice and devotion. The classical verses take on their own rhythms as the story unfolds.
In the pages of A Roman Tryptych, Pope John Paul II pursues themes he touched upon in writings from his youth. He has shown that religious poetry can be great, full of relevance and meaning for us today. One wants to reread this book many times for each time a nuance presents itself and new meanings are found. The substance surpasses form, a sign of great poetry.
In his book, John Paul II shows us how three great spiritual forces help us seek the truth: art, philosophy and religious faith.
Dr. Elzbieta Ulanowska