Father and fearless prophet
Fr Jan Pach, OSPPE
There were such situations that the Church lost against the governments. And we can still lose against this or that government, this or that party, this or that state but we must not lose against the Nation.
Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski
It has been 30 years since Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, the Primate of the Millennium, passed away to live a full life before God. In August 2011 we recollect the Primate of the Millennium on the occasion of his 110th birthday.
This Moses of the communist times, who led Poles out of the slavery of degradation and lies of the Soviet ideology, did not see the promised land although he saw it in hope, looking at his great disciple and friend, Polish Joshua of the turn of the 20th and the 21st centuries - John Paul II. I was lucky to see that joy of Poland's Primate at the Jasna Gora Summit in 1979 when he looked at the Polish Pope with peace, pride and satisfaction. The Primate saw saved and restored Poland in the Pope's open arms and great heart. Then he could call after the holy old man Simeon, 'Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace…' (cf. Luke 2:29).
He led Poland through red communism
When he was passing away he was convinced that some sowed and others gathered. The Primate could see the birth of 'Solidarity' but he did not experience the war against the nation during the marshal law in 1981. That year was very painful for us. Firstly, there was an attempt on John Paul II on 13 May. On 28 May, the nation's father Cardinal Wyszynski died and it was him that led Poland through the sea of red communism whereas on 13 December General Jaruzelski imposed marshal law. John Paul II gathered these sufferings in prayer and offered it at the feet of Our Lady of Jasna Gora so that she changed those painful experiences into good. The breath of wind of 'Solidarity' tore the chains of communism apart; it caused the Berlin Wall to fall and it began the liberation of hearts, which has always been a hard ploughing in the fallow land of harmed consciences. 30 years has passed from the painful experiences of 1981 and we can see how difficult it is for us to use this freedom that these two great Poles: Blessed John Paul II and the Servant of God Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski brought about.
Recently we have asked what has been left in our hearts from the legacy of Blessed John Paul II, trying to evoke the enthusiasm we had during our meetings with the Polish Pope. After his beatification our relations with John Paul the Great may be a little more vivid but we are still far from living his legacy. We may also pose too few questions: what is left from the legacy of the humble helmsman, the Primate of the Millennium, thanks to whom we were saved from the flood of communism and political slavery as well as from liberalism in the Polish Church. Sometimes one may have the sad impression that the Primate has already been forgotten. Today Poland needs conversion to the ways of the Millennium Primate who was a fearless defender of all that was Polish, what was ours; who was a defender of our roots. He defended the tradition. He could draw from it and give tone to it but he was also a courageous inspirer of many pastoral and social initiatives, which not all people liked. Whatever can be said about his initiatives, such as the Great Novena before the millennial anniversary of Christianity in Poland, the great and continuous visitation of the Polish parishes by the copy of the Miraculous Picture of Jasna Gora, the Social Crusade of Love, the work of the Helpers of Mary, Mother of the Church, Counciliar Vigils, it should be stated that after years one can see blessed fruits. Today the lack of fruit is caused by the fact that many initiatives of Primate Wyszynski have been given up and removed. And he was a prudent shepherd who undertook all initiatives on his knees and not only during purely intellectual meetings.
The Primate of the Millennium was a reasonable householder of the Church who could draw old and new things from the treasury of the Polish land. He was a vivid shepherd and helmsman who felt the pulse of faith of his ecclesiastical community and was not afraid of going against wide-spread views or opinions of 'progressive Catholics' from the circle of 'Tygodnik Powszechny,' 'Znak,' 'Wiez' or the PAX group, controlled by the communists. He also watched reasonably the wave of shouts concerning the revaluation of the Polish piety, moving the accents from mass piety to 'elite piety.' The above-mentioned environments had the view that 'mass character of religious experiences will disturb their quality' and therefore, they did not support the Primate's initiatives from the period of the Great Novena and until today they have not given providential support for the work of the visitation of the copy of the Miraculous Picture; they did not support the Counciliar Acts of Goodness and the Counciliar Vigils at Jasna Gora. These works were criticised in Poland and during the Second Vatican Council the above-mentioned environments organised severely critical activities against the Primate and against the Polish Marian piety. Cardinal Wyszynski looked at those attacks quietly. He did not pretend that they did not exist, and he unmasked some environments. He summarised the Roman scribble of the so-called progressive Polish Catholics only with one statement: it was written 'in poor Warsaw slang.' The Primate was a steadfast prince of the Church. He was unshaken in his obedience to God and the Polish reason of state. He listened to God's inspirations that came first of all when he prayed. He was a man of great prayer, which we could see when he came to Jasna Gora. He sought to have time for prayer, to talk to the Mother of God although he did it with discretion. Sometimes one could have the impression that he as if was hiding his prayer desiring to be in his own room to talk to Mary and Jesus. We watched him abiding in prayer in our religious chapel, the chapel of the Pauline Order, like we watched John Paul II praying. What they had in common was the limitless trust and dedication to God and the Most Holy Virgin. It was the main power of the effectiveness of their pastoral ministries.
Mary in the history of the nation
The Primate of the Millennium had God's courage and immense confidence in the Mother of God who he saw really present in the Sign of the Jasna Gora Icon in our history. He was a humble pilgrim to Jasna Gora and he always had the courage to admit mistakes but he had an unshaken certainty of the Jasna Gora way. He spoke about his Jasna Gora 'conversion' when he left the Jasna Gora way after his first Mass celebrated at Jasna Gora. Then the new light, new signs showed him that only on that way one could save something of Poland. He was always faithful to that way and he led the Church in Poland on this path. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his priesthood he said at Jasna Gora on 5 August 1974, 'I can say that I would desire to do many things in my life differently to avoid many mistakes and many weaknesses. But it seems to me that whatever I would say about my life, however I would admit my mistakes I have not made any mistakes only in this section: on my spiritual way to Jasna Gora. I regard this way as the best part that God let me choose. I wish it would never be taken away from me.'
Jasna Gora way
The specific Jasna Gora 'conversion' of Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, as he himself described his abiding in the Jasna Gora paths, became a precious property of the Church in Poland. Thanks to his adherence to Mary and thanks to our confidence to the Primate who never bowed to the communists, who did not offer the things of God on the altars of the emperor, who did not tolerate novelties in the Church but appealed to remain faithful to the cross, the Gospel and the Polish tradition. The Church in Poland remained faithful to God and delivered the nation from slavery. The lamp on this way was Jasna Gora and Mary, the Queen and Mother of Poles present in the sign of the Miraculous Icon.
When the Primate of the Millennium passed away we began departing from Jasna Gora slowly, leaving the Jasna Gora paths, which John Paul II could not understand, and now we are experiencing the sad fruit of that behaviour, many a time in a very concrete way. One can hear that we have forgotten the wise words of Primate Wyszynski and that this touchiness to the so-called excessive Marian character of the Polish Church yielded the fruit of sad regional divisions of the Church. The paths leading to Jasna Gora have not been covered with grass yet but sometimes they have been littered with the fashion of piety without Mary, without the Jasna Gora lights. That's why John Paul II kept encouraging us to return to the proven paths of Jasna Gora. Has his request found good soil and adequate answer?
At the end of my reflection I want to quote the words of John Paul II directed to the Polish bishops who came to Rome with 'ad limina apostolorum' visit in January 1993. Then the Pope said, 'This sign of Mary, Poland's Queen, Our Lady of Jasna Gora, has been interpreted anew: We know the significance of this picture for us […], what it became in our struggles for the nation's soul. […] I think that this sign is meaningful for the future, too. Mary is the Queen of the Polish Crown. Mary is the Queen of the Polish matters, Polish efforts, Polish sufferings and Polish victories. […] The past experiences teach us in whom we should seek support, who is the biggest ally of the Church and the nation. The relationship between the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, the Queen of Poland, and the Church and nation in Poland is a kind of covenant.'
The Servant of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski must have been glad to hear this encouragement directed to the Church in Poland. Today he would have supported the words of John Paul II with great gratitude. The Great Primate of the Millennium was constantly on the way to Jasna Gora, like John Paul II, and he abided in prayer at the feet of the Queen of Poland. One should keep pace with him; one should listen to his wise words and discern the signs of the Polish victories thanks to his kneeling on the Jasna Gora way of dedication to Mary. One should listen to prophets to live the Gospel of freedom in the Polish land.