A Review by John McConnell of the book by His Holiness John Paul II : “Crossing the Threshold of Hope.” Comments about the subject.

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF HOPE, by Pope John Paul II, is a warm, intimate and important work. I believe that it provides a profound understanding of the state of the world and a vision of a better future in the coming new millennium.

The format of the book is interesting: A series of questions by a journalist, Vittorio Messori, with a response by Pope John Paul II.

In the book the Pope deals with spiritual and metaphysical mysteries in a way that can encourage cooperation among people of different religions, without compromising items in their creeds where they differ. These thoughts can inspire and encourage the effort needed to provide responsible care of our planet and fair benefits for all people.

To the first question, “Have you ever once hesitated in your belief in your relationship with Jesus Christ and therefore with God?” His Holiness replies with a powerful statement about the angel’s words to Mary, “Be not afraid.” This reply relates to the question, but does not answer it. At the end of the chapter (p 14), Pope John Paul II looks at the fear in Mr. Messori and follows with a statement that addresses this fear. But he still does not answer the question – which was about his personal belief.

The next two chapters are an inspiring dissertation on prayer and the meaning Jesus gave to it.

In “Does God Exist” on page 30 referring to man, “…he is weak and sinful, he often does what he detests and not what he desires.” This reminded me that beneath our selfishness there is ever a desire for God’s grace and love. When we discover the love of Christ, He reveals our “soul’s sincere desire” and the means to obtain it.

At the end of this chapter, which provides convincing evidence that God exists, and a purpose for human existence, the following thought occurred to me: Reason demands a self-conscious, wise, loving Creator. We now know, from what our best scientists tell us, that chaos cannot produce order, and that love is the greatest wisdom. The intelligence that is evident in the chaos of the cosmos, causing life, love, meaning and beauty here on Earth, can now be accepted by all. Differences today are about life after death and life’s ultimate purpose.

The question is asked, “If God Exists Why Is He Hiding? Wouldn’t it be simpler if His existence were evident? (p 37) The answer His Holiness provides is that God revealed who He was through the words and works of Jesus Christ.

My own thoughts are: Love cannot be forced, it must be won. The surprise of love and the wonder it brings is only possible because in His “Game of Love,” God withholds His identity. Independent and free, we learn by experience the nature of good and evil, and that selfishness is sin and its awful results. On the cross Christ suffered hate at its worst and revealed love at its best. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The sacrifice of Christ then wins our love and removes sin’s guilty stain. The miracle is how Christ’s presence seems unique and personal to millions of followers. Would not His physical presence on Earth eliminate this?

God’s Game of Love may be preparing us for participation with Him in His continuing creation. Our experience of His love and wisdom will then enable us to convert chaos in the cosmos into beauty and harmony, to join with God in His ongoing creation.

In the chapters on the different religions, His Holiness states that “…the Church remains always open to dialogue and cooperation.” (p 94) It seems to me that in the matter of religious violence the difficulty would be eliminated if it were acknowledged that the beliefs on which we differ are hypotheses – not proven facts. Such beliefs, though unproved, may help us relate to the unknowable. But we should respect those with a different belief or hypothesis about the mysteries of life: especially if their conduct reflects the values we share – justice, responsibility, altruism and the Golden Rule.

In regard to Judaism (p 95), the belief held by many Jews and Christians that the Jews today are a “Chosen People” is a major cause of anti-Semitism. In the Bible the Jews are only a part of Israel. Today, the seed of Israel extends far beyond those who are Jewish. In addition, intermarriage and conversion to Judaism through the centuries have resulted in many “Jews” who are not the offspring of Abraham.

The New Testament teaches that God has made of one blood all people (we are one human family) and all can obtain the blessings promised Abraham as his adopted children. Should the DNA from the bones of Abraham or his immediate descendants be obtained, it would be interesting to see which People today carry them.

In regard to the “New Evangelization” (p 105), the mysteries of God’s love, which in my mind were best revealed through Jesus Christ, undoubtedly are at work through other means as well as the Christian Church. The wonder of His words and grace are manifest in many places where people do not connect their experience with His name.

In the chapter, “Why Divided?” His Holiness says, “The time must come for the love that unites us to be manifested!” Again, my thoughts are that unity in diversity is achieved by a strong shared vision of a great goal. At present, a great goal that Christians (or anyone) can affirm is the rejuvenation of Earth. An all-out effort for this objective will bring harmony with neighbor and nature: the rule and reign of God’s love and grace on our planet. To do this everyone needs to assume a new identity – be and act as Trustees of Earth. They may act differently in details, but will share this new identity and goal. This is so much in keeping with the words and vision of Christ that Christians should take the lead in making it happen.

This conviction has grown since I attended the Pacem En Terris meeting in New York. At that time, we used the voice of Pope Paul VI in a MINUTE FOR PEACE radio broadcast that circled the globe. This was taken from his address at the United Nations (1965) where he said, “Never again war.”

In regard to “Does Eternal Life Exist?” (p 178) I will take David’s advice. “I will not exercise myself in things to high for me.” (Ps 131:1) It would be easier for an ant to understand Einstein than for a man to understand the ultimate mysteries of the Cosmos. I can imagine a thousand years. But I cannot imagine a trillion years or a memory that would give meaning to a life that long. And that would only be a beginning of eternity!

To me, the strongest argument for life after death is the record of the people who have done the most for this life. Throughout history they have been the ones who had a firm belief in a future life. To do the best with what we do know can best prepare us for what we don’t know.

In “What is the Use of Believing,” on page 191, “If man is admonished by his conscience – even if an erroneous conscience, but one whose voice appears to him as unquestionably true – he must always listen to it.” I once heard the Archbishop of Canterbury say, “Your conscience may be misinformed. Nevertheless, always obey your conscience.”

His Holiness goes on to say something which could greatly diminish squabbling and sectarianism. “In fact, those who through no fault of their own are not aware of the Gospel of Christ and the Church, but who nonetheless search sincerely for God, and with the help of grace attempt to carry out His will, known through the dictates of their conscience – they too can attain eternal salvation. Nor will Divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who have not yet arrived at a clear knowledge and recognition of God, and who attempt, not without divine grace, to conduct a good life.” (p 193) This helps us deal with partisan views.

For those who discover Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life,” why not give first importance to the words He spoke: His promises and commandments. Most Christians do not know that He gave 147 commandments – recorded in the Gospels. Those commandments of Jesus can be listed under 21 subjects, with exactly seven commandments under each subject. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) In the Sermon on the Mount He said, “He that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them is like a wise man which built his house upon a rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

On the subject of Human Rights (p 196) the statement is made “…we can find in the Gospel a consistent declaration of all human rights…” Freedom is our right – as long as it is balanced by a sense of responsibility.

The Psalms say, “The Earth hath he given to the children of men.” (Psalms 115:16) Since God dispenses equal justice, every person has an equal claim to Earth’s unimproved land, oil and minerals. Efforts to provide the disinherited poor their stake in the planet would demonstrate respect for human rights.

Also, restructure of money and credit systems could provide fair returns for honest services and help eliminate poverty on our planet. Something to think about: Jesus advocated no-interest loans, (Luke 6;35) and the Old Testament forbade usury (interest).

“The Defense of Every Life” (p 204) is a strong eloquent statement that makes the case for “RIGHT TO LIFE.” It should be added and emphasized that education is better than confrontation.

A major media blitz with TV stories showing the dramatic advantage of Christian values in marriage, sex and education of children – along with methods of reducing population growth by natural family planning and its reverence for life would turn the tide.

The chapter on “The Mother of God” mentions shrines and in the next chapter there is reference to Lourdes and Fatima. I wish there had been some response to the questions people have about messages and apparitions of the Virgin Mary. This could lead to the question of metaphysical and psychic phenomena in all cultures through the centuries, and the importance of understanding our dreams.

As I finished this book about hope I thought of my efforts back in 1957 (right after the first Sputnik) to promote the launching of a Star of Hope satellite – a bright visible satellite to be launched as a global symbol of peace and good will. At that time I use the letters in the word HOPE to provide a message: Help Our Planet Earth and Help Other People Everywhere. And now the Pope says, “Let’s make Heaven Our Peace Eternally.

But first, Your Holiness, by the grace of God let’s establish Peace On Planet Earth.

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