There are two things that can safely be said about the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II. One, that here was a man steeped in the love of God and love for the Church, which he governed for 27 years with wisdom and courage. Two, that his many years spent as Vicar of Christ were similarly steeped in a great deal of paper.

The result, of course, has been a body of writings as profound and beautiful (and voluminous) as anything we’ve seen since maybe the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great. As some wit once said, if Christ gave us the Sermon on the Mount, it was St. John Paul II who gave us the mount of sermons.

And they are all worth reading. But here’s something to which I find myself returning again and again, particularly as we draw close to the actual events of Holy Week. It is a brief passage, only 50 or so words — but words that are absolutely riveting, carrying us straight to the heart of faith. They appear in a most unusual book called Crossing the Threshold of Hope, which was published in 1994, a little more than 10 years before John Paul II’s death.

It is a unique work, perhaps unprecedented in the annals of papal literature, in which a pope answers questions put to him by a journalist, Italian writer Vittorio Messori who, as it happens, conducted an earlier interview with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, which became the famous Ratzinger Report. (I was a student in Rome at the time and vividly remember when this work hit the bookstores.)

In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, in a chapter entitled “Why Does God Tolerate Suffering?” Messori asks the pope to respond. Here is his answer:

God is always on the side of the suffering. …The fact that he stayed on the Cross until the end, the fact that on the Cross he could say, as do all who suffer: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34), has remained in human history the strongest argument. If the agony on the Cross had not happened, the truth that God is love would have been unfounded” (emphasis in original).

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