Introduction to the Polish language edition of
Remembrance of the Future
Remembrance of the Future
Words are inadequate to express my gratitude that this collection of selected essays is now to be published in the Polish language. That our beloved John Paul II was (and continues to be) my spiritual father, is one of several reasons why I feel, at a profound interior level, a deep kinship with Poland. Nearly forty years ago, when I was young and newly married, one of my closest friends was an older man named Bronislav Katanaksza, who had lived through some of the major trials of his generation. In the beginning he told my wife and I very little about himself, but as our friendship grew he began to reveal a number of things about his past, though he begged us to keep it secret. He died of old age ten years ago, and I know he would not now fault me for telling his story.
He had been a soldier in the Polish army when the Germans invaded, and with his company he retreated into the East where he was captured by the Soviet’s Red Army. As an assistant to an officer, he was included in a group of Polish officers who were taken farther into Soviet territory to be massacred at Katyn. At the time he told us about this, we had not heard the name before, and were surprised that an event of such enormous evil was either little known or not known at all by most people in the West.
Though he had lived in Canada many years, he was still afraid of being hunted and killed by the KGB. When we asked him why, he explained that he knew the truth about the massacre. The Soviets maintained that it was the Germans who had killed the officers, but this was not true, he said. The truth was that the Soviets had systematically executed the Polish officer class and tried to cover it up with disinformation, propaganda and silence. The executioners, Bronek told us, had been wearing German uniforms but they were all speaking Russian. One night, he was among a group of officers who were being taken to execution, but some of the guards were drunk and it was dark and thus he was able to run away into the forest. Though he was shot at, he was not wounded. Starving and without any idea of where he was, he moved through the forest for several days, trying to reconnect to the Polish army. Unfortunately, he was picked up by Red Army regulars and taken by train to a concentration camp deeper inside Russia. Instinctively he knew that he must not say a word about the Katyn massacre or his life would end immediately. He remained in prison until Stalin’s agreement to release Polish soldiers to help the Allied armies. Bronek and his companions walked from Russia to Persia, and from there to Palestine. He took part in the Polish assault on Monte Cassino. After the war he applied for immigration to Canada and lived there the rest of his life, quietly, humbly, unknown—a man full of enormous faith in Christ and the Mother of God, to whom he attributed his survival.
“God always leaves a witness!” he often said to us. “Always!”
There is much more that could be said about Bronek’s life, and about the lives of a number of Polish people I have known. Each of them has taught me much. Their courage, their extraordinary faith, their understanding of the long unfolding drama of the struggle between good and evil, is a powerful testimony to the greatness in men’s souls, sometimes latent, sometimes becoming visible when the human community is put to a radical test. Such people change our lives, they give us strength for our own small part in the human struggle. They open our eyes to the nature of the war in which we are all involved—the war that will continue until the end of time.
The astounding event of April 10th, 2010, was a reminder of the fragility of human life and the fragility of relationships between nations. The plane crash at Smolensk that claimed the lives of President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, and several key leaders of the Polish government, defies statistical probability, since they died only a few kilometers from Katyn. Moreover, their journey into Russia was for the express purpose of commemorating the massacres. It has been said in the world’s media that Poland has once again been “decapitated.” In a sense, this is so, because those who died were among the best and brightest of Poland’s elite. They had stood firm against the absorption-homogenization of their nation in the face of overwhelming opposition, particularly the agendas of the European Union, which has far exceeded the original vision of its founders and has sought relentlessly to create a continental super-state that sweeps aside the moral character of its member states. In one blow, much of the Polish policy that resisted both EU and Russian agendas was removed.
We are presently too close to these events to know if this “removal” will be a definitive one, or if the nation will rally according to the vision of its lost leadership. It may be that the long-range results of the tragedy, and the reasons behind the crash, will become fully known only by future historians or on Judgment Day itself. In the interim, Poland is a body that can never be reduced by such blows. Her character has been forged for more than a millennium by the Catholic faith and reinforced, mystically and in practice, by consecration to the Mother of God. Poland survives everything, at certain times with an enormous cost of sacrifice and heroism. With every blow she emerges stronger than ever—suffering as always, yet in a profound sense carrying the cross of her providential role in history. Is she called by God to “stick in the throat of the dragon” and inhibit, perhaps even defeat, the ancient enemy of mankind by the power of Christ within her? To a degree, she has already accomplished this in numerous ways, yet the unfolding of history is not yet complete. As the poet Cyprian Norwid once warned, “Humanity deprived of divinity betrays itself.” (Rzecz o wolnosci slowa, 1, III, n.564).
We must not underestimate the significance of the times in which we live. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla underlined the dangers in a talk he gave during his 1976 visit to the United States:
“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church . . . must take up.”
But we in the West have not been put to the test as you have. We have been asleep for far too long—anaesthetized, drugged by consumerism, blind to the truth that the beast which tried to destroy the soul of man in the east through brutal methods now strives through the vehicle of power and wealth in the west to bring about a more comprehensive negation of man’s worth and identity. Its tactics are subtler and more insidious than those of obvious tyrants, achieving its moribund successes not through a reign of fear but rather by the method of pleasurable seductions and plausible lies. Indeed this form of soft totalitarianism now seeks to spread its errors throughout the entire world. I am not here referring to Marxism or Capitalism or to any other sociopolitical, economic or philosophical template. I am speaking about the invisible spirit that impels the beast of Materialism in whatever form it manifests itself.
In this anthology of my essays and articles, I try to examine diverse aspects of the complex phenomenon that we might call the present war against mankind. The collection is drawn from a vast archaeological heap of written material that I have steadily added to throughout thirty years and more, little realizing to what extent it grew and grew with the passage of time. Thus, glancing backward with some surprise, I was hard-pressed to make a selection that would be representative of themes that are major concerns to me, and at the same time would offer a kind of biopsy of our times—a sampling of the fears and hopes and dilemmas that confront the present generation. The articles in this volume are, therefore, something of a random probe, and are, I would guess, a small fraction of what I have written since I first put pen to paper, and later applied two fingers to a keyboard.
I recall myself at the ripe old age of fourteen penning a twelve-page “novel” that I felt at the time to be a very fine piece of literature. Sadly, I was the only one who shared this opinion. But life humbled me, and the process continues, hopefully until death. Those Polish readers who are familiar with my name will identify me as a writer of fiction, for three of my novels will be published this year in Poland. Yet I do not think of myself as a writer in the usual sense, for in terms of vocation I am first and foremost a husband and father, and in my primary labours a painter of religious art. I am an accidental author, a compiler of badly-written early novelettes (thankfully unpublished), then an editor of a Catholic magazine, then an essayist for various journals, and finally a full-blown if somewhat hesitant novelist. Yet in the unfolding pattern of these “accidents” I have discovered that God’s universe is neither random chance nor determinist, but is providential. All the fragments of interest and impulse that are latent in a boy may become, with time and grace and discipline, a man’s focused work.
Just as the observation of facts has trained my eye for fiction, so too the creating of fiction has trained my eye for reflection on facts. The writing of a novel demands a certain selectivity, an imaginative rendering of the world in a form that attempts to make the dizzying complexities of life more intelligible. The novelist chooses from the rampant undergrowth of details that compose the texture of everyday life, that crowd our minds and can easily blur our vision, and therein he discovers the essential human drama, the Great Story. If he selects well, he enables his reader to see more clearly the shape of reality. By the same token, a writer of non-fiction who hopes to reflect accurately on the nature of his times must ask for supernatural light, the clarity of mind that is capable of “seeing the form” of his world as it is. When the temper of one’s times is highly charged with conflict, indeed exhibiting certain apocalyptic elements, the risks an analyst takes are high—the subject matter is volatile. But the risk must be taken, for if we do not remember the past we cannot possibly understand the present, nor will we understand that the future begins now.
It is my hope that the reader will derive from this book not so much a neat package of answers but rather a heightened sense of awareness and a number of urgent questions: Are we living in the decisive moment of history? How dire is our situation? Have we exaggerated, or have we underestimated, the seriousness of the present crises? Do we live in pessimistic dread, or conversely, facile optimism? Do we live with mind and heart and soul focused on the ultimate Real; that is, do we have the courage to look into the darkness of a perilous age and see there the coming victory of Christ?
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