A foible common to movers and shakers, whether clerical or lay, is a penchant for checking the index of a newly published book to see whether their names appear – and how often. I suspect that George Weigel’s newest book will provoke a good deal of surreptitious peeking.
Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II recounts, in fascinating and insightful detail, the providential encounters that contributed to Weigel’s magisterial two-volume portrait of the Polish pontiff: Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning. Weigel details the many personal meetings he had with John Paul, as well as with his friends and collaborators, both in Poland and the Vatican. These lengthy and substantive encounters provided much of the rich material for his biography.
From the new book, one learns a good deal about John Paul II, particularly in the more intimate setting of shared meals. For John Paul reveled in conversation. As one collaborator remarked of him: “all conversation, all the time.”
But one also learns a great deal about the portrait painter himself. And one might confidently assert of Weigel as well: he too revels in all conversation all the time. His new book narrates countless conversations, not only with John Paul but also with many individuals who knew the future pope from his days as parish priest and university professor, through his lengthy and amazingly fruitful pontificate, to that final witness to hope: his very public suffering and death.
Weigel’s fine intellect and delight in friendship shine forth in this memoir. Even when disagreeing with those whom he interviews (as in the case of those who promoted Paul VI’s Ostpolitik – seeking accommodation with the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe), he shows deep respect for a shared humanity and its inevitable fragility.
Robert Imbelli, a Priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College. He is the author of Rekindling the Christic Imagination: Theological Meditations for the New Evangelization.