Reverential study of the late pontiff by Reagan hagiographer (and Hillary scourge) Noonan, blending solid theology with a few pages from Tiger Beat (“His face was—oh, his face!”).
Karol Wojtyla, who took the papal name John Paul II in 1978, was a man of contradictions; as onetime Reagan-Bush speechwriter Noonan (A Heart, A Cross, and a Flag, 2003, etc.) remarks, he was at once traditionalist and progressive, fluent in Latin but also delighted by e-mail and text-messaging. She is less quick to remark that the pope, to whom Lech Walesa gave the lion’s share of credit for bringing down communism, had little use for capitalism, either, or that he fiercely opposed the death penalty, beloved of Republicans—but no matter, for Noonan is more interested in celebrating the pontiff’s bravery and humanity, which are indisputable, than in examining his complexities at any length. Crediting him similarly with helping her through some dark-woods moments in a spiritual journey waylaid by such things as the quest for career and the benighted ’60s, Noonan gives much attention to signs and portents: a mystical document that, a thousand years ago, foretold the death of John Paul I; the tripartite message Mary delivered at Fatima; the odd fact that the mothers of Reagan, John Paul and Margaret Thatcher all worked as seamstresses. (She is worldly enough, however, many though her Vatican II–related qualms may be, to give Warren Zevon’s words proper philosophical weight.) Noonan’s homage to John Paul’s spirituality has transcendental and apolitical moments: Though she sidesteps the matter of women priests, she writes warmly of the pope’s dedication to the proposition that both genders are created equal and of his view—a surprise to many—that sex can be sacramental. She even gets in a few criticisms of the decidedly unholy sex scandals in the American church and of the “dumbing down” of precepts and rituals “on John Paul’s watch.”
A fan’s notes, mainly of interest to the right-listing faithful.