Today is the anniversary of the death of a Polish poet named Cyprian Kamil Norwid.
Unfortunately, Janusz Korczak was right when he said, “The world is deaf to the names of many great Poles.”
I first learned about Norwid through reading texts and addresses by John Paul II since the pope quoted him often. Then, when I moved to Lublin, I found more traces of Norwid – from schools bearing his name, to collections of his works in bookstores, to the statue of him on the university campus.
It was during an address in 2001 that Pope John Paul II told representatives of the Institute of Polish National Patrimony: “I honestly wanted to offer my personal debt of gratitude to the poet, with whose work I have been bound by a deep spiritual kinship since my secondary school years.”
He went on to acknowledge that, “Norwid’s poetry was born from the travail of his difficult life.”
Later in the same address, John Paul II said that Norwid’s description of Blessed Pius IX is “among the finest testimonies that a man can give another.”
What was this testimony?
In an 1884 letter to Jan Skrzynecki, Cyprian Kamil Norwid said, “[Pius IX] is a great man of the 19th century. He knows how to suffer.”
Therein consisted his greatness, according to both the pope and the poet – that a man knew how to suffer.
A quick look at the last years and death of Pius IX reveals that he suffered infections, open sores on his legs, the inability to walk, bronchitis, a fall, a seizure, and a heart attack.
Reportedly, when so many people were praying for his recovery, he jokingly told a cardinal, “Why do you want to stop me from going to heaven?”
At the beatification mass, John Paul II said of Pius IX that “it was precisely in these conflicts that the light of his virtues shone most brightly: these prolonged sufferings tempered his trust in divine Providence, whose sovereign lordship over human events he never doubted.”
Have we ever before reflected on how it might be among the finest testimonies that someone can give another to say of a person that he or she knows how to suffer?
Cyprian Kamil Norwid invites us to contemplate this peculiar greatness which John Paul II called Norwid’s science of the cross.