In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries

By Pope St John Paul II, William Collins, £25

As many will remember, John Paul II’s longtime secretary and confidant, Stanisław Dziwisz, did not burn the “personal notes” left by the late pope, as John Paul had instructed in his will. Rather, Dziwisz, who was named Archbishop of Kraków in 2005 and created cardinal in 2006, saved them because, as he writes in the preface, “they contain significant information about [John Paul’s] life” and “are a key to understanding … his relationship to God, to other men, and to himself.” Dziwisz’s decision was an act of filial piety, even if it was also something of a filial rebellion.

The English publisher would have done well – and the public would have been better served – if the English title of the book had adhered more closely to the Polish original, in which case the book’s title would have been I Am Very Much in God’s Hands: Personal Notes 1962-2003.

The slightly bowdlerised new title is thus somewhat misleading: these are not “diaries” in the sense that John XXIII’s posthumously published Journal of a Soul was a diary – the narrative, over time, of an interior life.

Rather, what John Paul left were just what he said in his will that he had left: “personal notes” – sometimes just fragments of sentences, in which he recorded either key points that particularly struck him on spiritual retreats he made over the course of four decades, or his own reflections on what a retreat-master had said. So anyone buying this book on the assumption that it is similar to Journal of a Soul is likely to be disappointed.

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