A saint?

It started late last night when I was listening to the Office of Readings (divineoffice.org) for today and was surprised to learn that it was the feast of St. John Paul II.

I must admit that his canonization, from the time I first learned of it, had left me with considerable unease.

I did not dislike this popular Pope. I was neither one of his detractors nor one of his great fans.

My discomfort came from how quickly he was canonized, relative to the usual occurrence in the Catholic Church, and my fear that he was perhaps being pushed through simply because he had been so loved by the people he served.

While it is wonderful that he was so loved, that certainly does not make him or anyone else a saint. It seemed to me that a declaration of sainthood by the Church should be reserved for those whose lives demonstrated an exceptional level of sanctity.

The second reading in the Office was from John Paul II’s homily when he was inaugurated as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. I found the audio version presented on the website harsh to my ears – I am admittedly critical of both my own and others’ reading – so, as I often do, I decided to record the passage myself.

I find that recording a narrative causes me to enter into its substance more deeply. I am not just reading but trying to interpret, with tone and phrasing, the intended meaning so that the passage might be better understood.

As I did that with this particular excerpt, I found myself becoming strangely emotional, indeed, near tears, toward the latter part of it. The then new Pope prayed of Christ’s “sweet power” and prayed that he might be a servant of that power “that knows no dusk”. (Images of him with advanced Parkinson’s disease flashed through my mind.)

Then, his plea, “Do not be afraid…”

I realized as I read this that I really didn’t know this man. I had rather quickly slipped into an uneasy opinion about his sainthood while knowing very little about him.

How many of his sermons and encyclicals had I read? The answer would shame me.

In the Catholic Church, canonization requires the documentation of at least two miracles attributed to the intercession of the servant of God under consideration. The process for documenting the miracles is very stringent for this purpose. (At times, I have thought this process bordering on ridiculous. On the other hand, it does lead to a confidence that a miracle has truly occurred. Under these guidelines, an occurrence of healing cannot be explained by hysteria or some such.)

I realized as I was reflecting on this man’s life that I didn’t even know what the second miracle was that led to his canonization. (I knew the first one was a healing from Parkinson’s disease.) I just looked it up. Pretty amazing stuff.

Of course, all miracles are from God. And all saints are sinners whom God has saved.

I debated about whether to post this recording and reflection, not wanting to offend my Orthodox friends who don’t recognize the papacy. And not wanting to rouse the ire of any who hold the Pope responsible for the horrible sex scandal among some of our priests.

All of these things are complicated matters for which I have no answers. In the end, I decided to post, in hopes that the words that so moved my heart might move the hearts of others in our common journey toward Christ.

May God be merciful to us all and help us become true servants of His sweet power, the power that indeed, “knows no dusk”.


[Text] From the Homily of St. John Paul II, Pope, for the Inauguration of his Pontificate

Peter came to Rome! What else but obedience to the inspiration received from the Lord could have guided him and brought him to this city, the heart of the Empire? Perhaps the fisherman of Galilee did not want to come here. Perhaps he would have preferred to stay there, on the shores of Lake of Genesareth, with his boat and his nets. Yet guided by the Lord, obedient to his inspiration, he came here!

According to an ancient tradition, Peter tried to leave Rome during Nero’s persecution. However, the Lord intervened and came to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. “Quo vadis, Domine?” — “Where are you going, Lord?” And the Lord answered him at once: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.

He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter’s Son (as he was thought to be), the Son of the living God (as confessed by Peter), came to make us all “a kingdom of priests”.

The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that Christ’s mission as Priest, Prophet-Teacher and King continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission. Perhaps in the past the tiara, that triple crown, was placed on the Pope’s head in order to signify by that symbol the Lord’s plan for his Church, namely that all the hierarchical order of Christ’s Church, all “sacred power” exercised in the Church, is nothing other than service, service with a single purpose: to ensure that the whole People of God shares in this threefold mission of Christ and always remains under the power of the Lord; a power that has its source not in the powers of this world, but instead in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection.

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk. Make me a servant: indeed, the servant of your servants.

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind.

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “that which is in man”. He alone knows it.

So often today, man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

7 thoughts on “A saint?

  1. albert

    No worries about offending, Mary. He speaks his inspiration clearly and, I believe, sincerely. We’re all sinners, so any failures on his part should remind us of our own great need for forgiveness.

    I am less inspired by his message, which seems so general, even curiously out of touch in parts…for example, I never thought of myself–of all of us–as priests, prophet/teachers/kings. Those are power positions, separating-out roles: rather opposite to my understanding of Jesus’ chosen approach. But obviously the case for that three-fold vocation has been made by others over the years as well. He’s not making this up. . I simply have long had a hard time thinking that way. I know the meanings are spiritual, but still. I keep picturing persons I meet at church, or at the food outreach center, or at the care “facility” where my 97 year old mother in law barely lives–they would be puzzled, confused, if someone told them they are priests, prophets, etc. It’s just too theo-retical, or theo-logical for most people (I think). But don’t mind me–I think maybe I think too much.

    On the other hand, In case you want to celebrate with our current popular saint-pope, check out today’s post (10/23) at http://predmore.blogspot.com (My chief reaction at the end is probably predictable : It’s hard enough to stay upright with both feet on the ground!)

  2. mary Post author

    I understand what you’re saying, Al – or at least I think I do. That is why I wasn’t particularly moved by John Paul II’s words until the latter part of the excerpt.

    I do not particularly relate to the titles “priests, prophet/teachers/kings” either. We all have our notions of power and most of them are not positive. But he went on to say, “a power that has its source not in the powers of this world, but instead in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection”. Hmm…

    I became even more intrigued when he described the power of Christ as “the absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power”. This sounds different that any power I have encountered anywhere else.

    THEN he says, “It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth” and he prays to become a servant of that sweet power.

    When I think of Jesus and His power, it was indeed a “sweet power” expressed in charity and truth as He encountered each individual with love. Could we say that His healing of the sick and His forgiving of sins originated in anything but power? It is the ultimate in power – but a different power than the world knows.

    It is a priestly power, a prophetic power and it will ultimately rule over all other powers (thus, Kingly) – but these words too tend to have narrow associations for us.

    Yet I believe that it was this power, the power of the Resurrection, of the New Life of the Spirit given to His people, the Church, that John Paul II was speaking of when he said, “do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power”.

    I think we (or at least I) have sometimes been afraid to accept this power. It is quite possibly easier to not recognize this as something to which I am called. I am afraid to believe quite that much, to let His Spirit completely direct me and work through me, “to have no will of my own” (paraphrasing St. Porphyrios).

    It is this realization that brings me to tears as I read…

  3. Bowman Walton

    Somewhere, Mary, I have heard that StJP2 exhibited a sanctity in his long final illness that B16 recognized as heroic, and that, in his new role, he means to emulate.

    Prophet, Priest, and King are usually titles of the Risen Christ. StJP2 and others have also used them of the Body of Christ, in the sense that all in Him do share the gospel, pray for the world, and care for some piece of it.

    All leadership in Christ is spreading hope that Jesus enables the impossible to be accomplished. When StJP2 was speaking of power, he was thinking of confident hope.

    I like your blog.

  4. mary Post author

    Thank you for your comment, Bowman. Your thoughts give me more to consider.

    It would not surprise me at all if John Paul II had reached higher levels of sanctity than many of the public knew in his final days. Suffering, embraced in union with Christ, is perhaps the greatest path to holiness. The humble servant does not proclaim his sanctity but lives it quietly while carrying out what duties he can.

    You wrote: “When StJP2 was speaking of power, he was thinking of confident hope.” Perhaps that is true and you may know more than me about what his thoughts were at the time. However, I believe we are challenged to more than that. (Not that confident hope is a trifling thing…)

    One of my fears about the Church (in the broad sense, not just RC), is that too many of us may have come to content ourselves with thinking that the power of the risen Christ belonged only to Christ, His apostles and maybe a few exceptional saints along the way.

    It could not be meant for ME to ever say to someone “your sins are forgiven” or “stand up, pick up your mat and walk”. While we do not all receive the same gifts of the Spirit (for reasons known to God alone), I believe the Spirit that is given to us now is just as powerful as it was when given to the Apostles in the early Church.

    I believe we should indeed “open wide the doors for Christ”, so that He can act in us and through us. John Paul II tells us “Do not be afraid” for a reason – because so often we are.

    In our modern, secular world, this sort of “sweet power” is so often regarded as naive and miracles the delusions of the uneducated. May we not be afraid to truly believe in a greater Truth than the world can see.

  5. mary Post author

    Hi Rodger – thanks for commenting. I will check out your link later…

    The second “official” miracle that brought John Paul II to sainthood had to do with the cure of a Costa Rican woman who had an inoperable brain aneurysm. Her name is Floribeth Mora Diaz and she was told that her condition would eventually kill her. She was partially paralyzed and on pain medication. While lying in bed, clutching a front cover magazine photo of the former Pope, he appeared to her in a vision, called her by name and told her to go into the kitchen to see her husband. She did so and had a sense of being completely well. Many, of course, were skeptical. But part of the investigation had her come to Rome, pose as a tourist who had become ill while travelling and be examined at a hospital under a false name. She was found to be completely healthy. Her own neurosurgeon could give no medical explanation for her cure and said, “I can believe it was a miracle.”

    I am so often slow to believe. What else could this be but a miracle – the finger of God, working through one of his beloved laborers, for the health of one woman and the salvation of many?

  6. mary Post author

    I might also note that these two miracles are far from being the only ones attributed to JP2. I think sometimes when we say this it may sound there were only two, leading people to compare him negatively to saints known for their many miraculous intercessions.

    The RC Church requires that two miracles be very thoroughly researched (prior to canonization) which is a laborious process and it would not be practical to carry out such a “proof” for every one submitted. Thus, many others are likely just as real and true but not as carefully scrutinized from a medical perspective.

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