Friday, April 29, 2011

A Traditionalist on the Beatification of John Paul II

As I mentioned in my previous column, I have taken what amounts to a 5 year break from the Catholic commentariat. Even when I am back in the swing of things with my writing, it tends to be on stuff I’ve wanted to write about since my conversion 11 years ago, less about the matters of the day.

I return to those “matters of the day” with what is happening this weekend. On what is known as “Divine Mercy Sunday” the one who instituted that celebration will be beatified. He will become Blessed John Paul II. Amongst my traditionalist friends, this is not a day for celebration, but of concern if not mourning. While it seems so long ago, traditionalists have never been too fond of John Paul II’s pontificate.

It is not my intention to re-litigate this history. Suffice it to say, there are ample reasons you do not hear “John Paul the Great” spoken by traditionalists. Yet with that being said, I look forward to speaking of him as Blessed, and counting on his intercession.

Even as a traditionalist, I am part of the “JPII generation” though I refuse to call it that. Amongst my fellow youths, we celebrate the faith no more or less than the youths of any age. (Being realistic, very few of us Catholics in our twenties celebrate our faith, I mean actually live it.) What is different is that nowadays those faithful Catholics youths are no longer silent. We recognize that if we want the Church to maintain her Catholic identity, it is pointless to pray for deliverance and then just do nothing. Following the maxim of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we “pray as if it depends entirely on God, and then work as if it depends entirely on us.” Is it a stretch to say that the Pope of “World Youth Day” might have had something to do with this?

No doubt many instances at World Youth Days were filled with nonsense, and resembled a rock concert more than a Catholic event. Yet think of those ten or twenty people out of thousands who used that time to make pilgrimages and adoration, using that week as a time of deep prayer and reflection, and who actually listened to what the Pope said, that their time for activism in the Church was now. Just as they are the minority amongst young Catholics at large, so they were then. Yet John Paul II appealed to them more than anyone else.

If you would say before his election as Pontiff that younger Catholics would lead the charge in the culture of life, you would be laughed at. Thanks to the devastated vineyard following the Council, the “youth” were more apt to join communes and sing kumbaya than protest an abortion mill or organize thousands of 40 Days for Life events across the country. Yet the same Pope who wanted people serious about their faith inside the Church demanded they spread it outside the Church as well. Ever the good Thomist, the Pontiff refused to believe the Gospel and the world were truly separate, never to meet. Rather, the Gospel had to form the world, starting with the hearts of the individual.

His papacy was also a papacy of great ironies. The Charismatic movement before John Paul II wanted to liberate the Church “in the spirit” from the chains of rosaries, novenas and adoration. Whatever your beefs with them in the celebration of Mass, go see a charismatic community, and see a community vibrant in its Marian devotion and Eucharistic adoration. Yet the biggest irony was his suffering.

John Paul II was a man who stood down one of the most vile and evil regimes in history, and smiled at the gunmen who tried to assassinate him. Yet the world watched this larger than life figure literally whither away in the last few years of his life. One of the great orators of Popes ended his last public appearance softly pounding his fist against the podium as he was losing his power of speech. Slowly but surely he was losing every one of his gifts. Yet he used them as opportunities of grace. He showed the world the redemptive dignity of suffering.

This was not to say the man was perfect. No pope ever was. (Though now is not the time to go endlessly over those shortcomings.) The first and greatest pope was also home to some of the first and greatest screwups as Pope. Had the Father allowed Peter’s weakness to win out, we would be worshipping at separate altars from our Semitic brethren. Even some of the holiest of men have made not so great popes. Yet it is the holiness that matters. Nobody doubts his personal holiness, or his impact on the world at large.

Yet it cannot be denied that scores of Catholics awoke during his papacy from their slumber. The Church had not been overcome by the gates of hell, but a majority of its members were sleeping. Majorities still are, and probably always will. Yet there are a few who responded to his wakeup call. That is what he will be remembered for more than anything, he who reminded Catholics everywhere they were meant to be both Catholic and relevant.

With that I can confidently implore ora pro nobis.

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