Been listening to the whole thing on the radio, following along with some of my favorite blogs. I must admit that, initially, I felt the whole process of canonization was moving a bit fast and bordering on something of populist hype to connect with heaven. I was skeptical of the move to wave the miracle quota, and felt strongly that Pope Pius XII was getting cheated out of his chances for sainthood for the simple reasons that he has been falsely accused of doing "nothing" to help the Jews during the Holocaust and that he was more reserved than some of his successors. Truth be told, he did everything in his power to help the Jews in a way that would not make things worse for everyone, and his reserve was only matched by a deep humility and commitment to his people.
But while I still believe that his cause for canonization should be brought back to the fore (along with Mary, Queen of Scots and King Henry VI, of course!), I have grown quite comfortable and happy with the concept of Pope John and Pope John Paul becoming saints. Taking the time to grasp the "logic" behind what may seem like mass hysteria makes it quite clear that these two new saints are not just "shoe-ins". Their lives were exemplary, their trials sustained, their triumphs enduring. Sure, they were imperfect like the rest of the human race and made their mistakes in public and private decisions. But, aside from the Blessed Mother, what saint has ever been perfect? They certainly never pretended to be.
As someone born during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, listening to his canonization and the outpouring of affection for him was moving. Hearing recordings of his homilies, his warm Polish accent touched a chord in my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I guess I realized how much, in an odd way, I missed him. Somewhere in the back of my mind, he has always been "the pope". He gave so many people hope and courage in the midst of troubled times throughout the world. His injunction "Be Not Afraid" inspired a young Hispanic musician who has no arms but plays the guitar with his feet to write a Spanish-language song for him by that title. He had played for him once before when he was alive, and played at his funeral.
Having Polish blood in my veins just adds to feeling of connectivity. Today, a reporter observed all the Polish flags held high in the Roman piazzas and queried, "Are there any Poles left in Poland?" It's so appropriate that they should be present for the canonization of one of their own, and on Divine Mercy Sunday of all days. St. Faustina, a humble Polish nun, seen as simple-minded and uneducated by worldly standards, became the great Apostle of Mercy through her mystical experiences which brought the world the Divine Mercy Chaplet Devotion. It was Pope John Paul II who designated the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. In more than a coincidence, he died on the eve before the feast in 2005.
As for Pope John XXIII, well, I'm Italian, too! And I wonder sometimes if his sense of humor and mind have the same cultural roots. He was, by all accounts, a cut-up in the best sort of way. One of my favorite anecdotes has to do with a very unflattering portrait that was painted of the pudgy pontiff. After it was unveiled, the pope went up to it and wrote something in the corner. People initially thought that it was his signature, but upon closer examination they realized it was a Bible verse. They looked it and discovered it came from the story of Christ walking on water: "Do not be afraid! It is I!"
Another anecdote reveals the moral strength of this pope, who some consider unduly liberal because he launched Vatican II, a good idea with a lot of good results and also a few ugly ones due to gremlins getting into the systems. Anyway, the story goes that a French diplomat and his wife were planning of visiting the Vatican. She came dressed in extremely inappropriate attire, including a very high mini-skirt. The pope took notice, picked up an apple, and handed it to the woman, who inquired in a puzzled tone, "What is this for, your Holiness?" "My dear," the pope replied sweetly, "Eve did not know she was sinning until she ate the apple."
With a generally buoyant attitude in the midst of all sorts of conflicts, he had a way of disarming cranky characters he came across. When an American diplomat with an anti-Catholic background approached the pope and grunted, "I'm a Baptist," the pope responded brightly, "And I'm John!" Also, when a lady in a crowd was heard to mutter, "He's so fat!", the pontiff replied, "Madam, the conclave is not a beauty contest." When asked how many people worked at the Vatican, he answered, "Oh, about half of them." He was also known for composing the ultimate short-and-sweet nighttime prayer: "God, it's your Church; I'm going to bed."
But both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were not just fuzzy feel-good characters. They both endured the horrors of WWII first hand and struggled to weave through the increasing threats posed by Communist regimes. Both did an amazing job of forwarding peace and freedom in the world, as well as making deeper movements towards ecumenical relations between Catholics and non-Catholics of every stripe. Pope John was influential in helping defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis which might have turned into a nuclear war. Pope John Paul, as we all know, was among the "Big Three" (American Pres. Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher being the other two) who helped bring down the Berlin Wall.
Pope John used Vatican II as a means of clearing out some of the stuffiness of Church practice and opening the doors to inter-religious dialogue, while Pope John Paul apologized for the past wrongs done by the Church and initiated the World Day of Prayer. While there may be some legitimate disagreements about all the connotations, the concept was certainly a positive. And how can we leave unmentioned his other great contribution to my generation, World Youth Day? And the way he came to be there with his children, even as his own illnesses were sapping him of all his former vigor? As it was said then, this pope taught us, as Christians, how to live and how to die.
All in all, the Church is blessed to have these exceptional men and pontiffs for saints. I am proud to be Catholic all the more because of their shining examples, and I look forward to hopefully meeting them both in Heaven someday. Until then:
Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II: We Love You! Pray For Us!
|John XXIII and John Paul II: Two Popes; Two Saints|