Thursday, February 9, 2012
Papal Profile: Pope John Paul II
Throughout his years on the Throne of St Peter John Paul II won admirers and critics by his efforts to make the Church comprehensible to the post-Christian west while not compromising on traditional beliefs. He traveled more than any other Pope in history and spoke out against such evils as communism, abortion, human cloning and divorce. Even when his health began to deteriorate in his later years, the Pontiff did not slow his busy schedule and continued to keep a well-defined policy on spiritual and social matters. His visits were many and his writings voluminous. From immigration to sexuality, collectivism to capitalism it seemed that, under John Paul II, the Church had a position on every issue. Over time, this did have drawbacks since, when flaws and scandals appeared in the Church itself, it seemed so much more outrageous to people on the outside given how free the Vatican had been in issuing instructions concerning every imaginable topic others faced.
To be sure, there were many problems during the reign of John Paul II. His critics, both liberal and conservative, can each point to mistakes. However, because of when he reigned and for how long he reigned it cannot be denied that he was a colossal historical figure who touched more lives than probably any other Bishop of Rome of before him. He also reigned during a very difficult period, particularly after the advent of the internet and other such technologies which allowed for an outpouring of views being made public with millions, even billions, around the world seeing fit to sit in judgment of the Pope and making their verdicts known to the world. That the leftist, secular, atheistic types of the world criticized him should come as no surprise. Any Christian who earns their condemnation should wear it as a badge of honor. More painful though is the criticism of those from the opposite end of the spectrum, those who are (or who say they are) Catholics who deign to pass judgment on the Supreme Pontiff and condemn him as being insufficiently Catholic or even worse. In many instances it is this criticism that cuts deepest because many of those leveling it (not all certainly but many) are often quite upstanding individuals and exemplary Catholics in every way, save perhaps submission and obedience to the Pope. Because so much of this controversy surrounds John Paul II, it is worth addressing.
Let me be clear that I think the modernist crisis is real and those behind it are willingly doing evil, however, I also think that there are some good-intentioned people who have taken courses I would disagree with but who are trying to keep the Catholic Church and Christianity in play and not be shrugged off as a relic of a bygone age unworthy of the slightest consideration. I also think that, in the case of Pope John Paul II, some clerics simply did not and do not think as much about liturgy, pomp and ceremony as some of us do. I have noticed this before in clerics of the World War II generation. These men lived through World War II and experienced horrific suffering and witnessed even worse. Surely, such events cannot but influence people and shape their views on what is and is not most important in life. For priests like Pope John Paul II who lived through so much oppression, fear, persecution and horrific slaughter, it is not hard to imagine that arguments over vestments, candles and language did not rank very high on their list of priorities, though all are important, certainly to those who revere “traditional” Christianity.
Pope John Paul II was not the most traditional pope in history but he was certainly no modernist and reigned during a very, very difficult time in which the Church was under attack by a revolutionary culture while the Church no longer had the strength to engage in a sort of hostile stand-off as in days gone by. I don't think any of us can fathom the immense weight of the responsibility on the shoulders of a pope and I wish that all Catholics (and Christians of any variety) would be a little more humble and not so quick to be critical of those with the responsibility to be shepherds. All of us, after all, can only do our best and while I would not agree with everything done or said by Pope John Paul II, I have no doubt that he was doing his best as well.