1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

The Beatification of Pope John Paul II: A Personal Reflection

By May 1, 2011

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John Paul II attends a meeting with Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome, January 13, 2005, in Vatican City. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)The beatification of Pope John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday should have been a cause for universal rejoicing within the Catholic Church. If you spent any time over the past few weeks reading various liberal and traditionalist publications that regard themselves as Catholic, however, you know that some people viewed May 1, 2011, as the greatest betrayal of Christ and His mission since Judas sought an audience with the chief priests and elders. Of course, the two wings who each see themselves as the true voice of the faithful had entirely different reasons for decrying the Church's decision to raise John Paul II to the ranks of the blessed. But ecclesiastical politics, perhaps even more than its secular counterpart, makes for strange bedfellows.

Unlike some of my friends, I haven't been too concerned about the voices of dissent, left or right. The Church has survived far greater threats than the chirping sectaries of the blogosphere, and Someone once assured us that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Oddly enough, He said that to Saint Peter, not all that long before the first pope would deny him three times. I've always assumed that, even knowing how the story would end, Saint Peter spent the rest of his life regretting that act, and, in the kind of irony that is rarely found outside of the divine economy of salvation, the suffering occasioned by that regret united him more fully to the Man Whom he had betrayed. Only through the acceptance of our personal suffering—both that which is visited upon us through no fault of our own and, perhaps even more importantly, that which we bring on ourselves—can we truly unite ourselves to the suffering of Christ, dying to self and rising in Him.

Pope Benedict XVI, following Saint Paul and Saint Thomas Aquinas, has eloquently explored this mystery that lies at the heart of the Christian life, while Pope John Paul II both understood it implicitly and lived it, especially in the final years of his life when, as Pope Benedict said in his homily at the Beatification Mass, "the Lord gradually stripped him of everything." But all too many of those who opposed the beatification of Pope John Paul II, whether they style themselves liberal or progressive Catholics or traditionalist ones, seem to regard suffering with the same disdain as the revolutionaries of the modern world do. Suffering, for them, is not something to be borne patiently, much less something to be regarded as a gift that works toward our salvation. It is, rather, something to be despised, to be trampled down and overcome, through utopian political and economic reform (for those on the left) or restoration of an imaginary golden age of the Church (for the traditionalist right). In the liberal or progressive Catholic who has self-consciously embraced modernism, this attitude is not surprising; in the traditionalist, it serves as a reminder that we all too often become that which we most despise.

I was 10 years old when Karol Wojtyla was elected pope, and just shy of 37 when his earthly pilgrimage ended. A half-Pole, I remember a vague pride at his election that paled in comparison with my grandmother's love for the man. I saw relatives and friends who had fallen away from the Church return under his influence, and met others who became Catholic, at least in part, because they saw in him a man who, as Pope Benedict said, struggled to live "the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus." For me, that was never more clear than when he forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him and when he spoke with the voice of absolute moral clarity in 1990 against the Gulf War.

The latter action diminished him in the eyes of some of his Catholic admirers in the United States, who, in blithely dismissing his opposition to the war, proved themselves more "conservative" (read: "Republican") than Catholic. But by the mid-1990's, I, for different reasons, had found myself less enamored of John Paul II's pontificate (if not of the man personally). The mass gatherings that had seemed so full of joy and hope and the promise of renewal in the early years of his pontificate now seemed to me to be increasingly tired variations on the same theme (though I doubt that they ever seemed so to those who took part in them). The incremental changes he made in the hierarchy in the United States were too slow for my taste, and too many passages in his encyclicals reflected the style of the philosopher rather than the pastor. In those regards, I find myself much more at home today with Pope Benedict than I ever did with John Paul.

Shortly after the turn of the millennium, however, as it became clear that his earthly life was drawing to a close, I developed a renewed appreciation for John Paul II. His travels lessened, then ended; and the voice of the pastor returned as he reminded the world of the Catholic teaching on life: on abortion, on euthanasia, on a new war in Iraq. As his strength faded and others began to read his words for him at public gatherings, I saw in his eyes not the twinkle of the early years of his pontificate but the happy sadness of the suffering servant who, with Saint Paul, made up in himself "those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ . . . for his body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24).

The words of his dear friend Joseph Ratzinger, from the time of John Paul's funeral to his Beatification Mass, have made it clear that what I saw, and what anyone else who cared to see did see, was very real. Whatever the shortcomings of John Paul II's reign—and there were many—what will remain with me and with millions of others is his example of self-sacrifice and humble acceptance of suffering. I have never borne suffering well—just ask my wife what I am like when I have a cold—and my pride threatens constantly to destroy what little spiritual progress I may occasionally make.

Now, however, the intellectual conviction that faith entails suffering and requires humility has for me a very human face. The happy sadness of the eyes of Blessed Pope John Paul II, in those final months and weeks and days of his earthly life, say more to me than all of his encyclicals and homilies and other writings combined. Here in this vale of tears, they looked beyond to that world where every tear will be wiped away, where the sufferings that we daily unite to the sufferings of Christ, in faith and hope and love, will cease, when we see the object of our faith and hope and love face to face.

As John Paul II's successor, himself the successor of Peter, declared in his homily, "He gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man." If for no other reason than that, the beatification of Pope John Paul II should be a cause for universal rejoicing within the Catholic Church.

(John Paul II on January 13, 2005. Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

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May 1, 2011 at 11:41 pm
(1) Tom Piatak says:

An outstanding piece.

May 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm
(2) Marianne says:

What a splendid reflection! You really have a way with words and spiritual writing.

May 3, 2011 at 8:12 pm
(3) Patrick O’Malley says:

Catholics are so desperate. John Paul II was the pedophile priest’s pope. It’s disrespectful and disgusting to the 100,000+ children worldwide that were raped by their local priest.

If he was a good man, he would have stopped the world the first time heard about a child being raped by a priest, and would have investigated it. He would have gotten unlimited help for all of the children, even if it meant that his Catholic Corporation lost money. He would have shown the world that telling the truth, doing the right thing, and helping children was more important than money and big buildings.

Sadly, he didn’t, and more sadly, he taught Catholics that child rape really isn’t that big of a deal. He better bring some of those high priced Catholic lawyers to help him get into heaven.

May 4, 2011 at 4:59 am
(4) SLY says:

I think you need to be prayed for because I dont think you are normal.

May 5, 2011 at 11:14 am
(5) Mary42 says:

Patrick, can you pause and listen to yourself? I absolutely agree with Sly. You need a lot of prayers. Your anger, though to you is justified, is frightening. And what are your comments about fathers who abuse their 6 year old daughters and sodomize their 8 year old sons, yet they even have several mistresses? What would you say about brothers, uncles, teachers, all who abuse their child-relatives and children under their care? Not to mention the abuses in Orphanages and Children’s Homes?. Genuine statistics are there, Patrick. The percentage of child abuse in these categories is 99.99%. That is where you are needed to direct your pathological anger and provide some ways to handle the problem. The Catholic Church has taken decisive and very, very effective steps to deal with the fallen Priests phenomenon. The very strict vetting subjected to men seeking admission to our Seminaries have successfully locked out these perverts and brought to and end this menace in the Catholic Church for good. That is why no new abuse cases have cropped up for the last 10, 15 or 10 years. That is what Blessed Pope John Paul II mercifully did as the holy Shepherd of Christ’s sheep under the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Ironically, in your so-called civilized and advanced secular world – and through the Civil Societies – these people with disordered and abnormal sexual orientations are fighting through the Courts to be recognized as “Normal”. They are even demanding that their abnoxious co-habitations be recognized and accepted at “Marriages”.

May 8, 2011 at 6:17 am
(6) ada says:

My dear,in G0D please i advice you seek the help touch of the Holy Spirit in your life,and you shall know the truth and it shall set you free.

May 1, 2012 at 3:33 pm
(7) Vicky says:

Mary, just want to comment that statistically, the vast majority pedophiles are heterosexual, not gay or lesbian. Also, you seem to combine homosexual with pedophile, a grave error. You seem to be confused about that. Maybe you need to seek Jesus in prayer to see what’s in YOUR heart.

Bless you and may your prejudice be melted away by the Holy Spirit.

May 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm
(8) Scott P. Richert says:

Vicky, the vast majority of pedophilia cases in the Catholic Church in the United States between 1950 and 2002 were male on male. The technical term for such pedophilia is “homosexual pedophilia.”

Some priests who abused girls (technical term: “heterosexual pedophilia”) also abused boys, but most did not. Some priests who abused boys also abused girls, but the vast majority did not. There were clear dividing lines between the groups: Most of the abusers were homosexual pedophiles; most of those who engaged in homosexual pedophilia only abused boys; and those who engaged in homosexual pedophilia had, on average, far more verified cases of abuse than those who engaged in heterosexual pedophilia.

April 30, 2013 at 3:22 pm
(9) Tony Russo says:

The pedophilia problem in the Catholic Church was blown out of proportion by the anti-Catholic liberal, left wing media. A lot of scam artists came out from under the rocks and claimed they were abused. In most cases this was false, but the California parishes paid the law suits without questions. They took these scum at their word. I was never abused and no one I know was ever abused. Like I said it was a liberal media that made more out it than it was.

April 30, 2013 at 3:24 pm
(10) TG says:

Good piece, Scott. I have some of the same feelings you do about Pope John Paul II. I was a cafeteria Catholic when he was Pope and liked him. When I had my re-conversion and read about what happened to the church (how liberal it had become), I sort of blamed him but now I appreciate what he did. He was a Marian pope, he brought back devotions and he had Joseph Ratzinger at his side. He also gave us the Fraternity of St. Peter to keep the Latin mass. I give him a break on the child abuse thing because of his age and he also saw a communist in every corner. I read that at first he thought it was a communist plot since communist are known for infiltration. I agree with comments that child abuse happens mostly in the family.

April 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm
(11) Bob Rees says:

Scott this was an outstanding piece and the questions that arose from the Church and the pedophile priests are warranted, however, I as many believe that the liberal media, with the help of the freemasons blew this completely out of proportion.

As for the beatification of Blessed John Paul II, I can say that I was really taken aback when he didn’t fulfill the 3rd promise of our Lady at Fatima, consecrating Russia, at the same time as all of the Bishops of the world. Many will say that he did consecrate Russia which is not correct. Blessed John Paul consecrated the whole world, by himself, and not specifically Russia. If you find that what I’ve posted concerning the consecration of Russia, then please let me know the error of my thoughts.

May 1, 2013 at 1:56 am
(12) JACINTA GRACE Gitau says:

What an insightful piece! It gave me food for thhought.vthank you.

May 1, 2013 at 7:15 am
(13) Edie says:

What a wonderful article on our Blessed John Paul II! I was totally enamored of our gentle Pontiff, also. While not agreeing 100% on his views, I have enormous love and respect for him.
My only child, who was miraculously conceived during the Pontiff’s reign, is named for him. As a child attending Catholic school, my son was teased about being named “John Paul”, but he is immensely proud of his name and for the Pope our family loved.
Blessed John Paul II reigned over a period in the Catholic church in which there were many, many controversial subjects that had no precedent. Hindsight is 20/20 and I would ask those who denigrate him to imagine what they would have done in similar circumstances.

July 9, 2013 at 7:27 pm
(14) J.B. says:

Coming to a prep seminary in the 50s where I completed H.S. and left after having experienced sexual situations…What does a super naive kid do in in this case? I have forgiven and forgotten at least the shock of the initial occurrence …Who knew what males do together…My priest/psych. therapist helped me get thru it and I soon realized that when we first entered most of us were beginning puberty and didn’t have a clue…so we asked Father…couldn’t ask Dad…no way…Father didn’t know either and we learned together…..I’m talking about young ordained priests who were put in positions and didn’t have a clue…THOSE GUYS had snow white souls and we all went wrong…No one I know was or is a homosexual today. God Bless Pope John Paul The Great… Eric

July 9, 2013 at 7:43 pm
(15) Salvy says:

Scott, all your fine writings are much appreciated and this one really cuts through the heart.
Blessed John Paul did so much good for the world and there will always be crazy people like Patrick who hate the church and God.

July 9, 2013 at 9:16 pm
(16) Marian Howlett says:

Thankyou once again Scott on a wise perception of Pope JPII. It is so easy for us all to look back on ur history and see where we should have acted, what should have been done and now grieve for that lack in us at the time. A wise woman once told me not to judge the past on our present wisdom as tha is not fair to ourselves as we are and should be always growing. Yet we do this and strip away what is good in order to remember how we and others failed.
Pope JPII shone to me more and more as he aged and was the suffering servant and gave old age, sickness, a dignity. His life became a prayer more and more before our eyes and taught us also to embrace our life and embrace God. Life is sacred.
Let us thank God for the great life of JPII and may we strive to follow along the cobblestone path of our lives.

July 10, 2013 at 7:28 am
(17) Dorothea Kulak says:

What is the rush to canonize John Paul? He was clearly part of the cover up and protection of the pedophiles who shamed our church. This is a huge stain that cannot be removed by making him a saint. Do a full investigation and let the truth be told so we can move forward and the people will regain trust in the church. I feel it is more important to cleanse the church so the faithful will come back to the church to practice their faith.

July 10, 2013 at 9:17 am
(18) Salvy says:

Explain to us how Pope John Paul was clearly part of the coverup and protection of the homosexual pedophiles. I think you’re a complete and total liar and internet troll and fraud who’s here to undermine and destroy the church which you and you’re stupid friends will never do.

July 12, 2013 at 6:58 am
(19) Nathaniel M Chikunda says:

Firstly let me thank Scott for a splendid piece of work that you always do standing shoulder high to defend our faith, of what we believe in. The Catholic Faith will never be destroyed by those who stand to character assassinate JPII actions, his soul will live forever, as he strived to serve the Lord with his heart and with honor. Humility, respect, simplicity, very forgiving and with integrity you did what I admire POPE.

July 26, 2013 at 6:49 am
(20) Joan says:

Pope John Paul II will always with us whatever happened, Guide, cared and love most all of us all the time. Be blessed unto yourself so that you will understand a person’s life. Blessed in the way that you put God above all. The essence of being with God is like a Blessed individual. Thank you so much my beloved Pope, I know you are the one who guide me most of the time from the onset until now, visible it or not.

July 26, 2013 at 6:53 am
(21) Joan says:

Pope John Paul II will always with us whatever happened, Guide, cared and love most all of us all the time. Be blessed unto yourself so that you will understand a person’s life. Blessed in the way that you put God above all. The essence of being with God is like a Blessed individual. Thank you so much my beloved Pope, I know you are the one who guide me most of the time from the onset until now, visible it or not. Pope John Paul II will always a Blessed among us.

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