John Paul the Great

by Daniel Murphy on April 3, 2005

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Barb Nicolosi doesn’t think so. She wrote yesterday on her blog: “Feels really weird tonight. A little scary – which doesn’t make sense to me, because I wasn’t one of those who thought John Paul II was ‘The Great.’ I thought he was very, very loving and holy, and very devoted to Jesus and Mary, but it’s hard to imagine the Church being in a worse state than it is in these days. The pundits are calling him ‘the People’s Pope.’ I think he was clearly a better Pope for/of the world’s people than he was of the Catholic Church’s people. “

I usually like Barb’s blog, and frequently agree with her vehemently, but occasionally she rubs me the wrong way, and this is one of those occasions. (For the record, the last time was a few weeks ago, when she seemed to concur with Touchstone magazine’s agonizing over whether Touchstone should stoop to do movie reviews, and seemed to land on the Nix-it side because of the potential, shall we say, “contamination” factor–a back-to-the-ghetto reaction to the Culture of Death that turns turns up in Christian circles from time to time, and never fails to depress me.)

As for our current situation, a wise priest, deeply concerned over some of the nonsense going on in the American Church after Vatican II (post hoc, not propter hoc), commented to me some twenty years ago that it usually takes several hundred years for the Church to fully absorb and incorporate the move of the Spirit after a major Ecumenical Council. It is my own firm belief that because of John Paul II, John Paul the Great, this difficult process, which Cardinal Newman once described as the Development of Doctrine, will take a century or two less. This is the man, after all, who taught us cynical postmoderns, almost worn out from battling the many gruesome “isms” of the calamitous twentieth century, the concept of the Dignity of the Human Person, made in the Image of God; the theology of the body; the Sanctity of human life; who pointed to a Third Way beyond Communisim and Capitalism; who gave us the great feast of the Divine Mercy. If there is a beginning in this country of a turning away from the all-grasping, all-encroaching Culture of Death, and I for one am beginning to hope that there is, much of the credit, as with the fall of Communism, will ultimately prove due to the papacy of John Paul II.

I heard this afternoon on EWTN that just before the holy father died, Mass was said in his room. It was the Mass of the Divine Mercy, so meaningful to this pope who had seen the merciless ravages of Nazism and Communism, and faced down threats which we comfortable Americans can barely imagine. To in any way suggest that the sorry state of the fat-and-sassy American Church is due to Karol Wotyla’s failure to lead rather than our own American prideful, selfish, church-of-what’s-happening-now refusal to be led, seems completely bass-ackward to me. Shall we next blame Christ for failing the Rich Young Man?

The Church in the US and Europe is in a sorry, decadent state, yes. But the Church in Africa, Asia, and South America, however, is young, healthy (read: largely orthodox), and growing by leaps and bounds. The future of the Church is there, and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if the choice of the next Pope reflects that encouraging fact.

For myself, almost everything I “know” about Christ and the Church has been “mediated”, if you will, by the thought of John Paul II. Indeed, there has been more than one crisis in my life in which I was largely sustained by means of his writings. I, for one, will be praying on a daily basis for the intercession of “John Paul the Great.”

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