Wonderful day today as we celebrate Blessed John Paul II. He was beatified, so needs one more miracle to be officially canonized as a saint. But he is, of course, already a saint. It is only a matter of time before the Church recognizes him for what he already is – John Paul the Great.
The solemn liturgy was celebrated by Pope Benedict with 1.5 million people in attendance (and certainly hundreds of millions celebrated it around the world). The ceremony was late last night (the program I watched went from 12:30-4:30am), but I am sure there will be video replays available online. The liturgy was quite traditional, Gregorian chant and much of it was in Latin. This baffles some – they simply don’t understand how such a traditional liturgy will appeal to the mostly young people in the crowd. This apparent paradox that is not really a paradox at all, and it is a perfection reflection of the JPII papacy and the difficulty of the media to understand it. He baffles them because he is someone that want to like but cannot. They like him because he is so obviously holy, so personable, and had such a media savvy. They also like that he apologized for past Church sins and reached out powerfully and compassionately to other faiths. In short, he seemed like a good progressive. But they simply could not square that with his seriously orthodox Catholicism, his moral absolutism (particularly offensive to progressive sensibilities was his sexual ethics), and his traditionalism (celibate priesthood, no ordination for women). What they fail to understand is that genuine social justice arises only out of truth, that his “progressive” social justice views are borne from the same root as his “conservative” views on life and sex – his deep faith in a personal God of Love.
John Paul II was a true mensch. I was personally affected by JPII in the profoundest of ways. His theology has deeply shaped my convictions, and his personal presence was and remains a powerful force in my life. The Theology of the Body is, I think, one of the most important theological works in recent memory. His social justice encyclicals are simply brilliant, his writings on the family, and of course his work on faith and reason will all resonate for centuries to come. With all of that, perhaps he will be most remembered for what George Weigel has called his “last encyclical” – the way he lived the last months of his life. He bore the suffering not with the stiff upper lip of stoicism nor with a denial that makes this world unimportant. Rather, he lived his suffering as a man who has seen the beauty and joy on the hither side of the cross. The man who had once been so athletic, seemingly ever youthful had become broken and frail. But it was then, precisely then, that his holiness radiated the most clearly. Such an incredible inspiration. I have never met the man, but truly can say that I love him dearly. He is a great hero to me, and I will forever look up to him.
Once again, some bad timing for the Church. I think this beatification would have been a bigger story if the Kate and Will wedding had not been just a few days before. It was still a massive event (1.5 million people attended!), but the media outlets had exhausted their resources covering the royal wedding. Of course a similar thing happened the last time a great 20th century Catholic was beatified – Princess Diana died right at the time Mother Theresa passed. Oh well.
Here is the good news, pointed out by one of the commentators last night: the two most famous Catholics in recent memory – Mother Theresa and John Paul II – were both incredibly holy people. The Church has had her difficulties of late to be sure, but it is encouraging still to see the transformative saints that grow in her bosom. It gives me hope for the Church in the future. I think we will see a tremendous renewal in the Church as young, vibrant, and unabashedly orthodox JPII generation priests begin to shape parishes. ArchBishop Dolan reflects on those JPII priests here.
If you did not wake up at 3am last night, you can read and watch some highlights online.
Here is a transcript of Cardinal Agostino Vallini’s remarks at the Vigil on Friday night.
Here is the video clip where Pope Benedict is formally asked to include John Paul II as one of the blessed. And here Benedict concedes with his apostolic authority that Venerable John Paul II shall henceforth be called blessed and have a celebratory feast day each Oct 22. Here are some other video highlights.
Finally, you can read the transcript of Pope Benedict’s homily here.