Two Popes, Two Canonizations

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

John Paul the Great offered one set of answers.  Good Pope John offered another.

This past Sunday, Pope Francis canonized the greatest pope in centuries when he declares John Paul II a saint.  It will be in record time, just nine years after his death, though not quite as quickly as the millions who gathered for his funeral desired when they chanted "Santo subito!" ("Sainthood now!")

In the exhaustive process of declaring saints — a painstaking review of an entire life and the testimony of dozens of witnesses, plus two verified miracles — nine years is more or less immediately.

There was never any doubt John Paul would be canonized.  His personal holiness was too obvious, the devotion of ordinary Roman Catholics too widespread, his impact on history too substantial, his teaching of the faith too comprehensive for him not to be raised to the altars soon.

In 1978, when he was elected, the Church was adrift and communism was on the march.  By the time of his death nearly 27 years later, the institution had been stabilized.  John Paul led a newly confident Church into the third millennium.  The Soviet Union itself did not make it into its second century.

The Catholic Church requires evidence of an additional miracle after beatification for canonization to proceed.  John Paul was declared blessed on May 1, 2011.  The miracle for his canonization — the healing of a woman in Costa Rica — took place that day.  So it seems God, too, was eager for Sunday's canonization.

But the ceremony will not be singular; Pope Francis will also declare Pope John XXIII a saint, the first time two popes have been canonized together.  If, as expected, Benedict XVI attends, it will be a duplex double, two popes at the altar while two popes are raised to the honours of the altar.

John XXIII, enormously popular in Italy and around the world as the "Papa Buono" (the "Good Pope"), called the Second Vatican Council, which began in 1962.  He would not live to see it through, but it was the most significant ecclesiastical event since the Council of Trent in the 16th century.

He was beatified by John Paul II in 2000, but there has not been a second miracle.  Francis took the decision to canonize him nevertheless, and to do so with John Paul II.

There are two possibilities most often offered for this decision.  John Paul's biographer, George Weigel, suggests Francis wishes to canonize the "bookends" of Vatican II — the pope who called it and the pope who authoritatively interpreted it.  In elevating them together, Francis wants to hold up Vatican II and its authentic meaning for the Church.

It seems to me a more plausible reason for Francis's decision is he prefers to balance John Paul by including John XXIII in the same ceremony, even if the latter has not met the usual requirements.

A book by Vatican journalist Gianluca Barile published in February reported on the conclave of 2005 when, according to many accounts, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (the future Francis) got many votes but was not elected.

"John, I would have called myself John, like the Good Pope; I would have been completely inspired by him," Cardinal Bergoglio is reported to have told a friend.

Indeed, Francis sounds more like John XXIII than he does John Paul II or Benedict XVI.  The three are all in continuity with the tradition of the faith, of course, but John XXIII was distinctive in his conviction the world needs the "medicine of mercy" more than correction — and the many errors of the world would collapse of their own falsity.

John XXIII believed if only the Church could show forth the merciful face of the Lord Jesus, the Gospel would conquer hearts.  Goodness, thought Good Pope John, would carry the day.


John Paul would write "divine mercy is the limit to evil in the world," and in fact was a greater preacher of mercy than even John XXIII.  Yet he was convinced that first evil had to be confronted and fought against.  So John Paul went into battle, against totalitarian communism, against dissent in the Church, against relativism in the world, against what he would call the "pulverization of man," the "culture of death," a "conspiracy against life."

It was the language of spiritual battle.  John Paul was a happy, merciful warrior, but he was a warrior.  It was no accident he was shot.  Enemies try to kill fierce warriors.

Is the world in which the Church lives basically hostile, or genuine but misguided?

His was not the language of John XXIII and the medicine of mercy.  It was the language of prophetic denunciation.  It considered the evils of the world not as fog evaporating at dawn — in John XXIII's famous words — but rather a toxic cloud in which all life chokes and dies.

There is a reason that, even during his John Paul Superstar (as Time magazine once styled him) phase, no one ever called him Good Pope John Paul.  They called him John Paul the Great, harkening back to the first pope called "great," the fifth century's Leo, who battled theological error at the Council of Chalcedon and mortal danger in confronting Attila the Hun.

Francis is not naive, and neither was John XXIII.  But in their rhetoric they prefer not to speak about enemies, but rather trust the benign face of the Church will conquer hearts and convert enemies.  There is no small measure of pastoral wisdom in that path.  Yet John Paul was rather less sanguine about the Gospel's enemies and his emphasis was on defeating that which was unlikely to convert.

John XXIII charged Vatican II to read accurately the "signs of the times."  It is the perennial challenge of the pastor.  What do these times require from the witness of Christians?  Do they require the clarion call of John Paul II's "Be not afraid!"?  Or do they require John XXIII's "medicine of mercy"?

Judging by sheer impact on history, it would follow John Paul read accurately the signs of the times.  Yet the question always remains, and it is clear Francis reads the signs of the times much like John XXIII did.

To draw the distinction between John XXIII and John Paul II overlooks the greater continuities.  It is a helpful distinction though because the choices are faced not only by every Christian communion in the world, but the whole world of faith more expansively.

Is the world in which the Church lives basically hostile, or genuine but misguided?  Is it entrenched in a rejection of the Gospel, or only immersed in unsatisfying confusions?  Is it open to conversion, or must it be defeated?  Does it consider religious faith to be a possible path of liberation and happiness, or does it dismiss faith as a superstitious danger and a threat to freedom?  Is the medicine of mercy sufficient to convert the culture of death, or does it need to be defeated by a more stern confrontation?

John Paul the Great offered one set of answers.  Good Pope John offered another.  Sunday, both will be offered to the Church and the world.

Perhaps Francis wanted just that — to ensure both approaches were sanctified, as it were.  The vast congregation gathered Sunday will overwhelmingly have come for John Paul.  Pope Francis wants to remind them of Good Pope John.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Saint John2" National Post, (Canada) April 26, 2014.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2014 National Post




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