Tuesday, April 04, 2006

St. John Paul the Human

Everybody's talkin' bout Jim Martin these days.


Just this week alone, Amy Welborn recommended Martin's My Life With the Saints -- now in its second printing -- and another new blogger has said of the associate editor of America that
If James Martin, SJ, did not exist, the Jesuits would have to invent him. He is a fine priest, a genuinely good and kind person, an authentic and, well, “normal” guy whom one can readily relate to. And he is all of these things in a singularly accessible and appealing way. He’s a public face of Catholicism in the United States that makes one proud to be a Catholic, and I’d be very surprised if scores of young men aren’t beating down the novitiate doors because of his influence....
Martin -- the Fulton Sheen of our time who's quickly becoming one of Catholic America's lead public voices -- offered The New York Times' Op-Ed reflection on John Paul II this past Sunday with a great take written in light of his recent book.

Some snips:
Little wonder that in today's popular imagination, the saints are a dull lot: ascetic types who, when not on their knees in prayer, doled out gruel to the poor or founded religious orders. Hardly the sorts one would want to spend a weekend with. For some devout Catholics, the saints were perfect. And perfect means boring.

But even a cursory perusal of the lives of the saints reveals otherwise. When Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian, decided to enter the Dominican order in the 13th century, his family was enraged. (They preferred the more prestigious Benedictines.) His mother ordered Thomas's brothers to waylay him on a roadside, kidnap him and toss him into the dungeon of the family castle.

While he languished in his cell, his family sent Thomas a prostitute to tempt him from his vocation. Thomas seized a burning poker from the fireplace and chased her out of the room. Finally worn out, his family relented and allowed Thomas to enter the Dominican order in 1245. The life of Thomas Aquinas was many things. Dull is not one of them....

Saints were flawed, too. For this reason, it is unfortunate that some of John Paul's admirers wrongly see posthumous admissions of the late pope's shortcomings as blots on his saintly copybook. The saints were neither perfect nor divine — they were refreshingly human. They could be disagreeable and even testy.

When Francis of Assisi stumbled upon a small house that his Franciscan brothers had fashioned for themselves, he became enraged at what he saw as their luxurious lifestyle, clambered onto the roof and began tearing the building apart. As the saying goes, the martyrs are sometimes the ones who live with the saints.

John Paul, though a prayerful man of unshakeable faith, was not perfect either. Despite his many towering achievements in the church and on the world's political stage, there were some things he left undone during his long pontificate. He was unable to stanch the flow of Catholics from the church in Western Europe; he failed to make some women (not to mention many gays and lesbians) feel welcome in the church; he appointed most of the bishops responsible for the sexual abuse crisis in this country; and he presided over a curia that sometimes failed to treat several distinguished theologians with respect. But while John Paul himself may not have seen those as failings, he was realistic enough about his own limitations to make sure that he went to confession every Saturday.

A perfect pope? Maybe not. But a saint, more than likely. John Paul should enjoy a speedy canonization process, and his "cause," as they say in Rome, will probably flow as smoothly as has that of a contemporary, the woman now known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Could it all come together in late May?