Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another Blast from the Past: More Reflections on the Legacy of John Paul II, Superstar

A continuation of my reflections about John Paul II following his death on 2 April 2005.  I wrote this piece in my journal on 17th April that year:

The ultimate shortcoming of JPII and his reign: its exaltation of truth above love, as if truth were all Jesus was, proclaimed, was about.  And not the transformative, life-engaging truth about which the Judaeo-Christian scriptures speak.  No, truth as apodictic utterance, instead.  Handed down.  From above.  To be received passively by those below.  From hieratic, exalted priests who do not answer in any way to those to whom they deliver these utterances.

Love was problematic under JPII the Great, the Superstar.  It was made problematic by JPII and his henchmen.  Love of husband for wife that did not envisage procreation as the desired end of every act of sexual union.  Love of divorced persons seeking another chance at intimacy.  Love of gay people refusing to deny their very nature.

JPII is being spoken of now as a tremendous mystic.  He prayed alone for hours, groaning as he did so.  In the Czech Republic, I saw similar manifestations of prayer by young JPII Catholics two summers ago.  It was scary mysticism, world-denying and not world-transforming mysticism.  It was totally inward, self-absorbed prayer.

In fact, to the extent that it communicated awareness of non-likeminded others in the church around these mystics, it appeared to be disdainful, line-drawing prayer that maintained a sharp line between the pure and impure, the holy and unholy, insiders and outsiders.

Whether JPII intended it or not, this was the effect of his ecclesiology and his style of pastoral leadership.  It emboldened those who wish to use "the" truth as a cudgel with which to beat others upside the head.  JPII's reign created a Catholicism divided into camps designated as holy and unholy, orthodox and unorthodox, welcome and unwelcome.

Clearly Christianity has the right to define its central beliefs.  But as it does so, it cannot give fundamental messages of unwelcome, if it seeks to be fundamentally catholic.

Under JPII, we saw some Catholics throw themselves into church aisles to try to prevent others from receiving communion.  Those the holy sought to exclude reported that they were threatened by the defenders of truth, who seated themselves next to the impure and muttered threats to beat bloody hell out of them.

The reign of JPII saw survivor of clerical sexual abuse after survivor approach bishop after bishop and abbot after abbot, desperately seeking pastoral support--open arms, a welcoming embrace, an apology--only to have the door slammed in his/her face.

What's wrong with this picture of what Catholicism has been made, at this point in history?

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