Thursday, 25 October 2012

Santo Subito

That's Italian for 'not long till Christmas!'

I suppose that there are few people I have admired more in my lifetime than our current Holy Father. My admiration began when Victor Messori published his Ratzinger Report way back in the 1980s, at a time when the liberals were still very much in the ascendent, and to question the prevailing orthodoxy was like offering a rabbi a bacon sandwich. Pope John Paul was very much in charge, but I have never really thought of him as being really on the same side as me; I commented once in an article in the Catholic Herald that his pontificate was to me rather like a taxi ride in Rome: you get there, probably in one piece, but holding clumps of hair in your white and trembling knuckles. The trouble with JPII was that you never knew what he was going to do next.

For me, this was summed up in a single comment of his; when somebody suggested that he might think of abdicating due to his declining health, he growled "I don't need two functioning legs to govern the Church!" And that was precisely the problem; he saw his job as to govern the Church, to rule it. If I were to presume to interpret Pope Benedict's mind, I think he would see his job, conversely, as being governed by the Church. Not in the narrow sense of obeying the majority, or at least loudest, view (there are so many who would like to see that!), but of obeying the majority throughout history; listening not just to Catholics alive now, but also to those who have been alive in the past, whose Church it is too—a much deeper democracy that Chesterton called, I believe the 'democracy of the dead', to preserve it for the future.

The narrow view of the Church that is currently expressed by the Church of England, which is to say governing (and even determining doctrine) by the majority view of those presently alive is very different to both Pope Benedict's view and Pope John Paul's, even more than they appear to differ from each other. The Church is God's gift to all humanity, and not even a Pope should tinker with it just because he wants to, or thinks it a good idea. This is where we need to be very careful what we mean when we consult the faithful in matters of doctrine.

I see that the US Bishops' Conference has successfully petitioned Rome for permission to celebrate the feast of Blessed John Paul. That doesn't surprise me; his method of governance naturally appeals to Americans who seem to admire strong and charismatic leadership—the President, after all, is effectively a time-limited elected monarch. Two dear American friends of mine were talking about this in my garden a few years ago: they both agreed that they couldn't really take to Pope Benedict: he just didn't seem to be a mover and a shaker. One said with deep approval 'not like Pope John Paul; he really kicked a**'!

Given the immense difference of governance style between Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul—and the latter's propensity apparently to adopt or dispense with tradition as it suited him—it remains a matter of surprise to me that our present Holy Father had such an admiration for his predecessor, even to the point of fast-tracking his beatification (something I regard as deeply unwise—imagine if Maciel had predeceased John Paul: might he now be a beatus that we would have to find a way to justify?). In the past, before Ratzinger came into his superb own as Pope (probably as much to his own surprise as anyone else's) I used to almost think of him as like a geeky schoolboy hero-worshipping the athlete as he did his homework for him.

Early in his reign, I remember Pope Benedict presiding at a great Vigil in St Peter's Square to close the Year of the Priest; he talked off the cuff about sanctity, and observed that we must remember that saints have faults too, even sins, against which they battle. That was such a refreshing thing to hear, though I gather that it was airbrushed out in the Osservatore Romano the following day. There can have been few who knew Wojtyla better than Ratzinger, and it was very apparent from the superb homily that the latter gave the former at his Requiem that Ratzinger believed in his former boss's sanctity without question. He cannot have approved his seat-of-the-pants style of government, but he recognized the true nature of someone very close to God, with perhaps at times truly divine inspiration.

This was all brought on by something I read in The Tablet this morning, and which I would like to share with you. I hope The Tablet won't mind, as it has a new edition appearing tomorrow.

"You will be the first of many East Germans to go to the West and many West Germans will go to the East," Pope John Paul II told Cardinal Joachim Meisner, then Bishop of Berlin, in September 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The bishop had been asked by the Pope to visit him at Castel Gandolfo, and there, according to the bishop, "we sat on a garden bench and talked for a long while. That was when he told me that I had to go to Cologne [as Archbishop]. 'That is impossible' I replied. 'I am the president of the Berlin bishops' conference and keep telling the faithful that our task is to remain here'. That was when he told me that I'd be the first of many to go west and many West Germans would soon go east. Whereupon I said to him, 'Holy Father, you didn't say that ex cathedra, but ex garden bench.' And the Pope answered, 'It isn't ex cathedra, but the Pope is nevertheless right.' 'Holy Father, did you get this tip from the secret services?' I asked. 'My secret service is up above' he answered.
The next day, Meisner discussed his conversation with Cardinal Ratzinger. "What explanation have you got for this?" Meisner asked Ratzinger. And Ratzinger replied "The Pope has his own faith secrets. I can't see behind them either." And, as Meisner pointed out, John Paul II was right.
The Tablet, Notebook, 20 October 2012 

No, I don't want Pope John Paul canonized any time soon. And in fact, I think that we have already beatified or canonized too many recent popes, to the point that one wonders what was wrong with the others. But, perhaps, Pope Benedict's devotion to his predecessor might suggest that here, truly, was sanctity. But not as we know it, Jim.


English Pastor said...

I'm sure Pope John Paul II was a holy man: devoted to prayer, our Lady, to the propagation of the Faith all over the world and the willingness to suffer as Pope to the end of his life, but I see in both him and in Ratzinger an attempt to please both sides of the Church at the same time. Ratzingers choices for the College of Cardinals, as well as his promulgation of Summorum Pontificum without himself ever celebrating the with the 1962 Missal as Pope, give proof of that, I think. I too was very taken with the Ratzinger Report, especially when it was so dismissed by a number of seminary profs during my time, but the hope it held out on his election to the papacy has yet to materialise. I know he is said to be leading by example, but example needs the support of legislation. I think.

Firmus et Rusticus said...

But it is so very important that the Pope (and more importantly, the Catholic faithful) see his role as a ruling monarch! Because, in our controversial post-V2 world, sometimes the temptation to make just criticisms of Papal judgment can turn into an attitude of systematic undermining of authority, which, if nothing else, will make it impossible for the Pope to rectify should he ever want to: then those who are not happy with the change will simply not obey either. (I was thinking of criticism coming from the bench of Tradition, though it might also apply to modernists; however, I don't want to suggest equidistance between the two, merely to point out the generical way in which groups interact with authority.)

That is why, I find, a good way of gauging how to make certain criticisms and not hurt the Church (short of renouncing criticism altogether, in a most unreasonable though sadly extended Pope-olatry) is to ask oneself: how is this affecting the firmness of the Pope's role as monarch of the Church?

i must apologize for abusing your point on the governing-vs.-governed approach to go into a tangent with a personal opinion. I understand that your drift (which I very much agree with) had nothing to do with this.

Yours in Christ.

GOR said...

I, too, was uncomfortable with the ‘Santo Subito!” cries that went up upon the death of Pope John Paul II. At first I put it down to Italian exuberance, but of course it was more widely proclaimed – especially in Poland and other countries. I suppose this was inevitable in people who had witnessed JP II’s handling of his final days and months. Unsurprising also due to the fact that, given his long reign, he would have been the only Pope many younger people experienced in their lifetime.

For me, however, the Pope of my youth was Pope Pius XII. He, too, suffered much during his reign and in his final days, albeit - given the times - with less public awareness or acknowledgment. At his death in 1958 the revisionism about his life and reign had not yet begun (five years would elapse before ‘The Deputy’ appeared on the scene). If there were cries of “Santo Subito!” they were muted cries and most likely the sentiment was felt more by the many Jews he had saved than by fellow-Catholics.

Back then we – and his immediate successors – were not in the ‘saint-making’ business. We recognized a good man, a heroic man, a man who had suffered much against terrible odds – a priest who remained faithful to his calling at the highest levels of the Church.

With John Paul II there was an explosion of Beati and Santi. I was uncomfortable with that also. I suspect this contributed in no small part to the cries for instant canonization. While St.Paul routinely addressed letters “to the saints at…” and we’re all certainly called to sanctity, the reality is that we’re all sinners and in need of conversion. And that is as true of popes as it is of plumbers.

When we get to Heaven – God willing – we may be surprised at some of the people we find there. Or, if Purgatory, some we find there also!

gemoftheocean said...

Consider: re: the govern/rule aspect - what language was that said in, and can there be subtle differences in the original languages used which don't exactly translate into exact English?

2) re: JPII - don't forget the Poles did NOT buy into the so-called "new catechism" which was largely dumbed down mumbo-jumbo fed post Vatican II in short order. The Poles did not go to those "educational conferences" who apparently promoted the dumbed down books. Poland was not influenced by western culture so much during the 60-70s when things were falling apart at the seams in the west. Ergo, Vatican II did not make waves in the negative way that too often happened in the west -- plus the church itself was a haven against the communist state. Poles remain a relatively devout people.

3) along those lines, I will personally always hold JPII, along with Reagan et al as very instrumental with the fall of communism. Reagan very much used the back door of the Vatican to communicate with Solidarity and those who overthrew the communist lock on Eastern Europe. It was as if God had ordained the confluence of JPII and Reagan- no other combination would have done that. Both were committed anti-communists and thought it not only wrong, but something that needed to be ousted. No "detente" no compromise. For this reason alone, I would say Santo Subito.

4) it is not clear in my mind that JPII could conceive of how infested the church had become with the priest scandal - having been isolated in Poland where AFAIK the seminaries were not infested with Sister Mary Mini-skirt and Father Light-in-the-Loafers types running the seminaries. I'm sure it wasn't perfect there either, but one has not heard of any seminaries that were considered "pink palaces" and a mine-field for Orthodox men to endure. The rot in many western seminaries was promulgated and ensconced largely in the 60s-70s when JPII was still doing all he could to have freedom for the church in Poland.