Regnavit a ligno Deus
The beginning of Passiontide in the Western Church coincided with the anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. I was still a monk when the late Pontiff died, and remember it well. We sang a panakyda at the news of his death, and the monastery bell tolled three times.
When John Paul II died, he had been Pope longer than I had been alive. Yesterday, I watched a special on CNN about his last days, and everyone praised him as one of the greatest Popes in history (of course, you don´t speak ill of the dead). For me, however, I never quite know what Church they are talking about. The Church that I grew up in was not better off because of Pope John Paul II. The Church I grew up in was always in a profound state of crisis. So what is going on?
CHARISMA. Yes, that is the word. Charisma absolves many sins. All now say that JPII has raised the bar of the Papacy since he was such an intelligent and charismatic figure. He made people "feel" good. He was popular. People want to make him a saint, and NOW. It doesn´t matter that he has presided over the burial of the Church in Europe, or has done nothing to rein in a hierarchy that is lukewarm when it comes to combating heresy and sacrilege. No, he was a star, and stars are impeccable in whatever they do. Not an administrator was he, more a phenomenon who could through his gravitas around when he felt like it.
I am not saying that he was not a holy man (though I do think that all that phenomenolgy of his student days made his mind into mush). He was very devoted to the Virgin Mary and so am I. That, however, does not make a good Pope. Then again, maybe one of the weaknesses of Roman Catholicism is that it needs a "good Pope" so that things can even function normally. Perhaps the Papacy has become too important, and this Pole´s stellar performance at the job has not helped matters in this regard.
Charisma died the death as a Christian virtue at Palm Sunday. Those who cried out "Hosanna" one day would cry out "Crucify him!" only a few days later. Charisma lies, and charisma is fleeting. Will those screaming "John Paul youth" be enough to revitalize the Church, or was their explosion of enthusiasm merely one thrill in the midst of many more exciting ones? Is the legacy of John Paul II enough to save the Roman Catholic Church?
And as for all of the media adulation, is not the burial of Pius IX, whose body was almost thrown into the Tiber, or all of the other Popes who died imprisoned, exiled, or martyred, more desirable ends in the face of a world that has turned away from Christ? If the world praises us, could it be because we are doing something wrong?
Regnavit a ligno Deus.... God reigns by the shameful wood of the Cross, not by the flashing lights of photo-ops.