I loved Pope John Paul II. In some ways, he remains on my short list of heroes – even with the faults that clearly have implications in the life of any human beings.
For this reason, the Vatican’s beatification of Pope John Paul II in Rome brings up a number of mixed emotions in me. For those who know me, you know that I embrace the whole scope of God speaking through all the rich traditions of Christianity. In so many ways, for those who have chosen to order our lives around the Lordship of Christ, we are all “catholic” in the purest sense – the universal church, receiving many great gifts through the Roman Catholic tradition that form who we all are as followers of Jesus.
Every protestant, Orthodox and other traditions owes its roots to this world.
And yet, there is both a gift and a violence hidden in the process of ascribing “Sainthood” to someone.
The Gift Of Saints
First, the gift. We need heroes. Many who are sainted (not all) are true icons of the faith, stumbling and bumbling their way through history, passionately pursuing becoming a christopheros, or Christ-bearer, in the world. We need heroes, and we need the right kind. Cheers to celebrating lives like Pope John Paul II, who, within the mixed human condition they themselves carried, still affirmed the way of Jesus and the dignity of humanity along the troubled journey.
The Violence Of Sainthood
Now, the violence. I’ve stood in St. Peter’s Square, even on the Christ Stone, from whose vantage point one sees the entirety of the architectural cosmos line up. However, standing on those great walls, are “larger than life” saint statues. Peter and others loom over us, all just big enough, just large enough, to make us feel as though they are somehow bigger than you and I.
I asked the Administrator of the Vatican (our tour guide) “Why?” His answer was just as I thought it would be. He said it was so that we always felt like they were a bit bigger than us, and left a bigger footprint.
That’s a problem. Some may see it as a small problem. For me, the process of sainting someone can do a violence to the biblical message and call of Christ.
They are not bigger or better than you or I, in dignity, value or personal beauty. They are great heroes, admirable models and shining examples of spiritual leadership (in many cases; in others, not so much). However, they are not bigger than you, bigger than I, in anyone’s eyes but our own.
For masses to see it that way, perceive it that way, distances clergy from laity, super-saints from average faithful believers, and more visible leaders from those who change lives no less profoundly in hidden places.
You are a saint if you’ve said yes to this followership of Jesus. I am a saint if I have said yes. The bigger statue, the bigger ceremony is something we should all have if our path is marked by loving fathering, strongly expressed marital faithfulness, diligently justice doing and mercy giving, and empowered love-giving by the Spirit indwelling us.
Now, if we all raised the bar on our funeral services, I might change my language. Sainthood ceremonies for all the faithful would start to make more sense out of the process, and I’d be happier for wealthier saints to paint their stories with statues, architecture and more.
Thanks For The Heroes
Thanks for the heroes, Lord. Thank you that they live down the street from me, and even in my home. Thanks for John Paul II, and much of what he stood for in our generation. Thank you, most of all, for Your indwelling presence that lifts us all to the status of sainthood, and opens us to be inspired by those, like John Paul, who modeled faithfulness in certain corners of their world.