A Pope Who Will Become a Saint
When I first saw Pope John Paul II, he was kneeling before the altar in his private chapel — his back and shoulders were so massive he could have been a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. But more importantly, as I watched him pray I could feel the radiation of sanctity. I had long heard about the “odor of sanctity” but I had never experienced it myself.
It was 1997, and I was in the Vatican with my wife Theresa and daughter Hannah. At the last minute we had been given tickets to attend Mass with the Holy Father in his private chapel. John Paul II still had the kind of vitality that had attracted millions to Masses as he traveled around the world. So extensive were his travels and so magnetic was his personality, that people saw this man as no other in recent history.
When John Paul II assumed the pontificate in 1978, the Church was still in its post-Vatican II doldrums — dissent was rampant throughout its seminaries, universities, and even many of its chanceries. Liberation theology was rampant in the Americas and Europe, and the effort to make Catholic liturgy more “relevant” was taken to the brink of banality.
John Paul II publicly rebuked the reliance on Marxist-inspired liberation theology and authored a series of encyclicals that revitalized theology in the tradition of St. Thomas and St. Augustine. He reaffirmed and recast the theological standards for Catholic education and put an end to the experimental nonsense that was decimating liturgies and dispiriting the Catholics who were required to endure them.
Does all this make him a saint? No, but it makes many want to call him “John Paul the Great.” Indeed, after that Mass in his chapel, I was privileged to hand him a copy of Crisis Magazine, which I then published, bearing the cover headline, “John Paul the Great” in recognition of the 20th anniversary of his pontificate. He smiled broadly as he took the magazine, but when he took the spiritual bouquet from my then 11-year old daughter the warmth of his smile pervaded the entire room.
John Paul the Great will be beatified today, May 1, the Feast of the Divine Mercy. On that day millions of people around the world will recall their special memories of him — and, like me, they will not be surprised that this day arrived so soon.
By Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate