Saturday, April 02, 2005

The End Has Come

Pope John Paul II has died.


I'm glad that he isn't suffering anymore. And, to be honest, I'm a little glad that his papacy is concluded. Not because he wasn't a good leader, but because 26 years is an awful long time. Change is healthy.

On NPR they were talking about what John Paul's enduring legacy would be. The obvious choice would be political reform in Eastern Europe, and on a secular level, that is probably true.

But the person who the host was interviewing, Thomas Groome (a church historian at Boston College) said that the years down the line, the real thing that will be most worth remembering about his papacy will be is commitment to the "new" evangelism, the idea that Christians need to be in the world living their faith as a witness, that wholing up in our little churches isn't enough.

I think Groome is right on about that. The idea that faith is something that has to be lived daily really came as a surprise to a lot of Catholics. Although there was always a commitment to social justice, I don't think most Joe-in-the-pew Catholics thought much about what that meant. By both his example and his exhortation, John Paul changed all that. His papacy saw an incredible surge in social activism among Catholics. That is something worth remembering.

The othe part of his legacy will be his enduring and uncompromising belief that all human life, from fetuses to the elderly, from shining examples to criminals, is sacred. Whether you agree with his stance against abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and war, you have to admit that he stood firm on his position. As someone who happens to agree with him on most of these issues (with the exception of contraception), I admire that.

The other thing that they discussed are possible candidates for the next Pope. There is concern in some quarters that since John Paul appointed all but two of the cardinals voting in the conclave, we can expect the next Pope to provide us with more of the same. But the commentator on that issue (sorry - can't remember who that was) said that once the ring is on the new pope's finger and the white bireta is on his head, all bets are off. Look at John XXIII. The cardinals who elected that elderly bishop to the office of Pope anticipated that he would serve for a year or two, to act as a transitional figure. Instead, he called for the Ecumenical Council that would come to be known as Vatican II and changed the shape of the world.

Regardless of what John Paul's legacy ends up being, and regardless of whether you view him as a visionary or a villian, I honestly believe that today, God welcomed home a good, if flawed, man who tried his best to serve Him faithfully.

May he rest in the peace of Christ.

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