Saturday, April 2, 2011

Missing Papa Wojtyła

Talk about your iconic photograph! (I don't own the rights.)
Has it really been six years today?

Then again, I shouldn't be too surprised. It seems forever since that September morning I learned we'd lost Papa Luciani only 33 days after he'd been elected, since I heard the jokes that were bound to arise in the wake of a Pole being elected to the Chair of Peter. (Instead of bread and wine for Communion, we would have sausages and beer. Yuk yuk yuk.)

I sometimes find myself wondering if John Paul didn't actually hurt the canonization process by making it faster. But today I realized that, by changing the process and canonizing more saints than any of his predecessors, he gave the faithful something to hang on to as the Church teetered on the brink of losing its identity.

The canonization process is a snapshot, a ceramic miniature, of the Catholic Church's mission in the world: making saints (Mt 28:19-20). Everything else that we do—the sacraments, the social justice organizations, the humanitarian missions—is subordinate to that role. John Paul II understood that better than anyone else, and reminded us of it by giving us plenty of saints for today, saints that in turn point us back to the saints of yesterday that still remain with us as "a cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1). 

John Paul II changed the canonization process, but kept the canonization tradition itself, and in doing so reminded us that the apostolic tradition as a whole is good. Whatever its perceived deficiencies and weaknesses, it had succeeded in forming and fostering sainthood for almost two millennia. In doing so, he set himself against both radical traditionalists, who want a supposedly idyllic pre-Vatican II Church reimposed untouched, and radical liberals, who would rather that everything preceding Vatican II be junked wholesale.

And now, in just four weeks (assuming all goes well), his successor will proclaim him "Blessed", an outcome I'm certain Papa Wojtyła never foresaw for himself. Santo subito!