The miraculous accomplishments of John Paul II
Not long ago, after Pope John Paul II finally passed on to the great hereafter, I was a little stunned to hear in the news that the Catholics were tripping over themselves to bypass the normal five-year waiting period after a person’s death to go ahead and make the newly deceased pope a saint.I’m not a Catholic. I have to confess that I don’t understand a whole lot about the religion, though I try to keep up on religious issues because it’s helpful to understand people and their motivations through knowledge of their religious backgrounds. And please understand, gentle readers, that it isn’t my intent to offend anyone for his or her beliefs.My wife grew up Catholic in Switzerland, and one of my employees grew up Catholic in New York. He described going to Sunday school four hours a day, every Sunday, enduring the same old grind and being told that he’d go to hell if he wasn’t confirmed, which finally occurred at age 18. I once photographed a Catholic wedding and sat through an interminable ceremony, and I couldn’t help thinking that the premarriage counseling was given by a celibate priest who could have no possible idea of the issues and predicaments that my wife and I face as a married couple. Other than that, I don’t know much about Catholicism.As I was reading Newsweek and looking at the photos of all the archbishops and cardinals surrounding the pope’s body on display, as well as the incredible wealthy robes and costumes, ornate surroundings and pomp and circumstance, I wondered if this is what Jesus really had in mind. I also had observed the pope in his last few years, slurring his way unintelligibly through speeches, hunched over in a grimace from Parkinson’s disease, and I wondered why he didn’t just retire and let somebody more vibrant take over. Newsweek answered my question, explaining that John Paul II wanted to teach us about suffering. Strange religion indeed, I thought.My friend Dan Brumbaugh and I enjoy lengthy intellectual discourses on a frequent basis, and no subject is off-limits. It’s hard to even get a newspaper up here in Marble – I have to ask my wife to gather up a pile of them every time she goes to town – and Dan subscribes to The New York Times, so he often clips articles for me that he finds particularly interesting.Dan is a die-hard Republican, but also an atheist, or at least an agnostic. A Ph.D. economist, he loves Bush’s economic policies, which I find a little bizarre, but then again, he’s in a high tax bracket. I’m in a lower tax bracket and a Democrat because of my opposition to Bush’s environmental policies, but otherwise rather conservative. And I’m a believer in God, but an infrequent churchgoer.So, a little confused about Catholic orthodoxy, I asked Dan, “Doesn’t there have to be proof that someone performed a miracle before he is sainted?””Why do you ask?” Dan said.”Well, because the Catholics are already talking about canonizing the pope without even waiting the usual five years, and I haven’t heard of any miracles that he has performed,” I answered. You see, I have an old-fashioned definition of a miracle, like the stone rolling away from Jesus’ tomb or restoring sight to a blind man. While I believe that John Paul II was a good-hearted man, I hadn’t heard of anything like this kind of behavior. Good deeds such as supporting Lech Walesa in his struggle against communism are one thing, but a miracle – “an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws and is hence thought to be due to supernatural causes, especially an act of God” – is another. I mean, if triumphing against communism is grounds for sainthood, Ronald Reagan should be a saint.”Well,” said Dan, “he successfully covered up the greatest scandal in the history of the church, which was the fact that the American church was filled with pederast priests who preyed on little boys and girls, and the archbishops shuttled them around from parish to parish, full well knowing that they would commit crimes again, and only a couple of them were ever criminally prosecuted. That’s a miracle.”I mulled this over for a minute. True, all true.”And he successfully continued to exclude half of the church from any real leadership role in the church, because of a misogynistic belief that women are incapable of leading a congregation,” Dan continued. “That’s a miracle.”No argument there.In this vein of thought, then, I thought of another miracle. “Yes, indeed,” I agreed. “Then there’s the fact that the Pope, as a supposedly celibate man who had in theory never touched a woman in a sexual manner in his life, was setting doctrine for priests to follow in counseling couples in their marriages, and they still believe that it’s impossible for people to be married and lead a congregation. They’d rather have a bunch of pedophile priests.””Another miracle,” Dan agreed.I was seeing the light now. “Even better is the fact that, despite all the grinding poverty that millions of ignorant Latin American peasant families endure, and the acknowledged fact that overpopulation is one of the most threatening issues to our world’s survival, he insisted that contraception is a violation of God’s will. I’m starting to get it now. If a peasant in Guatemala watches three of his 13 children die of malnutrition and sells a couple of them off to slavery to lessen the burden, and he still believes that birth control is the work of the devil, that is indeed a miracle that the pope got them to believe that.””Miraculous, indeed,” Dan said.”He should be sainted for that, shouldn’t he?” I said.Gary Hubbell lives in Marble, where he writes for magazines and shoots photographs for stock agencies. He and his wife, Doris, own Clinetop Press (www.clinetop.com), publishers of books on Labrador retrievers and fly-fishing.
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