Tuesday, January 18, 2011

John Paul II: Saintish

Pope John Paul II
Beatification is the first step in making someone a saint in the Catholic tradition.  The late John Paul II, who was pope for almost 27 years (1978 - 2005), will be beatified on May 1st, 2011.  The beatification of John Paul II was approved by the present pope, Benedict XVI, as this BBC article makes clear.

And from the same article, it appears as if a devout nun, who, suffering from the same disease John Paul II suffered himself, prayed to John Paul II two months after the patriarch's death and was miraculously cured.  Sister Marie Simon-Pierre now attributes the remission of her parkinson's disease to the direct intervention of John Paul II, who, being the saintly chap that he is, had God zap her with a cure from beyond the grave.

Of course, such a reductionist and cynical look at the seeming cure of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre really doesn't fall within the official view of the Catholic church, whose envisioning of the activity of the saints is a tad more austere.

For Catholics, because the saints and beati (those who are not canonized, but nevertheless closer to God in death) are in the presense of God they can attendend to the prayers of the living, and act as intercessors or intermediaries between God and people.  A fulcrum serves the same purpose as a pivoting point between both ends of a teeter-totter.  In short, because of their proximity between God and people, they can run interference.  The point is that the saints continue to serve those left on earth by petitioning God on behalf of the living.  This increases the likelihood of God answering the prayers of the living faithful.  It's kind of like spiritual nepotism, really.

Click to see larger image.
Still, this is only John Paul II's first miracle, so he's not quite good enough to qualify as one of heaven's sanctified élite.  To date, John Paul II, despite being instrumental in more material and explicable miracles like overthrowing Poland's communism, is not quite as awesome as St. Francis of Assisi, whose claims to divine fame were his overweening sentimentality for animals, and his alleged stigmata.  St. Franis did also set up a cluster of cloisters meant to harbour the pious poor, and set out orders for those poor that they had to remain poor if they wanted to be closer to God.  Apparently repressing the human instinct to increase personal security and social mobility is a loftier act of devotion to God than John Paul II's tireless efforts to improve social and religious relationships between Christians, Jews, and Muslims--an improvement the world continues to need rather desperately.  I wonder where we'd be without John Paul II's efforts?

In any case, John Paul II is on track for canonization.  Soon, he'll be part of the rank-and-file of the heavenly élite, schmoozing it up with the likes of Aquinas, Augustine, Mary, Ambrose, Benedict, Patrick, et al.  Though only after he pays his 'Saints Union' fees with one more miracle.

Whatever that miracle might end up being, the one he has apparently effected shortly after his death has the suspicious stamp of having been certified--pay attention now--purely by church sources.  From the BBC article linked above, we read that "Church officials believe that the Polish pope... interceded for the miraculous cure of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre" and that "Church-appointed doctors agreed that there was no medical explanation for the curing of the nun" (italics mine).  Such being the case, I wonder what would've happened with Simon-Pierre's case had purely secular sources investigated the nun's claims?

Doubtless there would be a lot more controversy than the slight ripples caused by a Polish doctor who suggests that Simon-Pierre wasn't suffering from Parkinson's disease but may have found temporary alleviation from a nervous disorder.
"A Polish newspaper said that a doctor who scrutinised the nun's case had concluded that she might have been suffering not from Parkinson's, but from a nervous disorder from which temporary recovery is medically possible."
Everyone and their dog will be praying.
Humbug!  There is no room for scrutiny when the Catholic church has investigated with its own self-interested and self-appointed sources.  Using critical medical counter-explanations could possibly dent the metallic sheen of John Paul II's church-approved miracle.  Such anti-Catholic rhetoric cannot be accepted or allowed to interefere in any way with the gradual additions to the cult of saints.

Nevertheless, John Paul II is, I'm sure, daily being petitioned by faithful Catholics everywhere, who by dint of their prayers, may be able to spur the nigh-sainted pope on to just one more miracle.  Can you imagine being that special person who finally experiences, or at the very least identifies John Paul II at the apogee of his postmortem handiwork?  I'm glad we have living Catholics around to tell us what certain individuals are doing in the afterlife, and that we have big gold stars that read 'saint' to pin to their memories.

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