Saturday, April 02, 2005

The False Contradictions of John Paul II

Who in the world will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overborne by mourning, or mourning will be cast out by joy; so it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once and for the same reason ... and neither our mourning or our rejoicing is as the world's is.
T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
As Pope John Paul II is mourned by the millions who loved him, we're getting a foretaste of the clumsy autopsies that will be performed in the days ahead.

"Progressive" Catholics have always had their gripes with the man. Especially American Catholics, if "American Catholic" is not a hopeless oxymoron. They think they got a mixed bag with this pope. What they don't realize - or don't want to accept - is that John Paul II obviously saw his crusade against communism, his ecumenical openness, and his defense of Church doctrine as part of a single seamless mission. There was no conflicting spirit here, but a single spirit. This was not a man who was sometimes brave and sometimes timid, but a man who consistently followed his vocation as God gave him the power to understand it. A pope who buckled to the cafeteria crowd would not have had the moral authority to change the world like he did. He didn't defy Nazism and Communism so that he would have the freedom to dismantle the church he served, and do their work for them. John Paul II was a single thing, not a collection of bits and pieces. The "contradictions" that his opponents saw were in their own minds.

Some uncomfortable memories are stirred up by his death. The fall of communism doesn't sit too well on the liberal mind, especially now that their sometime idol Mikhail Gorbachev is discredited and debunked. The vanguard that brought the wall tumbling down was made up of John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Not an easy thing for some to digest. Especially those who think that it was a "contradiction" for a pope who preached Christ's message of compassion for the poor to crush the grubby Marxism-in-Sheep's-Clothing that called itself Liberation Theology. Nothing could be less contradictory. Any sincere champion of the poor would reject the human degradation of communism, and the spiritual poison of coercive Socialism. He certainly wouldn't allow the name of Jesus Christ to be loaned out to the enemies of freedom and humanity.

As a Protestant, I should have no right to object if the Catholic Church were to transform itself into mainline Presbyterianism, or - what the hell - Unitarianism. Still, it's annoying and perplexing to view the craven posturing of some Catholics. I don't believe in spiritual infallibility, but I do believe in absolute freedom of conscience: If you can't accept a church's teaching, there is no barbed wire fence you have to climb. You don't like it? Go play golf with the Chamber of Commerce, and leave the garden to those who still care for it.

Obviously John Paul II still cared for it, and was not willing to demolish it to please nominal Catholic politicians who do not see a vocation for Christianity in the modern world - or any use for it whatsoever, apart from using the name of the Catholic Church to pander to Catholic voters. Rendering unto Caesar everything that belongs to someone else.