Wednesday, July 23, 2008

John Paul II and Benedict XVI

At the closing of World Youth Day in Sydney this week, Cardinal Pell told Pope Benedict:

"Your Holiness, the World Youth Days were the invention of Pope John Paul the Great. The World Youth Day in Cologne was already announced before your election. You decided to continue the World Youth Days and to hold this one in Sydney. We are profoundly grateful for this decision, indicating that the World Youth Days do not belong to one pope, or even one generation, but are now an ordinary part of the life of the Church. The John Paul II generation, young and old alike, is proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict."

The John Paul II generation are now "proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict." These are truly encouraging words, and left me reflecting on the dynamic of the John Paul II cult of personality and how (and if) that popular support has effectively translated to Pope Benecdict, as Cardinal Pell suggested. Has Benedict received the same whole-hearted approval by the Church that was enjoyed by John Paul II?

I think there to some extent it is difficult to measure, because for so many youth John Paul II was the only pope they had ever known until recently. In such a case, how does one distinguish between the love of the pope as the Successor of Peter and love of John Paul II the man? For many (including myself) it was difficult, and the lines were often blurred. It was not until Benedict was elected when I was 24 that I realized that much of what I thought was devotion to the papacy as such was really devotion towards the man John Paul II. Seeing a new pope in office helped me to focus my devotion more on the papal office itself and my faith in the promise of Christ than in personality of the pope.

In many ways, the devotion of the people that was attached to John Paul II the man has translated onto Benedict XVI because of his close proximity with John Paul II personally and chronologically. And of course, many will always love the Successor of Peter simply by virtue of his office, and that is an honorable thing as well (though emotional attachment or "liking" of the pontiff ought not to be a criteria in deciding who is a faithful Catholic or not).

In the end, I think however that "sons and daughters of John Paul II" may not realize the full impact of the pontificate of BXVI because they have been conditioned to judge pontificates by differing standards. In my humble opinion, Benedict has already done a lot more for the improvement of the Church than John Paul did in his entire pontificate. If anyone deserves the title of "Great," it would be Benedict (and at this time, I do not think Benedict or John Paul merits such a title). The John Paul II generation, while loving Benedict, will look at his pontificate and wonder why he spent so much time on seemingly unimportant things like liturgy, relations with the SSPX, reconciliation with the East, canonical issues, curial changes, etc. For them, the essence of a successful pontificate is the number of miles traveled, the amount of large, open-air Masses done, the extent to which the pope is viewed as a "bridge-builder," and many like criteria.

Because of John Paul II, they have been coniditoned to view the late pope's behavior as the signs of a great pontificate, and may be unable to perceive the equally (and even more) important matters that Benedict XVI has spent his three years thus far attending to. Benedict has gave attention to things that languished under JPII and has spent some time fixing things that John Paul himself screwed up. So I don't think he will be measured with the same stick that JPII is measured by. I think that only when all those who grew up under John Paul II are old or dead, and we have seen a succession of a few more popes, will we get a true estimation of JPII's pontificate in comparison with Benedict's, just like we will not get an honest evaluation of Vatican II until every person involved in it is dead.

In the meantime, I thank God that the Church pledges its loyalty to this pontiff. He is a good and holy man, and the popes themselves are all in God's hand.


Stella Orientis said...

"For them, the essence of a successful pontificate is the number of miles traveled, the amount of large, open-air Masses done, the extent to which the pope is viewed as a "bridge-builder," and many like criteria."

I do not think this is a fair statement. While I was only 19 at JPII's death, I had already begun to appreciate his statements (if not actions) on restoring unity with the Eastern Churches, attention to sexual morality, and firm reinforcement of the Church's faith in Christ's sole and absolute sovereignty over all creation. You have posted before on ways in which JPII's actions (such as Assisi) negated the message of his writings and statements, but one must remember that in the history of the church it is the written word which lasts.

Furthermore, I have to say that the young people of BXVI's pontificate are 1.5 to 2 generations separated from those of JPII's. Until his death JPII was the only pope I'd ever known, but my formative years were the beginning of the new millennium. The JPII generation, on the other hand, began as teenagers in the 80s and 90s. These decades were essentially the time when the Enemy did his very worst work in Christendom, and for the most part my generation either weren't around or were too young to experience it, be caught up in it, be swindled by it. The BXVI generation is of this very decade, some are as young as 15 and already have come to see the Supreme Pontiff as a wise man, placed above them by the Lord for the good of the Church. Many have learned already to trust him, and to see that giant outdoor masses or enormous international visits are not that important (indeed, the present Holy Father's reluctance to travel has taught us that seeing him in our own land is that much more a special thing).

I think we need to wait a few more years before describing what a young Catholic considers to be a "successful pontificate". The JPII youth, who would undoubtedly give your list, are no longer young (in the formative sense - "young" can be anything up to the mid 30s but sensitivity to formation withers by the mid 20s) and the BXVI generation is still sprouting.

Boniface said...

I certainly don't mean to negate the good things JP2 did: nobody argues that he wrote some good things (he also wrote some confusing things), nobody argues that he did some good things...all I am saying is that the truly good things that he did are often subsumed in the popular culture beneath other important things he did that are nevertheless of little objective importance.

How often does the media refer to JP2 by pointing out that he was the first non-Italian pope in centuries, the most travelled pope ever, the first to "reach out" to young people (as if no other pope had ministered to the young), how he "brought people together" and "gave people hope." These are not negligible things, but none of them matter much in evaluating his impact on the Church, and it is precisely those aspects of his pontificate that many remember most. Or, as I said, judge other apostolic activity by.

Despite the fact that it is the written word that lasts, it is the actions of a pontiff that lay down the rules for how the current generation of the Church will behave. When anybody fondly recalls JP2, do they really say, "He was so great! Those things he wrote in Fides et Ratio were so profound!" or, "I love when John Paul II said that woman couldn't be ordained in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis." In my opinion, those are two examples of things he ought to be commended for. But popularly, these are seldom mentioned.

In conclusion, I am not saying we shouldn't honor JPII, but let's make sure the things we give him accolades for are really the things that are good for the Church.

Kate said...

Your mistake is in confusing the media's relationship with JPII with the "JPII Generation" (of which I consider myself a member). I certainly do go around raving about Fides et Ratio (or, more often, my favorite Dives in Misercordia). And I know you know many many more of us of a similar mind. When BXIII was elected, we cheered because we knew and liked the good cardinal already, but we were ready to embrace whichever successor the Holy Spirit would appoint.

Had JPII only fostered love of himself he would have little legacy...but he pointed us to love of Christ and his Church.