Beatification of John Paul II

John Paul II’s beatification resurrects a nearly forgotten personal memory from December 1983.  As college juniors studying abroad, a friend and I attended Christmas Day mass at St. Peter’s with the pope presiding.  I remember being very excited at the prospect of seeing John Paul in person, but the reality, watching him walk past our pew during the opening and closing processions, was surprising.  Physically shorter than I’d thought, he emanated a powerful aura of holiness and kindness which I hadn’t anticipated.  This recollection helps me better understand the groundswell of support from many for his beautification.

The politics exposed by the swiftness of his elevation (i.e. Why him and not Oscar Romero or John XXIII?) annoy me a bit, but my attitude toward the Church’s saints has moderated over the years.  The official “seal of approval” matters less than it did.  However, I continue to enjoy the saints as stories — about particular individuals and their lives as well as historical events that may provide inspiration for the present.  From that standpoint if no other, John Paul II’s fascinating life proves most worthy.

In the journal of my 1983 trip to Rome, I also noted with disapproval that we were not permitted to receive communion in our hands at St. Peter’s as we’d been doing for years at home.  A liturgical critic even at age 20!  But clearly I possessed no historical context about Church practices back then.  With the blissful ignorance of youth, I assumed that my experience was normative.   Now in middle age I know better, and to recall such innocence is bittersweet.

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4 Responses to Beatification of John Paul II

  1. Peg,

    I enjoyed your post. I have fond memories of JPII. When I was in high school in the Washington, D.C. area, I was selected to be a student usher to help people get to the communion lines for the Pope’s first visit to the US to celebrate Mass on the National Mall. There were thousands in attendance on that October day in 1979. I still have my special arm-band (designating me as part of the organizing group) and close-up photos of JPII passing in front of me in his motorcade.

    20 years later, my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to Rome and to be part of a Mass celebrated by John Paul II. I still have holy water from that Mass . With his beatification on the path to sainthood, my treasure may become even more special than it already is.

  2. sheila dierks says:

    My favorite theology/thealogy of sainthood comes from a contemporary saint, Elizabeth Johnson. Her wonderful book, Friends of God and Prophets: a feminist theological Reading of the communion of saints, is a revisiting of the concept of sainthood, and a return to a re-look at the apostolic concept of saints as those among us. Among us! And we know lots of them.

  3. Peg Conway says:

    Sheila — I love Friends of God and Prophets (also Truly Our Sister and She Who Is)! Actually thought about mentioning it in the post but time was short and I decided not to elaborate further. Elizabeth Johnson is a brilliant thinker and talented writer; the recent criticism of her from the bishops grieves me very much.

  4. Peg Conway says:

    Michelle – thanks for your anecdote!

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