Thursday, January 28, 2010
This week a book attesting to the sanctity of Pope John Paul the Second was released in Rome. Why He Is A Saint: The True Story of John Paul II is part of the official process of sainthood. Within the pages of the book was the revelation that the Pope whipped himself with a belt and occasionally slept on the hard floor of his papal apartment. Either out of ignorance, or in an attempt to draw a crowd, some in the media have tried to use this information to paint John Paul as a sadist, a kook, or worse.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We have an annoying habit these days of evaluating historical events through our all too cynical, contemporary eyes. Heres what really happened: As a young man, John Paul the Second was a secular Carmelite devoted to the work of the mystic, St. John of the Cross. Corporal mortification--the use of hair shirts, flagellation etc.-- was for centuries a routine part of religious life. Up until the Second Vatican Council many religious orders required their members to use these methods to mortify the flesh and to subdue their passions. Everyone from Mother Teresa to St. Josemaria Escriva to Mother Angelica at some point in their religious life practiced mortifications similar to those attributed to the Pope this week. It was a way for them to share in the physical sufferings of Christ and to recall the weakness of the flesh. The physical act was not as important as the spiritual intention behind it. Otherwise every tattoo parlor visitor or pierced girl in Greenwich Village would be in line for canonization. (Given the number of physical impalings some of these tattoo addicts have endured, they could be instantly declared martyrs!)

Of the millions of people who practiced spiritual self-mortifications over the centuries, a rare few ever achieved the holiness or possessed the evangelical influence of John Paul the Second. And that's the real story here. Another revelation of the new book, not widely reported, attests to the temporal and spiritual power of this Pope--and the threat he posed to some. Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the author of the book, writes that an Italian militant group, the Red Brigades planned to kidnap the Pope shortly before an attempt was made on his life in 1981.

Despite all the spin and the peculiar coverage this week, John Pauls cause will move forward, whip and all, and formal sainthood is probably just a few years away. Let me know what you think at raymond@raymondarroyo.com

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