Saturday, 30 April 2011

Pope John Paul II: "Some definite service"

One of the Cardinal’s best-loved meditations includes the words, “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine). Here we see Newman’s fine Christian realism, the point at which faith and life inevitably intersect. Faith is meant to bear fruit in the transformation of our world through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives and activity of believers. No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our society.
The above words are taken from Pope Benedict XVI's address in Hyde Park on the eve of the beatification of Cardinal Newman. "God has created me to do him some definite service". If we apply these words, and Pope Benedict's commentary on them, to the life of Pope John Paul II I think we have to question the suggestion being made in some places that Pope John Paul II is being beatified because of his sanctity, and not because of the efficacy of his actions as the Successor of Peter. I do not think that it is right to say that we can separate the holiness of an individual from the the living out of the "definite service" entrusted to that individual. In the case of Pope John Paul II, that means that the way in which he lived out the Petrine ministry has to be seen as part of the charism that is offered to the Church through his beatification. [True, the criteria of judgement might not be that of perfection in the fulfilment of the office and instead that of faithfulness to the demands of the office - but then the former is to judge in "human" terms whilst the latter is to judge in the realm of "grace" which is, of course, the realm of judgement appropriate to the Church's processes of beatification and canonisation.]

I would like to suggest that Pope John Paul II lived in a very vivid way the office of Universal Shepherd to the Church, and that this forms part of his "definite service" and therefore of the gift to the Church represented by his beatification. One witness to the nature of this universal mission is represented in this piece by William Oddie which describes how Pope John Paul II's pontificate gave to Malcom Muggeridge and to William Oddie himself the confidence to enter the Catholic Church. Another is represented by Fr Tim's post with regard to Pope John Paul II's Holy Thursday letters to priests. Another witness can be found at Bridges and Tangents. One can also see the many visits to different countries in the same way. Oh, and here too.

In ecclesiological terms, it is the Bishop of the local Church who is the pastor of souls in the particular place in which that local Church exists. But the Pope also has a pastoral office in a direct relation to the individual faithful, an office that does not undermine that of the local Bishop but instead reinforces it within the (theological) notion of the communion of individual, diocese and universal Church. Though it has a juridical aspect, this universal office is not in essence juridical but instead pastoral, and Pope John Paul II's manner of living it showed this. This is his office of universal pastor, and I think the exercise of this universal office forms a key part of understanding the holiness of Pope John Paul II.

In this context, I believe that it is worth mentioning the following initiatives of Pope John Paul II, and this because they show how the exercise of his universal office can be seen as essentially pastoral/charismatic rather than juridical (and perhaps those who would like to see Pope John Paul's holiness as separate from his exercise of the Papal office would have preferred it to be more juridical). What is striking about these initiatives is the way in which they enabled activity at the level of the individual parish, group or movement in the Church.

Here is a list, in no particular order, and with no claim to completeness: World Youth Day; the programme of three preparatory years dedicated in turn to the three persons of the Trinity and the celebration of the Jubilee of the Year 2000; within the celebration of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, the celebrations dedicated to different areas of the life of the Church; the Year of the Eucharist; the Year of the Rosary, with the introduction of the Mysteries of Light (now very much my favourite mysteries); the Pentecost meeting with members of the new ecclesial movements during which he recognised the charismatic dimension of the Church as being "co-essential" with the hierarchical dimension; World Day for the Sick.

No comments: