Casualty of Capitalism

Exiled into Wilmington, Delaware by virtue of corporate layoffs. (Note: Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this blog are Copyright 2005, Michael Collins, and cannot be used without permission.)

Location: Wilmington, Delaware, United States

Graduate of University of Maryland School of Law; University of Maryland, College Park (Economics/Political Science).

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Pope's Will

Lost in the coverage of Pope John Paul II's death last week is the message contained in his will. Most of the reports on the will highlighted either that it contained a 2000 passage in which the pope noted he considered stepping down, or that the will contained the names of only two people: his personal secretary and Rome's head rabbi. Keep this information in mind when you some day play Trivial Pursuit, 2000's Edition.

What went unreported, or was simply ignored, is the pope's 1980 vision for the Church and how he unwaveringly accomplished exactly what he set out to do during his papacy.

The papal will is as much a reflection on life and death as it is an instrument through which to bequeath earthly goods to family and friends. The pope wrote his initial will in 1979 after spending time reflecting in the spirit during Lent. In this first version of the will, he directed what should be done with his personal assets and arranged his funeral. Typical testamentary stuff.

The meat of John Paul II's will is found in the 1980 segment. After a similar time of spiritual reflection, the pope wrote about the troubled status of the Church and its adherents:

The times in which we live are unutterably difficult and disturbed. The path of the Church has also become difficult and tense, a characteristic trial of these times-- both for the Faithful and for Pastors. In some Countries (as, for example, in those about which I read during the spiritual exercises), the Church is undergoing a period of such persecution as to be in no way lesser than that of early centuries, indeed it surpasses them in its degree of cruelty and hatred. "Sanguis martyrum-- semen christianorum" (Eds: Latin for "Blood of the martyrs-- seeds of Christians"). And apart from this-- many people die innocently even in this Country in which we are living.

JPII obviously wrote this passage with an eye towards the persecution of the Church in the countries in Soviet communist hands at the time of its writing. But the passage is no less apt today, as the teachings of the Church come increasingly under attack even in free countries. Pastors have had to deal with a decline in the number of priests available to say Mass, and with scandals galore, both real and imagined, that have divided parishoners and caused deficiencies in attendance and donations. The drumbeat in the days leading to and after the pope's death shows that these trying times remain in full swing. The trying times of John Paul's papcy did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, the outcry for loosening the strictures of the Church came increasingly from modernized Western countries, like the U.S.

A not uncommon view in the press after the pope's passing was that Pope John Paul II's tenure was a disaster. Some people point to attendance figures and the drop in new vocations to the priesthood and have accused the pope of failing the Church. Others point to the male-dominated hierarchy, opposition to family planning, and other conservative practices of the Church and proclaim that the Church is a dinosaur out of step with modern times. The pope's failure to modernize the Church, they argue, is causing its irrelevancy, a sure sign of this pope's incompetence.

In fact, the pope accomplished exactly what he set out to do: protection of the church and its faithful from the corruption of modern life. In the next passage of his will, the pope outlines what he believed to be his God-given role as head of the Catholic Church, including an eerie foreshadowing of the difficulties of his papacy and the role he would play in life and ultimately in his death, all written in 1980 prior to his attempted assassination and Parkinson's diagnosis:

Once again, I wish to entrust myself totally to the Lord's grace. He Himself will decide when and how I must end my earthly life and pastoral ministry. In life and in death, Totus Tuus in Mary Immaculate. Accepting that death, even now, I hope that Christ will give me the grace for the final passage, in other words (Vatican notation: "my") Easter. I also hope that He makes (Vatican notation: "that death") useful for this more important cause that I seek to serve: the salvation of men and women, the safeguarding of the human family and, in that, of all nations and all peoples (among them, I particularly address my earthly Homeland), and useful for the people with whom He particularly entrusted me, for the question of the Church, for the glory of God Himself.

The pope stayed on message throughout his papacy and refused to give in to liberalising forces. He was a steady rock, like Peter, and did his utmost to spread the message of salvation worldwide without compromising Jesus Christ's message to suit modern preferences. Was Pope John Paul II a success? For those willing to listen to his message, he caused the salvation of those men and women. Check. He tirelessly worked to free oppressed people, protected the unborn from the tragedy of abortion, preached the "culture of life", and saw to the fall of Soviet Communism. Check. His death, almost side-by-side with Terri Schiavo's highlighted the meaning of entrusting one's self to the Lord's grace and accepting death as He intends it. Check. Finally, through his popularity with both the poor and the powerful alike, the pope made himself useful for the church, and his deeds embodied the glory of God as he hoped. Check.

Every man has his failings, and the pope like all others was a mere mortal. Some actions and inactions of the Church during his tenure I will never understand. But I do know that this fatherly figure who preached the gospel of unwavering fidelity to the traditions and teachings of the Church and who practiced tough love in order to keep his flock on the orderly path to salvation was anything but a failure. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in this pope's church. I can only pray that his legacy will continue as the cardinals begin voting next week on his successor.


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