Sunday, April 03, 2005

The significance of John Paul II

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:26 PM |  

I don’t know who wrote the Pioneer Press editorial today on the passing of Pope John Paul II, but I know the writer doesn’t get it.

Popes are not presidents, premiers or prime ministers. It is indeed a lifeless eulogy (which reeks of the obligatory) that sees no significance to the passing of John Paul but the death of a world leader. Hundreds of thousands of people do not hold vigil in St. Peter’s Square because John Paul is a world leader.

Read the editorial. Although it acknowledges that “a Roman Catholic pope, and especially John Paul II, holds an incomparable place in the world’s moral, spiritual and geopolitical lives,” it focuses exclusively on the political, shamelessly using the conservative pope’s death as yet another opportunity to push liberal political philosophy.

Although not surprising, it is nonetheless no less sad. The editorial reflects a growing ineptitude among the self-designated elite -- they are incapable of recognizing the “holy,” the “transcendence” of the ordinary, that is the essence of spirituality.

And so they take the measure of a pope only by his geopolitical record, balanced by politically correct perceptions of good and evil, rather than the spiritual significance of his life.

They measure commitment to environmentalism by the number of acres protected from development instead of the ability, as the poet William Blake wrote --
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

They demand a literal history stripped of the mythology that inspires reverence for American uniqueness -- the only country in the world where citizenship depends on neither ethnicity nor bloodline but only on acceptance of the existence of self-evident truths (and the obligation to seek them).

Belief in myths and ritual is not to deny fact; it is the ability to perceive the greater truth beyond fact, to be alive and aware that what separates man from the beasts is the ability to strive for an understanding of the universe, appreciating mankind’s place in that universe and reaching one’s own potential within the context of the greater grandeur.

That is not a trivial distinction, for it is a secular demand for literalism that leads to totalitarianism; it is faith in self-evident truth beyond facts that necessitates the freedom to pursue it.

To this non-Catholic, this is the significance of John Paul II: His struggles to reconcile the modern world with the greater truths of Catholic tradition (not as the editorial would have one believe, the other way around) are the struggles of all spiritual people seeking their place in the greater grandeur of God’s universe. A mortal pope died; the significance of his life depends on the ability of each of us, regardless of religion or creed, to see the world and heaven, eternity and infinity, in the myth that surpasses the dust that was the man.