Written by Keith Strohm
Somehow, it seems very fitting that the anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death occurs right near the beginning of Holy Week. The time surrounding his death was a very painful one for me--on many levels. In addition to watching my beloved papa weaken and die, my personal life seemed to be doing exactly the same thing.
Remembering John Paul II brings back all of the feelings and experiences that I had during the spring of 2005, but through it all, I carry a wonderful sense of what a gift Pope John Paul II was, both to the Church and to the World.
In memory of his death, I'm going to repost something that I wrote on my blog, Take Your Place. It is a short reflection on my experience of John Paul II. It's entitled, Why I Hated The Pope, and it was written during the time of his last sickness:
When I was younger, and heavily influenced by my undergraduate and graduate school indoctrination into postmodern critical theory, I viewed the Church--its teachings and its life--with what many modern day Christian Feminists would call a 'hermeneutic of suspicion.' The institutional Church was, in my view, an outmoded expression of Christianity, weighed down with patriarchal baggage. It required liberation through an authentic entry into postmodern discourse and a true embracing of postmodern, post structural, and post-colonial 'praxis.'
The pope, then, as the symbol of the Church's unity and its supreme legislator, became a target of my disaffected intellect. Though my heart yearned to be with Christ, my mind fought His Church. Pope John Paul II's consistent call to radical orthodoxy, his insistence on a male-only priesthood, his reiteration of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, were like goads in my flesh. They fueled my arrogant rebellion in a way that little else did.
By the time I encountered his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, my personal magisterium was, quite frankly, fed up with this old white male, a symbol of everything that was wrong with the Church. I choked my way through the text of that encyclical, growing more and more angry as John Paul II laid out his teaching. By the time I had finished it, I knew what I had to do. Somewhere around 1993 or 1994, I excommunicated the pope. He was stricken from the Book of My Life, and if, in the course of the next five years, his name was mentioned--either on tv, in books, or during conversations--I was sure to measure a heap of uncharitable observations and critical comments. Truth be told, I spent a good portion of the 90's waiting for the pope to die.
It was only after a series of powerful encounters with God, and a host of daily conversions, that I have truly come to understand that this man, whom I have 'known' for over two thirds of my life, has been called by God to be the true Vicar of Christ on earth. I am humbled by the vastness of his intellect, his unwavering committment to shepherd the Church, and his deep personal holiness. As I sit and study his words and reflections, I am brought ever more deeply to the realization of my own personal, intellectual, and spiritual poverty.
I grieve the time that I spent vilifying this great man--time that I could have (and should have) spent listening to him call me to Christ. Every time I see him struggling, living, and, ultimately, accepting his infirmity, every time I read an exhortation or encyclical written by his hand, and every time I hear his quavering voice, I remember why I once hated the pope--and why I love him so deeply now. Not only is he my papa, but he is a living example of Christ on earth.
I have never known the Church to be without John Paul II, and although I know and trust in the promises of Christ, I hope against hope that I never have to know the Church without John Paul II.
Please pray for our beloved papa, tonight and always.
It was a curious thing to be a part of the Church without John Paul II alive. I can remember crying when they announced Benedict XVI as the next Pope, not because I had any strong attachment to Cardinal Ratzinger, but because I was witnessing apostolic succession par excellence, the very real manifestation of Christ's promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.
There is so much work to be done by the Church in this age, work that we, as laypeople, are called particularly to accomplish. John Paul II, we ask you to pray for us, for the work of the New Evangelization, for the spreading of the Name and the Love of Christ to every corner of the world. On the anniversary of your death, may you continue to intercede for your successor, for all of the Bishops, and for the whole Church united in the fulfillment of Christ's mission.