Beatification is a declaration by the pope, as head of the church, that one has lived a life of holiness and is now dwelling in heaven. The person’s writings and actions are examined thoroughly. If this process determines that the person led a virtuous life in a heroic manner and an authenticated miracle accompanies the investigation, then the pope may declare the person “Blessed.” The person is beatified, the step before canonization and the declaration of sainthood.
Some were critical that this process for Pope John Paul II was too quick. Perhaps Pope Benedict should have waited longer before initiating the cause?
Pope Benedict exercised his authority in an appropriate timeframe. The impact of the John Paul pontificate still lingers. The vision that he created still inspires. It’s important that Benedict XVI capitalize on the moment and build on the virtues of this character that I would hold was the greatest figure of the 20th century.
Historical figures have a limited popular shelf life before they are relegated to history books and the pens of dissertations or historical biographers. A saint, on the other hand, is used as an intercessor, becomes a model for the faithful and celebrated by the entire Catholic world.
In the 26 years of his papacy, John Paul II cast his shadow over every aspect of the Catholic Church. His writings, travels, ecumenical work and canonizations surpassed all of his predecessors’. But I would hold that there were three areas in which John Paul II made his greatest contributions to the church in the era he served.
n First, he boldly celebrated the “mystery” of the church. In a world that embraces the material and rejects the spiritual, John Paul promoted the sense of mystery that leads and directs people of faith. This is the church that Jesus Christ himself founded and the Holy Spirit dwells within this church. This confidence produced his attacks on communism, pointing out its emptiness devoid of the spiritual.
It also generated his warnings to capitalism and its potential for greed and the accumulation of wealth which entices one to live apart from the responsibility we have to our brothers and sisters. He supported many new forms of spirituality, confident that the devotional life would assist all of us in maintaining a relationship to our Lord in the everyday life of the faithful.
The very day of his beatification was Divine Mercy Sunday, a celebration established by John Paul II in response to St. Faustina. This devotion continues to grow as more and more faithful come to understand the mercy of God in the forgiveness of our sins. It reestablishes the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation as a channel of God’s grace.
n Second is our relationship to Mary the Mother of God. He wore his dedication to Mary on his sleeve and his coat of arms. Some in the post Vatican II era downplayed devotions to Mary. His personal prestige made devotions to Mary admirable and he also publicly reclaimed Mary’s rightful place in salvation history. Mary is the model for the commitment we faithful should make to Christ. John Paul II’s motto TOTUS TUUS reflects a total commitment to Mary who was totally committed to the plan of salvation through her son Jesus Christ.
n Third is his promotion of the dignity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. Even the term the dignity of human life seems synonymous with John Paul II. Our generation suffers from a tremendous devaluation of human life. Technology and science have at times ignored the sacredness of human life in order to advance human experimentation. Abortion and euthanasia are used as means to serve personal convenience and have become economic decisions. Children are sold in human trafficking and are used for sexual exploitation. Unchecked capitalism diminishes the dignity of work and the rights of workers. Marxist Socialism denies individual rights. Terrorism, violence and unjust wars deny the harmony and peace needed for nations and humankind to progress and develop. John Paul II taught and preached against these and other evils. He helped us to recognize the “imago dei” (the image of God) in each of us especially the most vulnerable.
More than 1,000 of the faithful of our archdiocese gathered in St. Josaphat Basilica at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday May 1, and we were in solidarity with our Holy Father Benedict XVI. We celebrated John Paul II’s beatification. After the Mass many traded stories of this pope who made them feel that they were a part of his family. Many were present at one of his famous gatherings, some personally met him and still others had pictures of him but they all shared one common emotion. They all loved him.
The greatest compliment that could be paid to any Christian or Catholic is that he or she represented Christ to us. John Paul II was the Vicar of Christ on earth. He represented Christ for us. Now as Blessed John Paul II we pray that he will represent us to Christ. Blessed John Paul II pray for us.