I woke up early this morning to watch the funeral. Quite an amazing rite for quite an amazing man. A lovely spectacle, carried by telecast around the world, even into the hearts of darkness in China and the Muslim world. (Did anyone else see the feed from Al Jazeera? I wish I could read Arabic.)
Let me declare here first, I stand firmly in the Reformation, declaring “Soli Deo Gloria”, et all. In no sense do I wish to join the Roman Church. But I have heard and read a number of rumblings in the evangelical community about the Pope, how the papacy isn’t a biblical office, etc, lately as well as reminders about all the stuff about Catholicism that we Reformationists protested, selling of indulgences, the veneration of Mary, the elevation of the priesthood, celibacy of the priesthood, mixing works into the gospel of grace, etc. Mostly concern about the current popularity of the Pope, concern that popularity will dilute the gospel of grace.
I can appreciate that concern, but from where I sit, today it is popular to like the JPII, and will always be. What I don’t see happening is a mad dash to the Catholic Church from Evangelicals. He won’t be as popular in a month, or on everyone’s mind and lips in 6, and in a year, he will be fading from view in the rear view mirror. Which in my opinion is criminally shameful. But that is what will happen. Everyone suddenly loved Reagan when he died too, but dems didn’t rush out and convert to the GOP. (Logical choice, I know, but alas, loving Reagan didn’t help them think more clearly. 😉
I would like to state here that I believe in some very specific things the Romans have it right and we have it wrong. There is an ancient majesty to the old rites that draws our gaze to the agelessness of God. We can worship God in spirit and in truth through observing those old rites and understanding their foundation. We miss that when insisting upon the latest worship music played upon the latest technology. It isn’t that other of God’s truths are not proclaimed by worshiping in the new ways, they are, powerfully. But I would submit that we miss our history, the amazing history of how God has sustained his church through wars, civil upheaval, famine, disease, invasion and persecution. Also, we can learn about and understand more of God’s King-ness through HIS veneration. Yes he is Father, that is how Jesus taught us to pray. But he is Father-King, and not something other, these two are together rather than singular. As C.S. Lewis says of Aslan, He isn’t safe, but He is good, that’s the way we should view God. There are ancient meanings behind the traditions of the Catholic Mass, it would behoove us to discover those meanings. I also think there is a much needed place for monasticism in the Protestant church, but that is a discussion for another time.
So, all that to say, I am not concerned about the Pope’s current place in the pantheon of popular dead people. He really did accomplish some amazing and incredible things in his lifetime. He lived through two of the harshest, cruelest dictatorships in world history and emerged from them a man of God, committed to peace. Not a pansy peace, but real peace, rather, the kind you stretch your neck out for. He reached out ecumenically to heal rifts and wounds that, frankly, needed healing. He never, as far as I know, sold out his understanding of what it was to be a Christian. Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II reached out to sinners as an ambassador of Christ. I think he was an amazing role model.