The National Catholic Review
James Martin, SJ
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Shortly before the beatification of John Paul II, there was consternation in some circles about the perceived rush to canonize him. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints had waived the normal five-year waiting period before beginning the proceedings. There were also concerns raised, in light of what have been seen as his failings as pope, about whether he deserved to be so honored.

As for the rush, I am in favor of every candidate being subject to the same careful process of examination. It is unfair to favor someone because he or she is better known. Also, this might give the impression that corners were cut, possibly damaging the saint’s reputation for future generations. On the other hand, the Vatican was responding to the will of the people, millions of whom are devoted to Pope John Paul.

More important, a miracle attributed to the late pope’s intercession has been authenticated by the Vatican. So God seemed to be in favor of the rush.

I had my differences with Pope John Paul II from time to time. He was not always the biggest fan of the Society of Jesus, though some of his suspicions seem to have originated with false rumors carried by his advisers. When, in an unprecedented move in 1981, he removed Pedro Arrupe, the superior general of the Jesuits, from his post, many Jesuits were dismayed. John Paul was apparently told by some that the Jesuits would be disobedient after Arrupe’s public sacking. We were not. Many sources told me that John Paul was surprised by our fidelity—and pleased. In later years, the pope visited the ailing Arrupe before the Jesuit’s death. (For the record, I believe Father Arrupe was a saint.)

Nonetheless, I am an admirer of John Paul. How can this be?

First, the saints were not perfect. Holiness always makes its home in humanity. The saints would be the first to admit this. Sanctity does not mean perfection. So can his supporters admit that John Paul was human and made mistakes? And can critics forgive him the errors he made?

Second, you do not have to agree with everything a saint did to admire him (or her). One of my favorite saints is Thomas More, the 16th-century English martyr, known to most people from the play and film “A Man for All Seasons.” But I do not agree—to put it mildly—with the burning of heretics, which More approved.

The Vatican noted that Pope Benedict XVI beatified his predecessor because of who John Paul was as a person, not for what he did during his papacy. Beatification does not mean that everything he did as pope is now beyond criticism, any more than everything St. Thomas More did is beyond criticism. On the other hand, that line of thinking is a little mystifying; you cannot separate a person’s actions from his or her personal life.

But the emphasis on the personal life is an important one. The church beatifies a Christian, not an administrator. In that light, John Paul II deserves to be a blessed and, later, a saint. Karol Wojtyla led a life of “heroic sanctity”; he was faithful to God in extreme situations (Nazism, Communism, consumerism); he was a tireless evangelizer in the face of severe infirmity; and he worked ardently for the poor.

He was, in short, holy. And in my eyes, anyone who visits the prison cell of his would-be assassin and forgives the man is a saint.

So I will be turning to the late pope for his frequent intercession. From his place in heaven, he will understand if I did not agree with him on every issue. And now, in the company of Jesus, Mary and the saints, that will be the last thing Blessed John Paul II will be thinking about.

James Martin, S.J., is culture editor of America.

Comments

JUAN ZAMORA | 6/15/2011 - 6:35pm
I am finishing Fr. James Martin, SJ book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.  I wrote a letter to him addressed through Harper Collins, but have not received a reply. 

Iam a Jesuit product, having studied with Jesuits in Cuba for 8 years and one year at Fairfield University.  My family was instrumental in bringing the Jesuits to PUerto Rico after Fidel Castro closed Colegio de Belen in Cuba. 

I am also a graduate of The Wharton School, as Father Martin is, whwere I obtained my Master Degree.

My interest in contacting Fr. Martin is to find out if his book has been translated to Spanish, as I would like to purchase several books to give to some people, who I know would appreciate it as I have.  Also to see if I can inerest him in visiting Puerto Rico and St. Ignatious School there.

Kindly give me an address where I can reach him, or make sure he receives this message.

Many Thanks




Juan B. Zamora
Eric Crump | 5/12/2011 - 2:38pm
Thank you, Father Jim. I, like Norma, have had mixed emotions about the stampede to beatify Pope JPII. There is much to admire in the man, but much that concerns me. . . for example, how he dealt with Archbishop Oscar Romero, who certainly should, IMHO, be futher along the road to canonization than he is. Your assessment has helped me . . . although I feel a five-year wait would have been better. The Church typically does not respond quickly to the passionate desires of its faithful . . . what makes this case so different?
Gregory Byrne | 5/11/2011 - 2:55pm
Frankly, I'm just astonished that anyone cares about the antiquated and just plain silly Vatican saint-making machine. Saints are raised up by God's people based on the example of their lives. The Vatican process intrudes with rules, regulations, criteria and blah blah that are of absolutely no interest to me or, I suspect, many other Catholics.
G. Joseph Seeber, III | 5/8/2011 - 4:06pm
Thank you Father Jim!  For the past several weeks I've been ambivalent about JPII's beatification.  But, as you have done for me so many times in the past (in your writings), you have once again given me good, intelligent reasons for "coming around", as my adult children often urge me to do.  Often, because of my judgmental nature, I feel/think  that my official Church fails to give me good reasons why;  you are a part of my unofficial Church that fills that void.  Again, thank you!
NORMA NUNAG | 5/8/2011 - 11:42am
It seems as though we Catholics at the present time are so critical of everything.  Can't we just accept the reality that we are a mixed bag of creatures, i.e. that we are wired for good and evil.  I think the best metaphor I can think of is the picture often used in psychological testing,  I am referring to the picture of a female which is both ugly and beautiful at the same time, some kind of optical illusion.  But to see the beautiful or the ugly, one has to focus or concentrate.  The lesson here is to be mindful and aware always of our behavior (in speech and body language)  so we don't shoot ourselves in the foot.  Constructive criticism is really constructive if it is done in the spirit of humility, encouragement and building up.  We really need to pray for one another but especially for our Church leaders that they and we are able to discern the right thing do,  to be faithful followers of Jesus, our Risen Saviour.
SARAH JOHNSON MS | 5/8/2011 - 7:35am
Would that the vatican respond to the will of the people on other issues rather than rule from a vacuum !!!
Fernando Diaz del Castillo Z. | 5/6/2011 - 5:22pm
It's sad, it seems that around "America" flows a group of Jesuits and lay people who would like a Church and a Pope made according to their thougts and wishes.
Ann Kelley | 5/6/2011 - 5:02pm
 Well put, Father Martin. But what's the rush?
Robert DuBrul | 5/6/2011 - 4:30pm
Every once in a while a very good commentator, like Jim Martin, bumps his head.  This is one of those times.  He sterlingly defends what he also thinks should not have happened - church action out of the norm on behalf of someone with whom many questions still exist.  Sainthood, if it really means anything, should not be for the popular nor as an action to bolster a shaky institution like the papacy.  He may have been a saint - too early to tell.  Was he a good pope who left the church better off than he found it - questionable.  Did he have charisma? Sure. Is that what makes for a saint?  I hope it is more than that.  Will I be praying to him for intercession?  I'll stick with Ignatius.
GREGORY GUITERAS MR | 5/6/2011 - 4:21pm

My magnanimity falls short of Fr. Jim's.
I admire Pope John Paul II as an influential world figure, for his deep intellect and for his personal holiness. Since, I, too, agree that one's actions reflect one's personal life, I think history needs to run its course in light of some of John Paul's controversial acts as pope.
I think we-the-Church need to wait a while before awarding him with sainthood.

ANN CLEM | 5/6/2011 - 1:13pm
I do not question that John Paul II was a good Christian man. What I do have a problem with (miracle or not) is that there are MANY holy people who were not in the limelight of the public eye who served others in more outstanding ways.  When we start canonizing the common man our Church will show more validity in its canonization process.  I'm sorry.  But I don't feel that this beatification gives anymore morale to the Church's standing (just to those who admired him).  John Paul II didn't do anything to move the Church forward, but actually put the brakes on Vatican II.

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