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The Canonizations

I always feel a little embarrassed about admitting this, but the official cult of the saints is one aspect of Catholicism that I've never really taken to. I don't have any argument with the theology involved in the honoring of saints, and the practice of seeking their intercession; it's strictly a matter of temperament and culture, of something that doesn't come naturally to me, and it's not a big part of my devotional life. I don't mind if you call it a residue of my Protestant background. I do pray sometimes to a few saints, and I do have my favorites, but they tend to be those whose fame rests in some large part on their writings, and I'm more interested in the writings than the persons. That's one reason why you rarely see a post here taking note of a saint's feast day: I usually haven't noticed it until it's already here, and too late to write something.

And so I haven't really paid that much attention to the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. I have no serious reservations about either man. I'm reasonably well persuaded that the Second Vatican Council was needed, notwithstanding the many abuses which followed it. And  John Paul II was a great light to the whole world. The serious complaints about him seem to involve his management of the internal affairs of the Church, and perhaps the criticism is justifiable. Certainly his support for the evil Fr. Maciel is is a mark against his judgment, but not necessarily against his virtue. I am more or less of the same mind as William Oddie, who says in the Catholic Herald that John Paul achieved nothing less than the rescue of the Council from its abductors.

But I am a little worried by the procedure. John Paul's canonization has been swift, and John's has proceeded without the usual second miracle. Since canonizations are supposed to be infallible, it seems like an awfully big investment of the Church's authority, and caution is in order. I was bothered by John Paul's speeding-up of the process, and no less so by its application to him.

What do you think?


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I dare say that one reason I like your blog, other than the writing, is that we share some of the same Protestant residues. I do make novenas to various saints, but I'm not really a saint devoted person. I never know what saint day it is - this is part of my general disinterest in liturgy.

I also find the theology of the body really boring - nothing personal, really, I just hate ethics.

I wasn't bothered by their speeding up the canonization prcess. JPII meant a huge amount to me. He was one of those who drew me into the church. He seemed to have - to put it badly - the right balance of liberal and conservative. He knew theology has to develop. He developed it himself. But of course he loved the core of the faith. But he didn't seem to love it in the way some are obsessed about the *propositions* per se. He seemed more popular and more vulgar. His 'traditionalism' seemed to be of a kind with his love of Polish sausage and hiking and sking in the mountains, rather than an intellectualist, egghead conservativism. So with his combination of this very rooted traditionalism and a lively philosophical intellect, John Paul was enormously appealing to me.

I particularly loved it when he did stuff like going to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. My mother, who was Jewish, was so taken by that moment.

He made a dreadful error about Maciel. He didn't do enough to deal with the abuse crisis.

But before that, we had this glorious papacy - or that was how I experienced it. It was the self-evident vitality and warmth of his faith which was so important.

JPII helped to bring down communism in Eastern Europe and in Russia. I remember a friend of mine commenting - at the time - n about 1988 - how he had stood at the very border of Soviet Russia and appealed to the Holy Spirit to come and break down the 'wall' (not the Berlin wall, just the spiritual wall between Soviet Russia and the West). And my friend was bemused, and laughed and said maybe something would or would not come of it, but one could not help but admire his chutzpah. With hindsight it seems obvious that Eastern Europe and Russia had to be freed up from communism, but at the time, it was not inevitable and was in fact astonishing. We owe it in part, and tens of millions of East Europeans and Lithuanians and Latvians, owe it to JPII. If it were up to me, I would canonize him for that alone - for helping to regain freedom for eastern Europe.

So I don't mind that they've sped up the process, no.

I have no protestant residues and I'm still a bit bothered by the speed of these canonisations.

He made a dreadful error about Maciel. He didn't do enough to deal with the abuse crisis.

I agree.

I really *feel* the communion of the saints, although not all of them appeal to me, so I normally love a canonisation ceremony.

I normally don't pay any attention.:-)

I have been wondering: what if Maciel had died during the latter years of John Paul's papacy? Would/could he have been fast-track canonized? Well, I guess that's what the Holy Spirit's hand is in there for: it's a horrible thought, but it didn't happen.

Grumpy, I agree completely with everything you say about JPII. He had a very similar effect on me, although in the end I felt Benedict to be a bit more of a kindred spirit. So my reservation about the procedure is purely about that, not any misgiving about him. Though I wonder if the kinds of big-picture concerns we're talking about are supposed to be grounds for canonization. I mean, I think they justify calling him "the Great," but do they also justify "Saint"?

Wondering if the process has become quicker and easier than it should be is a little like the situation where a politician whom you agree with exercises power in a questionable way. You have to ask yourself "would I want every ruler to have this power?" Just seems like it increases the potential for a bad call.

I see the analogy but nonetheless it seems to me that JPII's sanctity was as obvious as Mother Theresa's. It was tangible. I feel as if bringing down the Soviet Union was not 'the great thing JPII did' but rather an *example* of his sanctity. That's why I quoted my friend talking about how JPII went and invoked the Holy Spirit on the borders of the former USSR. He was so abundantly filled with the Spirit that freeing millions from the former USSR was one thing he was able to do because of it.

I don't think sanctity is normally that as tangible as JPII's or Mother Theresa's. And on the few occasions where it is, there seems to be no harm in getting the guy or gal canonized.

It is line with his populism, which was above all what liberal catholics and semi lapsed catholics hated about him. The masses at his funeral chanted sancto subito and JP II did popular devotion.

To some moral positions, like for instance Christopher Hitchens' deprecation of Mother Theresa, the only appropriate response is 'yeech.' Because analytic reason will not help those who are morally blind. I feel the same way about these guys, who like Louise and Mac, have doubts about the speed of this canonization


I hope you're not lumping me in with them, Grumpy!

Nor me! I have no reservations at all about JP--it's purely about the process. You mention Mother Teresa--it seems a little odd that she wouldn't be canonized by now, as she died 8 years earlier.

Hey Grumpy: I have called Mr Matt, of the tattered Remnant, my favorite comedian, because he and his confrere Mr Ferrara have in the past cracked me up. Watching this video, though, I was saddened. The man is obviously distressed, and the 'catacomb' set, complete with the pile of bones and skulls, spoke worlds about how they view the world and themselves. While I have criticized, and goofed on, the folks who call themselves traditionalists, I am not unsympathetic to them and their concerns. Not least, because I know from attending the Latin High Mass that much of their shenanigans are rooted in the experience of the numinous that they felt during the Latin Mass.

For all that, any particular form of the Divine Liturgy is 90% human construct. The Latin Mass and the Liturgies of St John Chrystostom and of St James may be particularly beautiful and moving constructions, and the pedestrian Sunday Novus Ordo Mass may be a particularly banal one, but neither are the Absolute.
I must admit, though, that for all my appreciation of John Paul, I thought Mr Matt had some very good points concerning the innovations and speed of this canonization. But I am willing to take the chance that Francis knows what he is doing, given his record.

And yes, that last statement would make Mr Matt's head explode.

I didn't even notice that there was a video. I only skimmed the text, but I chuckled slightly at the prayer at the end. "Now that you are with God and therefore see things my way...."

Yeah, and that was one of the sad things. You understand, of course, that within his universe he is something of a liberal, what with trying to rescue the canonizations and his acknowledgement that a canonization is in fact a valid declaration of someone's holiness. Not to mention that the last four popes are in fact legitimately elected popes, no matter how disastrous their papacies....

Yes, I had run across something else, I forget where, that more or less declared the canonizations in error.

I have some sympathy with their disaffection, too. I don't know how much of it could have been prevented by decent treatment of the people who were attached to the old Mass (to say nothing of a better implementation of the changes), but surely some could have. As a newcomer to the Church in the early 1980s, with no dog in the fight, I was struck by the contempt and disdain consistently shown for those who lamented the old Mass.

As a newcomer to the Church in the early 1980s, with no dog in the fight, I was struck by the contempt and disdain consistently shown for those who lamented the old Mass.

It was a terrible thing. :(

I have a lot of empathy for the trads and more so with every year that passes, which is not to say that I agree with everything they say.

I am currently listening to "The Fool on the Hill" - which is an interesting juxtaposition. :/

If it were up to me, I would canonize him for that alone - for helping to regain freedom for eastern Europe.

I agree with Grumpy on this.

If there is one thing I have learned very well in the last few years is that often we just have to be very patient, in the presence of certain evils in our midst that we cannot stop. Doing that while not getting sucked into the evil ourselves (and opposing it as best we can) is frankly heroic sometimes.

And the Church itself always seems to be on the brink of disaster. Because it usually is.

Yes, that sounds about right!

Sad to say.

I was actually in Rome for this, St. Peter's Square was too full to admit us despite that we dragged ourselves out of bed at 3 am to get there... but there were screens in nearby plazas showing the ceremony, so we watched from Navona Square, where the mass was broadcast (overdubbed in Polish, which wasn't helpful; but the actual mass was mostly in Latin with a homily in Italian, so Polish was a slight improvement). JPII got me interested in Catholicism by apologising for everything the Church had ever done wrong, so I signed up when a friend organised a trip down, though I never felt as much affection for him as for Pope Benedict (who was looking really, really old and frail on sunday).

I hope that waiving the normal rules doesn't become commonplace. The insistence on miracles seems to me to indicate not merely caution, but also patience and humility in waiting for God to have His say.

The traditionalist article is bizarre. He couldn't at least have noted that the canonisation mass was in Latin? (Except for the readings, and of those the Gospel was given in Latin and Greek, chanted gregorian and byzantine style.) I should have skipped reading it, I think.

It's great to hear that you were able to go to Rome for the canonizations, godescalc. I am green with envy, of course, but happy for you all the same. I imagine the city was pretty jammed with visitors?

John Paul II is the only official saint whom I have ever seen with my own eyes. I saw him 3 times: once in Canada and twice in Rome. I'd have liked to have been present at the ceremony.

By the way, does anyone know of the proper way to say the names of the now-canonized Popes? Is it "Pope St. John Paul II"?

I should say that I envy you, too, godescalc, but I'd be stretching the truth. I don't have much appetite for big public events like that, no matter how truly worthwhile, and there aren't many more worthwhile than this. My wife and I considered taking our children to see JPII around 1989 or so when he came to New Orleans, but decided against it. The story of a friend who did made us glad we did.

Very interesting that JPII got you interested in Catholicism. I'd like to hear more about that.

Craig, it's "Pope St. John Paul the Great." :-)

"Pope St. Name & Number" seems to be fine, I've come across references to Pope St. Nicholas I (notable for opining on whether women could wear trousers [his answer was basically "who cares?"]) and Pope St. Gregory I (so awesome even Calvin thought he was great).

The city was extremely packed. Lots of Poles there, I saw the Ecuadorian flag a few times, a fair few southeast asians as well (probably Philipinos). There was a plethora of monastic costumes, as well - I was continually seeing new species of nuns with unfamiliar markings and headgear, like a man who sees only two or three species of birds in his hometown and, upon visiting a zoo, suddenly beholds varieties of plumage undreamt of. (I saw two cardinals too, including one stalking along while an american priest cheerfully exhorted him to "walk and wave, walk and wave!" - the cardinal bore this transatlantic cheerfulness with grim stoicism, and passed us without waving, or so much as glancing uswards.)

Alas, the wonder of the event was somewhat muted by the sleep deprivation caused by our schedules... and as mentioned, we had to attend the mass remotely, which was a great pity: I would have liked to see Pope Francis in person (and Pope Benedict, a second time - I saw him at a distance years ago, while still a Prod). But Rome is an excellent city even to be mildly disappointed in, and the mass itself (while much of it was incomprehensible for the reasons stated) got across to me why people used to love the latin mass and chant. (I've attended one or two latin masses before but they'd failed to make much of an impression, but there were various factors involved there.)

(On which note I should drop a plug: http://godescalc.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/vecno-mesto/ )

(And has anyone come across a transcript of the homily given at the ceremony? I'd like to know what we were listening to...)

Well, I was also gotten interested by Chesterton, whom I read omnivorously as a kid, and later by some online apologists for dealing with various difficulties, Mark Shea in particular; but JPII's apologies really struck me, because of the humility shown, and the willingness to face the truth (two virtues that always strike me, and which I don't possess enough of).

(JP2's apologies also made me realise that the Church could actually learn from mistakes, but I'm not sure this is relevant reasoning in retrospect - it seems too close to one of the bad ideas Screwtape commended for human consumption - but I was coming to the disturbing conclusion that when the oil runs out and society collapses [our current morality depends a bit too much on cheap energy for my liking], there are sectors of Protestantism that could easily go back to burning witches within 50 years. It struck me that a Church which could, like JPII, apologise for the past and keep going could preserve what's good about modern liberalism and human rights when the dark ages come again. Protestantism couldn't do that as well; I'm not sure modern secularism could do it at all.)

(Have to run; I may have more to type later.)

Very interesting. And very surprising that you read Chesterton as a kid. Were you Protestant before you got interested in the Church, or skeptic?

I didn't know you had a new blog since Real Things, which I was kind of disappointed to see fade away. I'll be reading (or looking, as it seems to be largely your graphics).

JPII was an influence on my conversion, too, in a different way. It was more a feeling, almost immediate upon his election, that the truth was with him somehow, that he had a way of looking at things that included the best of the various fragmented visions (political and otherwise) at work in the modern world, but transcended them.

One of the more striking things about modern secularism at the moment is the way it is reinventing the concepts of heresy and blasphemy, and rediscovering--without any sense of embarrassment at embracing something it has so long decried--the idea that some degree of fundamental agreement about fundamental things is a necessary glue for any society.

Very nice drawings, godescalc. *sigh* I do love Rome.

I didn't know you had a new blog either. I'm adding it to my feed.

Speaking of Real Things, do you know how Nick M is doing? I used to enjoy reading him so much, and then he disappeared into his doctoral thesis.

Thanks - I haven't plugged my new blog much as I update it very infrequently, so be warned of that. I haven't been in contact with Nick for a while - usually I exchange facebook comments with him every so often but at the moment my primary source of internet is the workplace connection, and someone in IT has (I cannot fault them for this) decided to block our institute from using facebook. He is doing some blogging but exclusively on World War I last I checked; anything else he has to say he says on facebook, I think.

Before becoming Catholic I was still Protestant (you may remember the thread on Craig's blog where I mentioned growing up Pentecostal), though I was an increasingly bad Protestant, it has to be said.

My family happens to like Chesterton, including my non-religious father; I read old hardback copies of a lot of his picaresque novels when younger, as well as "The Everlasting Man". I didn't find all of Chesterton's arguments convincing, but in the course of arguing (and even more in the course of storytelling) he got across the sense of an immense joy in life, as well as demonstrating that it was actually totally possible for ritual and riotious cheerfulness to coëxist; and his assertion that whatever was good outside the Catholic church could exist just as well inside was extremely helpful, as it meant anything good about evangelical/charismatic Christianity would not actually have to be jettisoned on joining the Church. (Though this was not actually as much the case in Chesterton's day - when I was in RCIA I occasionally attended a charismatic/evangelical Catholic parish, which was extremely useful in understanding liturgy, but I don't think such things existed before about 40 years ago; I wonder how early Holy Rollers coped if they decided to cross the Tiber.)

Mac, I think what you say about JPII is the reason he did the things that impressed me - having the truth with him, and having a solid conviction of it, he didn't feel like he had anything to fear by being honest, including being honest about the Church's past.

Also, his forgiveness of the person who shot him was notable. An American friend informs me that in his old parish near Chicago, there was a photo of JPII meeting his would-be assassin pinned up above the confessional.

Oddly, I suppose, I don't think of St. JPII so much as saint as a hero. He is my hero of heroes. I don't doubt he is a saint and I've prayed to him since the day he died, but he was a hero like a movie hero or Aragorn or something. You know? It was his manhood and his intellect that makes me tell my kids that he's "my pope."

I miss him more than you can tell, like my kids tend to "miss" Benedict, even though he's not dead. Benedict was never "papa Benny" to me like he was to so many people. I think of him more in terms of "saint," though, than I do Pope St. John Paul II.

"I don't think of St. JPII so much as saint as a hero."

Yeah, that articulates my own feeling very well. Which, as you say, doesn't mean I don't think he's a saint, but just that it isn't sanctity per se that most determines my view of him. This seems to be pretty close to what Grumpy was saying, too.

On the other hand, just as a matter of personal sympathy I feel closer to Benedict than any of our most recent three. The sense in his writings that the truth is with him is for me even stronger with him. Moreover, it's a particular view of the truth that strikes a chord with me. But that doesn't mean I think he's objectively superior to the other two.

Oh yeah, I had forgotten that about your background, godescalc. Re the Chesterton influence, I'm always a bit surprised to find that his fiction has had an influence on someone. I really struggle to like it. Dawn Eden was hugely influenced by The Man Who Was Thursday and I don't get it. Maybe someday I will.

Did you know that Neil Gaiman also grew up reading Chesterton and is a fan of his fiction (iirc)? I was surprised to learn that. Not that I know much about Gaiman, having read none of his work, but just on the basis of reputation I found it surprising.

"I wonder how early Holy Rollers coped if they decided to cross the Tiber." I doubt if that happened very often at all as a direct leap. I think there's more frequently a path from pentecostalism to some more liturgically-oriented church to Catholicism. Or maybe a falling into complete atheism, then a conversion to Catholicism.

For Craig's benefit, Nick Milne's current warblogging: http://thewpb.wordpress.com/

Gaiman I know of - given that he's Jewish I sometimes wonder what he made of Chesterton's antisemitism (which waned in later life, but just after WWI could get pretty nasty). He and Pratchett dedicated "Good Omens" to Chesterton, goodness knows why as Chesterton couldn't possibly have approved of its worldview (though it contained some absolutely hilarious bits); and Gaiman's "Sandman" comics feature Chesterton as an inhabitant of the land of dreams.

"The Man Who Was Thursday" was bizarre and incredible. Not everyone likes it and it didn't make as much an impression on me as some of his other books, but I've never read anything like it. I hope you at least got as far as the poet of order arguing with the poet of anarchy over whether train timetables are poetic...?

(I don't think Chesterton would actually have appreciated The Man who was Thursday influencing people too much, though, as he intended it to sketch out a vision of life he considered nightmarish and which he'd abandoned in favour of Christianity. He even subtitled it "A Nightmare" to make the point clear. I wonder whether anyone pointed out to him that his nightmare was actually more appealling than most people's utopias...)

"The sense in his writings that the truth is with him is for me even stronger with him. Moreover, it's a particular view of the truth that strikes a chord with me." Oh, I'm completely on board with this. B16's writings are the cat's meow and way deeper than just about anything anyone has ever written ever--and I completely resonate with them.

The Man Who Was Thursday. I didn't get it the first time, but the second time I figured out that it was a love story, then it made much more sense to me. Think about how it begins and ends.

I've actually read Thursday twice. The first was at least 25 years ago, maybe 30. The second was maybe 10 or 12--I sorta think it was provoked by Dawn Eden's praise of it, which would make it no earlier than about 2002. Maybe a third time will be the charm.

Speaking of Neil Gaiman, someone who used to comment here strongly recommended the Sandman series to me. He found a pdf of the opening chapter or so somewhere online to get me hooked, but instead it freaked me out--that idea of "waking" from one nightmare into another, endlessly, is deeply disturbing to me. The basic storyline was very intriguing but I didn't really want to continue.

Well, I think you have to ask where the process came from, and, of course, it came from the Church. It's not exactly arbitrary, but it's not set in stone, either, and while the result is infallible, the process is not. It didn't even exist for half of the history of the Church. The most recent changes were made, ironically, by Pope St. John Paul the Great. ;-).

To me it's like when your mother made the rules for what went on in your home, for instance she might say that you could not eat dessert until you finished your veggies, but one night she might decided to do something special and let you eat dessert before dinner to celebrate something special. They were her rules, and she knew when it was okay to set them aside for some purpose or other.


You know me, always ready to consider the worst-case scenario. I certainly don't dispute the right of the magisterium to do things differently, make exceptions, etc. There's always the possibility of ill-advised changes, though.

Thanks, godescalc. It's good to see that Nick is focusing on his doctoral work; I know (partly from my own experience and partly from watching friends) that getting through to the thesis is by no means guaranteed, and takes a good deal of head-down deliberate-tread determination.

I didn't know that Gaiman was a Chesterton fan. The only book of Gaiman's that I have tried was American Gods; I got about 50 pages in and abandoned it; it was far too disturbing for me.

What was so disturbing about it, if you don't mind saying? I'm trying to remember which books, besides Sandman, were recommended to me, and I'm not sure whether that was one or not.

The Sandman is great, but very varied in art and subject. The first paperback collection is a bit unsteady and contains some very disturbing and horrific scenes (the endless waking scene wasn't quite the worst); in further volumes, Gaiman hits his stride, and also gets less gory, even when Dream visits Hell. It's worth reading, if you can get past the first volume, but that may be a big "if".

I remember American Gods being quite good but I was disappointed that the bad guy's plan didn't work at the end.

The only book I've read by Gaiman is Gaiman & Pratchett's Good Omens, which is dedicated to Chesterton, 'A Man who knew what was going on'. It could be that Pratchett was less of a dedicated secularist at that time.

When I said that JPII was heroic, I meant that his sanctity took the form of heroism. I didn't mean he was heroic rather than saintly.

The church has her reasons. One of them could be that JPII is jolly good at interceding with good, we need his intercession a lot right now, and canonizing him will encourage people to pray for his intercession.

It occurred to me earlier today that I want to be able to pray to Pope Saint Benedict XVI, and then I realized that that sorta means I want him to go ahead and die.

"I meant that his sanctity took the form of heroism. I didn't mean he was heroic rather than saintly."

I didn't take it as "rather than", or at least not in the sense of suggesting that he might not actually be saintly.

One of these days I'll give Gaiman another try. I like the graphic novel format, so maybe I'll even give Sandman another try. Maybe.

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