Lesser Saints

Instant gratification is making infants out of us all. From smart-phones to internet shopping, we can’t wait for anything anymore, and it’s reaching hysterical levels. This is no more evident than in the recent canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII by the Church of Rome. The Vatican seems hell bent on destroying whatever credibility it has left as a moral authority, and has reduced the process of acknowledging saints to one more akin to naming MVP’s in a professional sports league. I can imagine that statement will arouse shrieks from some of my Catholic brethren, so allow me to explain my position before you dismiss it.

Infants are demanding creatures. Feed me, or I’ll scream. Change me, or I’ll scream. Comfort me, or I’ll scream. Such is the behavior of the modern human adult. Addicted to Facebook and fast food, the modern first world human has all of life’s needs at their fingertips. It’s the classic chicken and egg argument, but who knows if we were infantilized by our institutions or if we have demanded that our institutions treat us like infants. The state tells us to wear our seatbelt, for our own good. Buy health insurance, for our own good. Drink fewer sodas, for our own good. Just like the state, the pseudo-state of the Vatican has started to follow a similar pattern. The process of recognizing saints was once something that might take centuries. John Paul II himself canonized several saints from the 17th-19th century. So why the breakneck speed for these two recent popes who were canonized last month? My theory is that it’s related to another ancient Roman practice: Bread and Circuses. It’s a distraction from the problems within the Church. Perhaps some of you have been paying attention and noticed that, in addition to the decades long sex scandals, the Vatican has recently been in the news for drug smuggling and money laundering. Here in America, a number of prominent church leaders have been scandalized for using donated funds to enrich their own personal lives with retreat villas and vacation mansions. What better way to distract from an organization that needs a thorough house cleaning than to point out two recent success stories. But does their success hold up to scrutiny? Not really.

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It pains me to point it out, but John Paul II, despite all his work towards thwarting the evil of communism, was not without flaws. No one ever mentions that he presided over years of mismanagement and corruption. The scandals that have destroyed families and whole dioceses took place under his papacy. It strains credulity to think that he didn’t know about the abuse that was going on during the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s hard to imagine he didn’t somehow participate in the efforts to cover it up. That’s the type of thing a canon lawyer might have brought up during the canonization process, had John himself not changed the process for recognizing saints in the 80’s. That practice, which had stood for hundreds of years, led to hundreds more saints being elevated during the papacy of JPII than all his twentieth century predecessors combined.

John XXIII on the other hand convened the greatest disaster to besiege the Church since the Reformation, Vatican II. No, I don’t think the Earth is flat. I’m not someone who wants to study Latin to be able to understand the Mass, but Vatican II coincides with what has been a precipitous decline in attendance, participation, religious orders, and ordinations. To the casual observer, it might appear to have had a few flaws. It was a drastic and radical change in an organization that is rooted in tradition. Excuse me for not thinking it was divinely inspired. It led to churches being stripped of their beauty, rituals being stripped of their mysticism, and in effect it stripped the faith right out of the hearts of millions. It might’ve been okay to wait a few more years before we used it as one of the justifications for naming “Good Pope John” a saint.

Maybe both John’s are saints. Heaven’s a big place, and God’s forgiveness is such that even someone like me still hopes to make it through the cull. It is my sincere hope that Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Saint John XXIII greet me at the Pearly Gate and we all have a long laugh about this article. Maybe they’ll be standing with a bunch of other unsuspected saints. I don’t know. What I do know is that the infants wanted a big Woodstock style canonization party in Rome to declare some MVP’s. Someone needed to be a Dad and say, “No, you have to wait.” You’d think the Pope would have been up to the challenge. It’s sad that he wasn’t.

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3 comments

  1. I will say I have fond memories of John XXIII, whose reign was bookended by two sourpusses (Excuse me, God! And heaven help me if I meet Pius XII and Paul VI at the Pearly Gates). I believe that had Good Pope John lived to be directly involved in Vatican II, it might have been less about Folk Masses and assailing traditions and more about a less-legalistic approach to one’s practice of the Faith–such as moderating the horrors of Confession. I’m still waiting for these reforms.
    As far as the infantilization of modern society, I couldn’t agree more. Consider even the terms and names that have become part of our everyday talk and writing–Blog, Yahoo, Google.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I’ve not studied up on John XXIII much, but I feel they should wait longer before canonizing any of these people. Like I said, I’m all for having Heaven be a big place, but I’m not sure we need to be making guarantees on people before their time has come.

      1. Well said. I’m beginning to sense some misgivings of my own about the “speeding up” of canonization. I like how you linked that to the trend (going back to the introduction of television) of decrease in attention spans and increase in impatience. I think the automobile can be also be added to the stew. Talk about a machine for instant gratification!

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