Pope John Paul the Great
the Luminous Doctor
Following in the footsteps of Pope Saint Leo the Great and Pope Saint Gregory the Great, it is evident that history and Holy Mother Church herself will one day not only canonize our recently departed Pope John Paul II, but also impart the rare title of “the Great” as well as declaring him a Doctor of the Church. Before the Good Lord called the Servant of the Servants of God home at 9:37 pm on April 2nd (the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday), Karol Jósef Wojtyła reigned as supreme Roman Pontiff for more than 26 years, made 104 international trips, beatified 1,338 and canonized 482 saints; authored 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, 45 apostolic letters, and five books.
Just as Saint Bonaventure is known as the Seraphic Doctor and Saint Thomas Aquinas as the Angelic Doctor, it stands to reason that John Paul II should be given the title Luminous Doctor or the Doctor of Light and Hope. The first words of his pontificate, “be not afraid” were mirrored by his prolific writings and speeches, his pastoral visits, his popular Word Youth Days, and his courageous battle with disease, illness, assassination attempt and old age. “Fear not” and “be not afraid” were spoken by the Archangel to Our Lady and to Saint Joseph prior to the birth of Jesus Christ who Himself uttered those sentiments to His disciples after the Resurrection when they thought they were seeing a ghost. Pope John Paul II dispelled the fear which crept into the church following the Second Vatican Council. Not that Vatican II caused the fear and doubt, but the powers of darkness successfully distorted and diluted the Council documents so as to promote the alleged ‘spirit of Vatican II’ rather than the ‘letter of Vatican II.’
Ultra-liberals called him an archconservative and ultra-conservatives thought he was not traditional enough, but John Paul II was not sympathetic to either classification of liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional. He was just orthodox. A true son of Vatican II, it was under his reign, at his command and with his guidance that the Church was given some invaluable and precious pearls which sadly some swine do not appreciate. He gave us the revised Code of Canon Law in 1983 which had not been updated since 1917. He gave us the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 which was only preceded by the Catechism of the Council of Trent four centuries earlier. He gave us epic encyclicals like Redemptor Hominis, Mater Redemptoris, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Laborem Exercens, Familiaris Consortio, and Ut Unum Sint but of all these, Evangelium Vitae, Fides et Ratio and Veritatis Splendor stand out as his greatest masterpieces and were the beacons of light which emanated the sublime truths of our Catholic religion. They alone warrant him the title Doctor of Light and Salvifici Doloris and his indefatigable courage to battle the Nazis, Communism, Secular Humanism, materialism, moral relativism, sexual permissiveness, et al., merit him the title Doctor of Hope.
I was in High School Seminary when he was elected Pontiff in 1978. The first two years were during the final years of the then ailing and aged Pope Paul VI. Vocations were declining, Mass attendance and confessions were dropping, dissident theology was proliferating Catholic colleges and seminaries, and other cancers were infecting the church for several years after Vatican II. Tabernacles were hidden, religious garb was discarded, catechisms were watered down, sacraments and sacred liturgies were irreverently innovated and the faithful were raped of sacred art, orthodoxy and solid leadership in many corners of the world until a man was sent from God named “John Paul II.” Since his election as Bishop of Rome and 264th Successor of Saint Peter, JP2 has encouraged many vocations, conversions, reversions, and initiated a true Catholic Renaissance.
Sure, liturgical and doctrinal abuses continued in the sanctuaries, colleges, seminaries and sadly even in some rectories (where children were abused) but there has never been a period of human history where there is no sin and no evil. These aberrations would have occurred regardless of who was Pope at the time since human free will is not limited to one time or place and men of the church, just as men of the world, can freely choose good or evil. It is unfair and unjust to blame Pope John Paul for the clergy sex abuse scandal when it was the fault of the perverted clergy who actually committed the abuse of children and teenagers and the bishops and seminary faculties which looked the other way when these deviants were under their authority and supervision. Lex ordandi, lex credendi, lex agendi. Bad liturgy and bad theology will feed and support one another and will inevitably lead to bad morality and behavior. Liturgical abuses, dissident theology and heterodox doctrine will spawn moral depravity and other evils. At the same time, reverent (valid and licit) liturgy combined with orthodox theology (based on the Magisterium) will also promote and sustain pious and holy lives, for clergy, religious and laity alike.
Pope John Paul II was neither perfect nor impeccable but he was infallible as Pope and exercised his supreme teaching authority in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis which closed the debate once and for all on women’s ordination. He was human and had his weaknesses like the rest of us but he had more courage, piety, devotion, patience, prudence, intelligence, wisdom, compassion and integrity than anyone else of the last century. He gave the Church a banquet of truth in his teachings, much like the Summa of Aquinas which is even today still producing good fruit. Sadly, modern man and modern Catholics are content with the bare minimum of spiritual life support rather than feasting on the fullness of grace, truth and tradition Holy Mother Church offers and which was offered in an exquisite presentation by Pope John Paul II. It would be like someone opting to have an intravenous solution drip in their arm when the alternative would be a seven course gourmet meal with every vitamin, mineral and necessary nutrient inside.
When he gave the Church the five new Luminous Mysteries to the Holy Rosary, it also symbolized the light of hope he brought to the Church during his 26 year pontificate. Our loss is heaven's gain.
Rev. John Trigilio, Jr., PhD, ThD
President, Confraternity of Catholic Clergy
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