Blessed John Paul II: The Church's newest saint
Photo courtesy of Heidi Saxton.
Last Sunday — Mercy Sunday to Catholics worldwide — was the beatification of Blessed John Paul II, the current pope's predecessor, While it is highly unusual for anyone to be elevated to sainthood in such a short time (typically the investigation is not even opened until at least five years after that person's death), John Paul II was placed on the "fast track" because of the extraordinary sanctity of his life. As Benedict XVI said in Sunday's homily:
"Six years ago we gathered in this square to celebrate the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was in some way the fruit of my beloved predecessor's entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering. Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God's People showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church's canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste. And now the longed-for day has come; it came quickly because this is what was pleasing to the Lord: John Paul II is blessed!"
While in Rome on our honeymoon, my husband and I had an opportunity to be presented to Pope John Paul II. It was 1999, and the Holy Father was already too weak from illness to stand for very long. And yet when I looked into those bright blue eyes, I saw not weakness and suffering but great joy and love.
Our encounter lasted only a few moments, but it made a deep impression on me. This was not the prolific man who circled the globe, embodying the love of Christ to believers and even non-believers all over the world, not the man who visited his assailant in prison, offering him pardon despite the great pain he had inflicted.
This was a man whose body was weak, yet his spirit undiminished. Day after painful day, he modeled for all of us the dignity of human life, and the intrinsic value of that gift.
This is not to say that the man was perfect; he was, after all, a human being. There were times when his capacity to love blinded him to duplicity and deception in others. And yet, the extraordinary accomplishments of Blessed John Paul over the course of his lifetime speak for themselves. And the singlehearted fidelity with which he lived out his call made him one of the most beloved and respected pontiffs of all time.
And so, along with the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims that crammed St. Peter's Square last Sunday, our cheers continue to ring: "Blessed John Paul II, we love you."
Heidi Hess Saxton is a contributing writer for AnnArbor.com and a graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She blogs at Extraordinary Moms Network, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.