John Paul's Legacy: 4 Years Later

The Question Is Not When He’ll Be Beatified

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By Carl Anderson

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, APRIL 20, 2009 ( Lately, rumors of Pope John Paul II’s beatification have multiplied. And while there is no official confirmation of a specific date for his beatification, many are hopeful that the cries of “Santo Subito” (sainthood now) heard at his funeral Mass will be realized within a year – or more specifically, on the fifth anniversary of his death.

While no one can accurately predict the timing of any beatification, it seems safe to say that John Paul II – the man Pope Benedict put on the fast-track to sainthood, and whose beatification he publicly prayed for this month – will be beatified, and in record time.

Beatification would be a great reminder of what John Paul stood for, of the totality of his message. But we need not wait for his beatification to remember the man and what he stood for.

Too often, both during his life and after his death, small pieces of his message would be taken up by those who agreed with him on a certain issue. But the totality of his message was often ignored.

The reason for this was simple. John Paul was not “consistent” with any political ideology – both sides of the aisle could find things to agree with and disagree with. But he was perfectly consistent with his faith.

He cared passionately about the dignity of people – all people.

He was a great force in bringing down European Communism, and was outspoken on the faults of Marxism. At the same time, he was also a serious critic of unbridled global capitalism – especially when it victimized workers or kept entire countries in poverty.

He was a tireless defender of human life – of the unborn and those nearing the end of their life.

He also reminded us that all those in the midst of living life — the intellectually disabled, immigrants or the elderly — have a right to dignity too, even if some act as if they did not.

He spent much of his life a virtual prisoner in an occupied country, but he traveled the world to proclaim the Gospel.

He was a celibate priest, who wrote beautifully on both the consecrated life and on marriage.

He left us the lasting legacy of a theology of the body – designed to integrate the whole person, body and soul.

He was a mystic, a man who led the Church into the future of the third millennium by apologizing for the mistakes of its past.

He was a young bishop at the Second Vatican Council, and the man who gave us its “authoritative rereading,” as his successor Benedict XVI put it in his very first homily as Pope.

He preached a series of Lenten homilies to Pope Paul VI in 1976 – titled Sign of Contradiction – contrasting man’s relationship with God to modern life. As Pope, he was this sign.

And consistent in all of this was his defense of the dignity of every human person, born, and unborn, marginalized or lionized.

His message was always pro-person and pro-dignity.

As a result, he came at political issues from a religious perspective; he did not come at religion politically. And it was for this reason that partisans on both sides found his message had something for them – and something else that made them uncomfortable.

As we face divisions even among Catholics on social issues today, we must admit that the reason for these disagreements is that we have not taken to heart John Paul’s message of being a people of life and for life and building a culture of life and civilization of love.

Those concepts were not mere words to him. They were not rhetoric designed for political gain; they were, in his words, the splendor of truth.

We should all pause more often to remember these lessons of his pontificate, his writings and his example. We should begin by remembering the man himself, what he said and how he provided us an example in his living, and in his dying.

The lesson from John Paul II’s life is that we cannot choose whose human dignity we should affirm, we must choose to affirm all human dignity.

Rather than have politics as our guide, we must have faith and reason as our compass.

The question we should ask isn’t “When will John Paul be beatified?” But rather, “When will we follow his example to build a true culture of life and civilization of love?”

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Carl Anderson is the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus and a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book, “Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,” was released this month.

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