Tuesday, April 05, 2005

John Paul The Great

A great man left the earth this past weekend, Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. I'm sure he didn't consider himself a great man, though, rather a humble servant of the Lord, just as did the first Pope, Peter the Fisherman. In addition to being a statesman, a charismatic man of the people, an intellectual, athlete, author, actor, playwright and Lord only knows what else, this Pope was an intensely prayerful, almost mystical human being. He would lie on the floor of his chapel for half an hour, 40 minutes, sometimes an hour a day (before he became too infirm), just communing with his God. As I was watching the solemn procession of the Pope's body on the cable news networks yesterday, I got to thinking what a cool religion the Catholics have. More pomp than the whole royalty system of the British Empire put together. More circumstance than all the lawyers on the planet could conjure up. We had robes! Incense! Beautifully sung Latin! Mass! Official paraphernalia! Swiss Guards looking like they popped right off a deck of cards! Onlookers galore! Doves! News Media awed into long periods of reverential silence! Old buildings! Traditions we never even knew existed! (Bash the pope on the forehead with a silver hammer to make sure he's dead? Well if he wasn't dead before then...) It was so cool I wanted to be a Catholic! Then I bashed myself in the forehead (just my hand. We don't have any silver hammers) when I realized I AM a Catholic. Gee whiz! My Sunday masses don't look like that. Ours sort of look like a hoe-down by comparison. Bounce into the church. Genuflect or not, depending on your mood and if you can find the Blessed Sacrament. (my current church, yes, it's up front. Other churches keep it tucked away like the winter sweaters or clothes that don't fit right.) Enjoy greetings, guitars, applause, prayers that get tinkered with every other month, standing or kneeling depending on how well you like the bishop, more hand-shaking, Mass is over, everybody scatter. The stuff that's going on with the Pope right now is so reverent and impressive, you really get the idea that God is important, and maybe even watching. I know I should have that feeling at Mass every week, but it's difficult to maintain. Many of the churches in Europe feel that way. That the people who built them really believed in God, and that God Himself may inhabit the walls. Our modern church boxes with funky layouts and oddball architecture don't give me the same feeling. I know I'm supposed to use my brain to achieve the same effect, but it's difficult. St. Malachy's prophetic list of popes dates back to the 1200s, I think. People claim it is highly accurate. The title he gave for John Paul II was "Labor of the Sun." This was viewed in the sense that the Pope labored in a quarry for four or five years during World War II. He is also intensely devoted to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who is also known as "The Woman Clothed with the Sun," so he is seen as doing her work. The next Pope on the list is "The Glory of the Olive." It will be interesting to see if the cardinal chosen as the next pontiff has any connection with that phrase. The one after that is Petrus Romanus, "Peter the Roman," or Peter II. Not since Peter the Apostle have we had a Pope named Peter. The list ends there. Creepy or what? The list ENDS. Definitely creepy. Like I said, I always thought it would be cool to be Catholic. This week, at least, I'm going to get to be one.

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