Pope St. John Paul II & Pope St. John XXIlI: Partners in the Universal Call to Holiness

It surprises many people that the Church will be canonizing both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II this Sunday, April 4/27.  Most of the commentary I’ve read sees this in political terms. That is to say, the perception by many secular observers seems to be that the Church is throwing a bone to liberals by canonizing their guy while the Church throws a bone to conservatives by canonizing their guy.   I doubt there is much to this political angle, but I think there is a deeper, much more significant reason the Church is declaring both of these great men to be saints on the same day. 

Pope John XXIII ushered in the reforms of Vatican II. His successor, Pope Paul VI saw them through, but Pope John XXIII got the ball rolling.  One of the  most important emphases of Vatican II was the “Universal Call to Holiness” (more specifically spelled out in Lumen Gentium). The Church has always called all people to lead holy lives, but prior to the reforms of the Council, the Church had popularly fallen into the perception that true holiness was largely reserved to priests and religious.  Vatican II stood in strong opposition to that trend and challenged the whole Church, not just priests and religious, to be holy and pursue ever greater holiness by embracing even deeper conversion to Christ.

Pope John Paul II was really the first Pope to reign in the fully post-conciliar Church.  Yes,  Pope Paul VI saw the reforms of VII to their conclusion and beyond but he was the architect of the council.  It always has to be left to successors to understand how it will play out.  Pope John Paul I wasn’t around long enough to leave his mark and, as such, it fell to Pope John Paul II to define what the Universal Call to Holiness actually looked like.

I think that JPII’s Theology of the Body–his attempt to present an “adequate anthropology”–was, in large part his attempt to answer the question, “What does the universal call to holiness look like in practice?”

To say that something is holy is, according to Aquinas, to say that something has been “set aside for a divine purpose.”  But to set something aside for a divine purpose requires us to know what that thing is, what it’s intended purpose is, and how that purpose could be fulfilled for the good of the Kingdom.

This is exactly what the TOB does for the human person.  TOB discusses where we come from, what we were destined for, what became of  us and how we are to live now so that we might reclaim our inheritance.  It discusses the nature of the relationship between men and women (in general), husbands and wives (in particular), and what it means to be a person living in communion with other persons.  It promotes a sacramental worldview as applied to every day life as well as all the things that that laity is so consumed with–including sexuality–and helps every man woman and child understand the holiness that can be gained by following what St. Therese the Little Flower (whom JPII declared a “Doctor of the Church”) the “little way”; that is, doing even small things with great love.  In short, it seems to me that Pope John Paul II’s entire pontificate was dedicated to describing how to live the blueprint Pope John XXIII drew.

This weekend, the Church will celebrate the legacy of two great and holy men whose vision laid out a plan the rest of us could use to discover our destiny in Christ, and fulfill that destiny by looking for little ways to make a gift of ourselves to the world so that all of us might, one day, be one in him.   In a sense, Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II are the bookends of Vatican II.  As they are canonized this weekend, I pray that their intercession will see the fulfillment of the good work they started.

Shame on You

I’m So Ashamed.

Shame, guilt, embarrasment.  Emotions that are as universally experienced as they are universally unwelcome.

Elizabeth Duffy has a great post on shame on her blog.  Personal, poignant, and thought-provoking.   But I thought I would chime in to offer some additional insights from Pope John Paul II.

In Love and Responsibility, then Karol Woytyla, wrote a great deal about shame.  He argued that shame is a protective emotion that warns us that we are being treated as an object, not a person.  I think Elizabeth’s example of discovering her friend’s dad’s Playboy magazines is particularly apt.  Looking through the magazines, she saw plenty of examples of people treated as objects, and she felt a sense of shame.  God has hardwired us to expect to be loved as persons and not used as things.  Shame is the feeling that warns us that we are in proximity of a situations where people–and possibly even I–might be used.

Shame is a protective emotion like fear (which warns us about physical harm) and guilt (that warns us about harm to our integrity) or even embarrassment (which warns us of potential threats to our social well-being).

Like any emotion, protective emotions like shame, fear, and embarrassment can be healthy or unhealthy.  They are healthy if they help us identify a threat, take corrective steps,  and move on.   They are unhealthy if, instead of protecting us, they paralyze us and stop us from doing things that would be good for us to do.  Fear becomes anxiety when it stops us from taking healthy risks.  Guilt becomes scrupulosity when it stops us from receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Embarrassment become social anxiety when it stops us from engaging with others.

We shouldn’t be afraid or resentful of these protective emotions, but we should be careful to use them as they are intended.  They aren’t supposed to paralyze us.  They should move us to solutions that resolve the problems to which they bring our attention.  And if these protective emotions are more suffocating than helpful, we should seek help, because that is not how we were created to be.

 For more information on overcoming unhealthy manifestations of shame, guilt, and anxiety, check out God Help Me, This Stress is Driving Me Crazy!