Tag Archives: Pope John Paul II

Of sainthood and beyism

canonization of popes

Yesterday one of the most memorable events in history took place. Two living popes: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the incumbent Pope Francis celebrated the canonization mass of two of their predecessors, Popes John XXIII and John Paul II as they were declared saints. Pope Francis said the two men had led exemplary lives during the 20th century.

In his own words, the two Popes, now saints, were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century but they were not overwhelmed by them. The event held at the St. Peter’s Square was witnessed by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all walks of life. “For them, God was more powerful,” he said.

I wouldn’t really know much about their particular reigns, as I wasn’t born yet when Pope John XXIII was in office and for the better part of the papal reign of John Paul II I was still small; however, the things I heard about the latter gave me the impression he was very holy. I always had the impression that the world would end the day he died. I feared my worst fears would be confirmed when he died in 2005, but other than the unique burial, everything was just normal.

I remember watching him on TV; he carried himself with so much grace and everything about him screamed ‘holy’. I don’t laugh at myself for thinking he was God incarnate. Pope John XXIII on the other hand is credited for helping bring to end official catholic prejudice against Jews and his pacifying role during the cold war, among other things.

This grand, historic event reminded me of a reflection in my prayer book:

Why were the saints, saints?

Because they were:

Cheerful, when it was difficult to be cheerful;

Patient, when it was difficult to be patient; they pushed on when they wanted to stand still;

Kept silence, when they wanted to talk;

Were agreeable, when they wanted to be disagreeable.

That was all; it was quite simple, and always will be.

Is being a saint really that easy? As much as I try to walk in the footsteps of Christ, I find trouble trying to be happy when I should be pissed; remaining silent when someone needs to get a piece of my mind… My honest opinion is, it’s not easy being a saint.

The canonization of the two pontiffs had me thinking about Beyoncé being viewed as a deity by some of her fans. I don’t mean to compare her to the pontiffs or Jesus, for that matter; I’m just trying to find sense in a rather bizarre issue. Has the singer lived such an exemplary life as to be called a god?

beyism

I’m assuming everyone has heard of Mother Teresa of Calcutta? As noble as she was, serving people selflessly, she was never regarded a deity. She was only considered a humble servant of God; and instead of calling her goddess, we pray for her. I’m not too sure I know all that’s involved in the process of beatifying someone but one thing I’m sure of is that there’s intense praying involved.

And Mandela? Remember him? The man who fought for South Africa’s independence and became the country’s first black president in 1994? He was loved by many. When he died last year, the whole world mourned the loss of a great hero. Leaders from all over the world sent their condolences and many of them attended his funeral.

While he was still alive, he wasn’t oblivious to the fact that people adored him. But, to all those who thought he was a saint, he said, “I am not a saint. Unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” I thought that was so noble of him; nowadays humans die to get titles, most of which they haven’t earned.

Beyoncé, for instance; she has done a great job as an artist, but does that qualify her to be called ‘the almighty?” Great men like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and other people who have played remarkable roles in the making of history were never regarded as deities. They lived for others, even died for them, but haven’t been called gods.

It’s from this that I find the whole idea of beyism (Beyoncé-ism) totally irrelevant, and discernibly iniquitous. The basic characteristics of a leader are:

-One must be intellectual.

– One must be prepared to suffer.

-One must know how to forgive those who wrong them.

These celebrities we adore so much; can any one of them die for their fans? Would Beyoncé suffer even for those who now call her goddess? I’m just thinking people have weird ways of showing their love for their idols. Toby Sheldon is one of these crazy fans. He has spent over $100,000 in attempt to look like his idol, Justin Bieber.

justin beiber look-alike

I don’t mind people going out of their way to show their love, problem is how they do it. I only hope someone sane out there will help drive some sense into all those who claim Beyoncé is their goddess; those, who now profess beyism.

 

 

2nd Sunday of Easter

Today is the second Sunday of Easter; and with it we conclude the Octave of Easter.

On this day we celebrate the Divine Mercy: Years ago, in the 1930s, Jesus appeared to Sister Faustina Kowalska and promised her that He would bestow His Divine Mercy on any sinner, who would repent his sins, no matter how grave they were. He promised He wouldn’t refuse any soul that would seek His mercy. He also asked Sister Faustina, on numerous occasions, that a feast day be dedicated to celebrate the Divine Mercy and that this day be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter.

Jesus the Divine Mercy

On 30th April, 2000 when Pope John Paul II canonized Sister Faustina, he said, “It’s important that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the church, will be called Divine Mercy Sunday’.”

On this day-today-people are asked to reflect on their lives and repent whatever wrongs they have committed, no matter how big. Based on this, the day is also known as the feast of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Today, being the eighth day (one week) since Easter Sunday, Christians are called to reflect on the mysteries of Easter; how Christ’s death and resurrection has impacted our lives:

Why Sunday; genesis of Sunday as the day of worship

After His resurrection, Jesus made His first appearance on Easter Sunday, when He appeared to Mary Magdalene and later His disciples. Thomas, also known as ‘the twin’ wasn’t with them at the time. When the rest of the disciples told him Jesus had appeared to them he refused to believe.

Eight days later, when the disciples were gathered in a closed room, afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus appeared to them. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus asked him to feel the scars on His hands and on His side. It’s only after that experience that Thomas believed He truly was the risen Christ. (John 20: 11-28).

On both occasions, Jesus appeared to His disciples on the first day of the week; which on the current calendar is translated as a Sunday. Before His death and resurrection, the Sabbath-Saturday-was observed as the holy day. That’s why the authorities faulted Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath; which was against the law as the commandments handed down to Moses said to keep the Sabbath day holy.

After He resurrected, the first day of the week-Sunday-was interpreted to be the day of meeting with the Lord. And from then, Sunday is celebrated as the Holy day.

Faith as communitarian; importance of going to church

We’re told Thomas wasn’t in the room the first time Jesus appeared to His disciples. One would wonder, “Where was he?” In the bible it’s not mentioned where he was at the time. Again, one would imagine the state he was in after learning of Jesus’ resurrection. Excitement and fear maybe? Chances are he was out there trying to confirm if there was any truth to the rumours being circulated about Jesus’ resurrection.

Wherever he was, he didn’t see Jesus. That’s why he had a difficult time believing the other disciples. Alone, he didn’t find the resurrected Christ. It was only when he was together with the other disciples, gathered behind locked doors that Jesus appeared again.

From this we see that when it comes to matters faith, one might not find Christ on a lone journey; but it’s evidently clear that where people are gathered in prayer, the Lord is ever present. Due to this, people are encouraged to pray as a community; as a church.

Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believe

Jesus told Thomas, “You have believed me because you have seen me. Happy are those who haven’t seen me and yet believe.”

A Christian’s life is all about believing the unseen; believing in a God we have never seen. We’re told faith is a gift. This is simply because one can’t buy it from a mall etc. It’s something that should be felt; something we receive from God’s Holy Spirit. Like the air we breathe; we don’t see it, but we know it’s there. It’s the same with God. Should we refuse to believe He exists just because we have never seen His face? Only the Son knows how His Father looks like. But should that stop us from believing?

In John 8: 55, Jesus told the Pharisees, “You have never known Him, but I know Him. If I were to say I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know Him, and I obey His word.”

We believe in God the Father, because we believe in the God the Son.

Thomas is a symbol of all those who doubt Christ. It’s okay to have doubts because it’s only by trying to clear the doubts that we find answers, which in turn strengthen our faith. However, in this day and age, God doesn’t make ‘dramatic’ appearances like He used to in the olden days. For the Christians of today, we believe because of the experiences written in the bible. If one waits to believe when they actually see God, the day might never come, so they’ll die without believing.

From my own experiences though, I can say confidently; God is always there with us. We only have to let ourselves feel His presence in our lives. Call Him today; He will answer. And if He doesn’t come immediately, don’t lose hope. Jesus took eight days to appear; to prove His resurrection to doubting Thomas. It’s all about Faith and Hope. That is what Easter gives us.

 

 

What do you seek? Perfection or Holiness?

holy

I was watching the breaking news on CNN, when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID; it was my mom, and I immediately figured what she wanted to tell me.

“Have you heard?” She jumped straight to the point the minute I picked up, skipping all the usual pleasantries. “The Pope’s resigning!” Her voice was frantic.

“Yes, I have,” I replied nonchalantly. I was glad my voice didn’t betray me; I was in extreme panic mode, as I tried-with immense difficulty-to wrap my mind around the shocking announcement. I had figured it wouldn’t do any of us any good if I also let my anxiety take over. One anxious person was enough, so for sanity’s sake I chose to act calm. “They say it’s for health reasons,” I added.

“I don’t know what’s supposed to happen, this has never happened before.” She said, still anxious.

I didn’t know what to tell her; I was beside myself with anxiety and that was interfering with my reasoning. I took a while, dug deep into my heart then replied, “Relax mom, just believe it has happened that way because that is how God wills it. So everything will work out eventually. We just have to wait and see.”

To my relief, that eased her angst. We talked for a while before hanging up. As I sat there staring blankly at the TV screen, my mind drifted back to when I was small. I always felt the Pope was the holiest person on earth; subconsciously I likened him to Jesus, so I had this eerie thought that the world would come to an end the day he died.

Apparently, He-Pope John Paul II-died in 2005 and the earth’s still rotating on its axis, everything’s still intact; I was wrong, obviously. Nonetheless, that didn’t erase my earlier presumptions, that the Papal throne has a very sacred significance to it. Its first occupant was St. Peter (referred to by many as Simon), who was given the keys of the kingdom of Heaven by Jesus…(Matthew 16:18) and watching the process of electing a new Pope only confirmed what I already knew; it is an intricate process, with a divine touch.

I couldn’t understand how/why the Pope would resign from a post I always thought was a till-death-do-us-part thing. Was it even allowed? I had many thoughts running through my mind, and the more I thought about it the more I got nervous. The last Pope to resign was Gregory XII, in 1415, almost six hundred years ago, so who/what had inspired Pope Benedict XVI to make that surprising move? I imagined the Holy Pontiff was supposed to hold on to his post until he breathed his last. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t normal.

I thought about what I had told my mom; if God didn’t want him to resign, he wouldn’t let him, so if it was happening, God really wanted it that way. I focused all my attention on those words, to calm any negative thoughts. The announcement was made on Monday, 11th February, and the lent season was starting 13th February, on Ash Wednesday, two days later.

Of all lent seasons, it’s during this year’s season that I feel I learnt a lot. I’ve learnt to look at things differently. Normally, those who know me think I’m a real optimist, but truth is my everyday life is a constant inward battle; I’m constantly trying to quell pessimistic thoughts which flow in my head, without me even trying.

The Pope had about two weeks before resigning on 28th that same month. I was waiting anxiously to see how things would unfold, as I had nothing to reference his resignation to. When the lent season started, I made a personal commitment to travel the way of the cross every Friday evening. Basically it entails retracing the final steps Jesus took before His crucifixion; it’s like a miniature pilgrimage to the actual places in Jerusalem. It was particularly the 13th station, which opened my eyes regarding the Pope’s resignation:

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross.

My Jesus, it was with deep grief that Mary finally took You in her arms and saw all the wounds sin had inflicted upon You. Mary Magdalene looked upon Your dead Body with horror. Nicodemus, the man so full of human respect, who came to You by night, suddenly received the courage to help Joseph take You down from the Cross.

You are once more surrounded by only a few followers. When loneliness and failure cross my path, let me think of this lonely moment and total failure-failure in the eyes of men. How wrong they were-how mistaken their concept of success! The greatest act of love was given in desolation and the most successful mission accomplished and finished when all seemed lost. Is this not true in my life, dear Jesus? I judge my failures harshly. I demand perfection instead of holiness. My idea of success is for all to end well-according to my liking.

As I read this prayer, the one thing that came to mind was the Pope’s resignation; how I’d felt he wasn’t doing the right thing by resigning. I realized sometimes God doesn’t intend for things to end the way we think they should.

That thought subsequently reminded me of the times I felt disappointed when things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped they would. I realized that sometimes we achieve so much more when we feel like we’ve lost; sometimes there is success in failure.

For most people, success is measured in terms of how much/long one can endure a difficult situation; our pride makes us feel like giving up on a difficult task would be deemed a failure, so we keep tolerating things we don’t like, afraid that people will judge us. I learnt that so long as one is doing what’s right in the eyes of God, it is okay to  ‘call it quits’ sometimes. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, He only expects us to lead holy lives.

So instead of feeling like the Holy Pontiff had made a wrong move, I applauded his courage. He resigned when he knew people would judge him for it; he did something rare, but the thought that he said he was at peace with himself after seeking God’s guidance on the matter, made me feel it was okay too.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; He knows we’re only human.