Pope John Paul II’s most impressive quality was the one that most media encomiums over the weekend didn’t even bother to mention: his intense personal piety. He was at once the most public Catholic and the most private one, reading a breviary on airplanes and retreating to his sparsely furnished quarters to pray as Jesus Christ taught: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” In an anxiety-ridden, distracted age, when the idea of praying for even four minutes a day sounds taxing, Pope John Paul II prayed for four hours.
It was fitting that he lived past Easter: his speechless struggling during Holy Week was more powerful than words in testifying to a life of perseverance in silent prayer and confirmed that though he was dying he would soon rise like the God whose sufferings he shared to the end.
But a worldly press corps finds the Pope’s personal holiness boring, if not a bit suspicious and troubling (the New York Times‘ obituary writers, arching their brows, reported that “some” sources said that “in private he was somber, serious, enigmatic, sometime quixotic, a man who hid his feelings and did not say much.” Boy, what a weirdo.) So it largely reduces Pope John Paul II to a worldly personality, a pretty nice, even fun, humanitarian who said some things liberal journalists like to hear from time to time (though it doesn’t occur to them that he reached the positions they liked by reasoning they’d never accept, such as concern for the salvation of a criminal’s soul). If the press cast him as a holy man, it is not because of his frequent fasting but because of his “statements against world hunger,” not because of his piety, but because of his politics.
In the end, the journalists’ coverage, ostensibly about the Pope, is more about their minds and souls than his. Like Ron Reagan Jr.- who had no use for his Dad’s politics in life but claimed his legacy in death — the Keith Olbermanns now jump on the papal bandwagon (that they had tried in various ways over the last 26 years to upend) in the hopes of steering it toward a liberalism Pope John Paul II would find abhorrent. Get ready for a month of the most disingenuous coverage imaginable.
Apparently we’re supposed to believe that the Paula Zahns and Aaron Browns stay up late at night fretting over the future welfare of the Catholic Church. When they ask this or that unctuous guest — usually some habitless nun, Jesuit ninny, or obvious heretic like Richard McBrien — whether the Church will, say, junk its teaching on condoms or bless birth control, we’re supposed to believe that they have the Church’s best interests at heart. Every problem they cite in the Church — from the sex scandals to the decline in vocations — is due to the very worldly liberalism they demand more of. They feign shock over indiscipline in the Church (with the abuse scandal) but in truth they want more of it (hence their knee-jerks calls for “decentralization”). Their interest in reforming the Catholic Church is about as sincere as their interest in reforming the Republican Party: calls for “reform” are just self-projection and will amount to separating Catholicism from Christ.
Toward the end of liberalizing the Church, the media will look for fixes to problems from the liberal clerics most responsible for causing them– such as Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who couldn’t fly to Rome fast enough to start politicking with reporters in tow for a liberal pope.
Pope John Paul II knew that a worldly liberalism had derailed the Church and was trying to remove it. The project of the next pope is to finish that job. The media’s “whether or not you agreed with them, you respected the intensity of his principles” formulation is nonsense: they didn’t respect Pope John Paul II for his principles but for his power, a power they have long wanted to appropriate for their own liberal purposes.
Their idea of honoring Pope John Paul II is to mau-mau the Church into embracing heresies that he deplored. The greatness of his life consisted in what the press ignores and seeks to undo in the Church: holiness, the measure of which is never the will of men but of God. The Pope made such a powerful impression on the world not because he was wordly but because he was otherworldly. A godless age had left an enormous vacuum; only a man who conformed his life to God could fill it.