Published January 26, 2011
The Catholic Difference
The otherwise inexplicable cure of a French nun suffering from Parkinson’s Disease was accepted in early January by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and Pope Benedict XVI as the confirming miracle that clears the way for the beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday.
John Paul II’s life was a life of miracles — a life in which radical openness to God’s grace opened channels of grace for others. In April 1990, the new president of then newly-liberated Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, caught this dimension of John Paul’s remarkable life when he memorably welcomed the pope to Prague in these stirring terms:
I am not sure I know what a miracle is. In spite of this, I dare say that, at this moment, I am participating in a miracle: the man who six months ago was arrested as an enemy of the state stands here today as the president of that state, and bids welcome to the first pontiff in the history of the Catholic Church to set foot in this land…
I am not sure that I know what a miracle is. In spite of this, I dare say that at this moment I am participating in a miracle: in a country devastated by the ideology of hatred, the messenger of love has arrived; in a country devastated by the government of the ignorant, the living symbol of culture has arrived; in a country that, until a short time ago, was devastated by the idea of confrontation and division in the world, the messenger of peace, dialogue, mutual tolerance, esteem and calm understanding, the messenger of fraternal unity in diversity has arrived.
During these long decades, the Spirit was banished from our country. I have the honor of witnessing the moment in which its soil is kissed by the apostle of spirituality.
Welcome to Czechoslovakia, Your Holiness.
In its witness to the miracle of Karol Wojtyla’s life, Vaclav Havel’s eloquence was matched by the untutored eloquence of those thousands of people from all over the world who, spontaneously, wrote the Postulation for the Beatification and Canonization of John Paul II, telling their own stories of how this man they had never met had, nonetheless, changed their lives. Many of the letters were from non-Christians, even non-believers. Some were simply addressed, “Pope John Paul II — Heaven” — and found their way to the Postulation’s offices near St. John Lateran in Rome.
Some of those letters reported recovery from illness; others reported even more difficult recoveries from addictions, estrangements, even hatreds. The professor-pope would likely have smiled at the letters reporting success in passing exams through his intercession. The pope who lifted up the vocation of marriage and who was a fierce defender of the right-to-life of the unborn would have certainly been touched by the letters from previously infertile couples reporting conceptions after years of sorrow and prayer.
On the day of John Paul’s funeral, April 8, 2005, the people of the Church spontaneously proclaimed him a saint with their cries of “Santo subito!” –– “A saint now!” With the announcement of John Paul’s beatification, it might be said that the judgment of the Church’s leadership has now caught up with the spontaneous judgment of the Church’s people. Yet John Paul’s sanctity was recognized not only by the people of the Church, but by the people of the world — hence all those letters addressed, “Pope John Paul II — Heaven”. Thus the beatification on May 1 will be, in a sense, an ecumenical and inter-religious affair, in that the life of heroic virtue being recognized and celebrated was a life recognized as such far beyond the formal boundaries of the Catholic Church.
The Church doesn’t make saints; God makes saints, and the Church recognizes the saints that God has made. John Paul II was convinced that God was profligate in his saint-making — that there are examples of sanctity all around us, if we only know how to look for them and see them for what they are. His blessedness consisted in no small part of showing us the blessedness of others.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.