A model for holiness
For many Christians the life
of a saint may seem distant and beyond reach. Indeed, to be declared
a saint means that one has lived his or her Christian life in a heroic
One of the charisms of the
late Pope John Paul II, however, was his humanity. He enjoyed sharing
his daily mass and his meals with people. I personally was at his table
a couple of times, along with bishops from Western Canada. He reached
out easily to the poor, the handicapped and the “little people.”
He kissed babies. He met annually with the garbage collectors of Rome.
On his many travels he spoke to the people as much as he could in their
own language, even learning Swahili for a trip to Tanzania in 1990.
Rita Megliorin, chief nurse
in the intensive care unit at Rome Gemelli Hospital when Pope John Paul
was treated there early in 2005, said, “more than John Paul the
Great, he was John Paul the Simple.” That’s why he was able
to communicate with everyone. His needs were very simple.
This past weekend Megliorin
and others shared their stories of John Paul II. The Diocese of Rome
has set up a website — www.karol-wojtyla.org — for people
to share their stories about the pope. As of April 28 more than 400
testimonies were received from around the world about how they felt
the late pope interceded on their behalf.
A man from Calgary wrote
that he was trapped underwater after a helicopter carrying 20 workers
crashed into the Persian Gulf. Inexplicably, he found himself alive
and floating on the water’s surface even though he hadn’t
been able to unlatch himself from the seat straps. He was one of eight
people to survive the crash. He wrote, “Personally I believe that
the sainthood of John Paul II and his prayers also on my behalf to the
God Almighty saved my life.”
As John Paul II treasured
simple people during his lifetime, he continues to do so after his death.
not a call to privilege
May 15, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is the traditional date for the
World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The Prairie Messenger this week features
a special section which highlights clergy and communities that have
played a large role in Canadian society and the church.
It is a fact of life that religious communities today are aging. Other
groups in our church and society are also getting greyer. Coincident
with this is the growing influence of educated lay men and women in
the church. Many are serving in ministries which until more recently
were performed by religious and priests.
The reputations of clergy and religious have been besmirched in the
past decade or two by scandals that have rocked the church, especially
those dealing with sexual abuse. Many of these incidents occurred decades
ago, but the pain for victims and the influence on clergy and religious
There is a growing recognition that the church culture that allowed
such criminal acts to go unaccounted for needs to be changed. At a recent
conference at Marquette University, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin
gave a hard-hitting critique of the clerical culture. “The culture
of clericalism has to be analyzed and addressed,” he said. “Were
there factors of a clerical culture which somehow facilitated disastrous
abusive behaviour to continue for so long? Was it just through bad decisions
by bishops or superiors? Was there knowledge of behaviour which should
have given rise to concern and which went unaddressed?”
He wondered how seminaries had abetted a culture that allowed abusers
to go unpunished. He suggested that seminarians should be trained alongside
lay people, so that they learn to interact with them in a mature way.
He said he wanted a priesthood reformed with candidates who display
a high level of maturity not only regarding human sexuality “but
in overall mature behaviour and relationships.”
While some church leaders want to enhance Catholic identity by emphasizing
the separation between clergy and laity, Martin is asking his seminarians
to “not develop any sense of their priesthood giving them a special
At the same conference, Rev. John Celichowski of Detroit, provincial
minister of the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, described clericalism
as “a form of elitism” that is “reinforced by the
distinctive education and formation, dress and titles that priests and
religious receive.” Elitism, he said, “can lead to a distorted
sense of entitlement.” Some clergy and religious assume they are
exempt from rules that govern everyone else, and that other people (even
the vulnerable) exist to serve their own needs.
It is only through examination of this fundamental issue and the abuse
of power it generates, he said, that we can make sense of the crisis.
He called for a “strong and committed laity to push back”
against clericalism and to demand accountability.
This seeking after power and privilege is nothing new. Even the first
disciples of Jesus wanted to sit at his right and left hand in glory.
They argued about who should be first. They seemed not to understand
his call to service and to washing one another’s feet.
Rev. Andrew Greeley has conducted research over the years that shows
priests in general are satisfied and happy in their vocation. The source
of this well-being should not come from a sense of entitlement flowing
from a distorted clerical culture, but from a life of service. After
all, that’s what Jesus preached and lived.