Sunday, April 03, 2005

"Well done, good and faithful servant"-- John Paul II (1920-2005)

Our beloved Holy Father passed on peacefully this Sunday pre-dawn Singapore time. He'd been gravely ill for a few days now, and the faithful had been keeping watch outside his apartment in St. Peter's square for some evenings.. For some reason, When I woke up this morning, I just knew he'd passed on.

Karol Wojtyla, our late Pope John Paul II (affectionately referred to as JPII), had been the only pope during whose service I was born, and received into the Church. He'd always be "il Papa" and "my pope" to me. It is a strange sensation— what I am feeling today— I felt grief like I never knew before, and at the same time, amidst the flow of tears, there is a deep sense of joy too. We Catholics have had the privilege of JPII's leadership for the last quarter century. Here is the pope of many "firsts": first to enter a mosque and a synagogue, first to travel to at least a hundred countries during his papal years, first to record a CD! (it gave me great comfort to listen to his sermon and singing during trying times), first to be on the Internet, and many other "firsts" that will prove a big shoes for his successor to fill.

A few Catholics on the 'blogosphere' have quoted Samwise Gamgee (of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien):

"'How do I feel?' Samwise cried. 'Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel' — he waved his arms in the air — 'I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!' "

"All the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."

I could not stop the tears from flowing, though deep down we all know JPII has come to the end of his race. It was a good race. He had been a good and faithful servant. We pray that the Heavenly Father's loving embrace awaits his soul.

Petrine succession
Most media outlets are now giving airtime to JPII's history and legacy (some would say they have prepared the materials for a few years now—given His Holiness' "ailing" status conferred upon him since a few years ago). The next topic is the question of his successor.

Many people, including my own circle of Catholic friends, have brought up the question of Orthodoxy and JPII's influence on the Church's doctrine. It is unsettling for me to hear the question whether the next Pope would be more "liberal" and "modern", or "radically conservative" like JPII had been. As Catholic laity around the world becomes more properly catechized in the Church teachings, there is an increasing awareness of our role and participation in the Church body. Yet, I for one, am perfectly happy to hear and accept the Church's teachings as they were. Two thousand years of Church teachings have not changed their essence radically. Sanctity of life was, is and will always be, defended by the Church. So is sanctity of marriage and the conjugal act. JPII had always been a staunch defender of Orthodoxy. His treatise called "Love and Responsibility"— one of the major works that form the basis of his widely acclaimed "Theology of the Body"— will be considered a force majeur works of theology of the 20th century.

Now, I do not believe there is ever an appropriate time to ask the question whether the Church will bend to allow abortion, or to tolerate gay lifestyle, or to tolerate to any other "modern issues" of our time. I think as a Catholic we should ask ourselves whether it is appropriate to ask the Church to consider these questions. We are dealing with fundamental teaching of the Church! Can we call ourselves Catholic if we disagree with the teachings of the Church? Would we consider ourselves Catholic if we engage the Church in dialog to "persuade" the teachings to bend closer to our comfort?

JPII has left us bereft—and blessed at the same time, with the huge body of theology he had left behind. Many decades from now the faithful will still be poring over his works and continue our spiritual journey with his theology as a guide. The cardinals, a group of priests from whom the next Pope is chosen from, are his handpicked men. He had carried his cross —and completed his journey— in the Church militant, and his successor would rightly recognize the state of the Church left by JPII, and find his own papal mission, starting from where JPII has left off.

Now let us pray for the repose of JPII's soul and for the next Pope to be elected with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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