Remembering: Pope John Paul the Great

I know that he officially died on 2nd April, but it was this morning, 3rd April in Australia, three years ago that I woke to hear the news that he had died. It really was as if a member of my family had passed away. Perhaps non-Catholics can’t really understand it, but we (well most of us) have a deep love for our Roman patriarch.

My children picked up on the sense of grief. My youngest, who was then a 4 year old at kindergarten, became very “clingy” over the next few days. Her Kinder teacher asked (by way of suggesting an explanation) whether there had been a “death in the family”. “No,” said Cathy, but then after a bit of thought, “There was the pope dying…”

As we waited for the conclave to elect a new pope, many, like me, wondered if we would be able to love his successor with the same affection. We needn’t have worried. All who loved John Paul love Papa Benny.

I know that one day, he will also die and we will get a new pope. I pray that day will be far off, but it is in God’s hands. That’s another thing about being Catholic. We don’t think “The next pope will change this” (well, most of us don’t). We think: “God will always give us a pope who will faithfully shepherd his Church in the way we should go”. It is a true sense of trust in the Holy Spirit and his chosen servants.

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8 Responses to Remembering: Pope John Paul the Great

  1. Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. says:

    Being a Lutheran, I can only say that the closest parallel to the affection and respect for Pope John Paul II within Lutheranism might be that for a beloved pastor and/or bishop/president (either regional or national).

    Lutherans choose their leaders via elections. Though elected, they are leaders, so one might argue that a certain heierarchy also exists within Lutheranism. Therefore, while there are Lutherans who would strongly disdain what they see as the heierarchy of the Catholic Church in a negative sense (as you are well aware) other Lutherans accept heierarchy and order in church polity as necessary and even good, insofar as it upholds and defends orthodox doctrine and practice among the faithful.

    While a blog post is not always the best place to sort out areas of theological agreement and disagreement, John Paul II was the first pope who opened my eyes to the possibility of non-Catholics, namely myself, coming to a respect for the Holy Father of the Catholic Church and his office. As a history undergrad and Lutheran I am often reminded that the bearers of this office have not always been representative of what the office and those men who are chosen to serve there aspire to. Pope John Paul II was a great example of church leadership for both the Catholic Church and those outside.

    The honor and respect that Pope John Paul II has carried over to his successor. Pope Benedict XVI has also gained outside honor and respect, even among Lutherans, if not for being as outgoing as his predecessor, then at least for being an astute and prolific theologian of the Church. He is also a caring shepherd of the flock, which is an appreciated combination. His writings speak to the Church and to the conditions and the salvation that affects all humanity. Even if I may not accept or understand everything he writes, I certainly appreciate him as a teacher (so to speak) as he communicates the truth of Scripture in ways that certainly help me in my own learning and appreciation of the Word of God and the Sacraments.

    It does not bother me when Catholics revere and honor their popes, especially those just named. I see Catholics merely loving their pastor. Such love and honor is what all Christians would hope to demonstrate toward their pastors. I do appreciate that, for Catholics, he is also the Vicar of Christ and Successor to Peter so that there is more weight to this honor than mere emotion. Yet, weight and substance with respect to this man serving the Church in this office is something all Christians may benefit from, either directly or indirectly.


  2. Past Elder says:

    Well for me it was 9 October 1958.

    No Internet, TV film had to be flown across the ocean, just a voice on late night radio that Pius XII had died.

    My dad came in the room to tell me, and then he, the Methodist convert, made the Sign of the Cross and prayed the Pater Noster with his altar boy son, in Latin.

    No idea of the jack booted horror to follow or maybe we’d have said an entire Rosary (entire then being 15 mysteries, the 150 Ave Marias mirroring the Psalter, now dumped).

    My parents put a picture of his successor in my room, which in time I asked to take down, and no such picture of his successor appeared. I was part of the JPII experience personally here in the US, but my only thought on seeing the funeral footage on CNN was that when I saw those buildings in 1969 the figurative blood was still on the walls and floors from the last council, and that was a year before the novus ordo hit.

    John Paul was an apt name — unprecedented, but quite in line with the founders of the new church, not members but destroyers of what was once my family.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I echo Fr. May’s observations on the respect many of us Lutherans have for the Bishops of Rome and their teaching role. A study group at my Lutheran parish will occasionally read and discuss papal documents such as “Salvi Spe.” The absence of total doctrinal agreement should not obscure large areas of agreement or the possibility of learning from each other.


  4. Schütz says:

    Hi, Pastor Timothy! Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I was an avid reader of “Bride of Christ” at the Seminary. It had a great effect in awakening in me a love for the Catholic Church, while at the same time strengthening my love for my Lutheran heritage as well. Unfortunately (and I really do mean this) twenty years later I had to make a decision between the two.

    I was wondering as I wrote this blog on JPII and BXVI whether there was any office in the Lutheran Church which might draw comparitive affection and honour as the Pope does in the Catholic Church, and I had to answer myself that there was not.

    There is a way in which the Pope is truly regarded as a “father” (or perhaps even more correctly as a “grandfather”) that is, as a member and head of the family. Every Catholic church and many Catholic homes have a picture of the Pope on display. I have never walked into a Lutheran Church to see a picture of the current President on the wall.

    These days, too, with electronic communications, and with Popes who come to our countries and speak our language (in July Australia will become only the third Country in the world to receive a visit from all three travelling Popes–can you guess the other two?), we can read and listen to and see our Popes. This increases the sense of personal connection.

    Perhaps it is precisely because we did NOT elect them, that we revere them. They are not, for us, in any sense “factional” representatives. There is the true sense that they are gifts of the Holy Spirit (yes, I know that they are “elected” by the Cardinals, but there is so much mystery and ceremony surrounding that process that it remains possible to believe it is a divine act!).

    Jon, I am heartened that you and others in your parish read the writings of the Holy Father. Spe Salvi, like Deus Caritas Est, had much to say to all Christians, and says it powerfully and relatively simply. I think, in some respects, that he is a much clearer and more forthright teacher than JPII was. Actually more in the style of Paul VI, whose work we unfortunately do not read often enough these days.

    God bless you both, Tim and Jon, and our churches.

  5. Past Elder says:

    A false teacher, however revered, remains a false teacher, and Scripture is quite clear on how to regard them.

    Reading the works of false teachers from false churches is the same, whether their names are John Paul, Benedict, Rick Warren or Joel Osteen, Spe Salvi, Deus Cartitas Est, The Purpose Driven Life or Your Best Life Now.

    Were I Jerry Keischnick’s most avid supporter, it would never occur to me to put a picture of him in my house. As someone said, he’s just a man, as is the “pope”.

    What of the popes not elected by Cardinals, which is most of them?

    Actually, there is someone who in Lutheran and other Christian churches has a comparative affection and honour as the Pope does in the “Catholic Church”. In English, he is called Jesus Christ.

  6. Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. says:


    Thank you for your comments. If anything else, “The Bride of Christ,” may at least serve as an opportunity to keep theological and liturgical discussion alive within Lutheranism.

    You are correct in saying that there is probably no office in the Lutheran Church that can compare in promoting the same affection and honor as that which takes place with the Pope in the Catholic Church. My earlier comments to this were more theoretical and descriptive yet really do serve to show the contrast between how the church leaders are chosen. It does appear that the election process within Lutheranism diminishes most sense that there is something divine taking place (simply the process alone could demonstrate this). Not surprising, and contrary to both Scripture (and Tradition), the pastoral office unfortunately becomes seen and understood in terms of its “function” (as coming from below) in contrast with any divine reference (as coming from above). Missouri does not teach this but it is a danger among Lutherans.

    Theologically (and theoretically), Lutheranism is not opposed to the episcopal ecclesiology but, generally speaking, many Lutherans are quite uncomfortable with this prospect. In most circles this might not even be discussed. Therefore, as your comments show, it is not hard to see why the Pope and his office would receive much more affection and honor than a president of any Lutheran synod, even a popular one, might receive within a given Lutheran body.

    Thanks again. Blessed Eastertide!

  7. Schütz says:

    Very close to the end of my time in the Lutheran Church, we had a pastor’s conference on the theology of the ministry. The main speaker (Missouri trained) did in fact teach a theology that was very close to functionalism, and a “from below”, attitude, although the speaker would have denied this. Nevertheless, it came out in his strong opposition to any theology of the ministry “from above”.

    What I realised from the experience was something I already knew: within Lutheranism there is an unresolvable tension and ambiguity on this matter–as on so many others. You can be Lutheran and hold an almost Catholic doctrine of Holy Orders. But others, with a claim to being Lutheran that is just as valid as yours, could teach the exact opposite. Witness Walther and Loehe.

  8. LYL says:

    Ah, Papa B16 – how we love him!

    Yes, I remember being very very sad at the passing of Pope John Paul II. I was really very bereft, particularly during the interregnum.

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