Pope John Paul II's Beatification: What's In It for Me?

In a First Things essay, "The Judgment of Memory," Joseph Bottum (yes, the same guy who wrote the Weekly Standard piece I cite above), describes the Roman philosopher Epictetus' view of human conflict:

Every human situation . . . is like a vase with two handles: If you have quarreled with your brother, you can grasp the handle that is the fact that you have quarreled, or you can grasp the handle that is the fact that he is your brother.

This neatly sums up what was best about John Paul's pontificate. He offered the world and the Church a two-handled vase: we could grasp the handle that was the fact we often disagreed, or we could grasp the handle that was the fact we often agreed. Cynics love to point out that the throngs of young people who attended the former pope every World Youth Day went straight home to use artificial birth control. To that I ask: would it have been better if they'd not turned out at all? If they'd showed up to boo? My own answer is no. In this conflict-wracked world, sometimes a semblance of peace, a fragile consensus, is better than none at all.

But that's just me. On the whole, I like the world, along with most of the people in it. And,I have to admit, I like the feelings of pleasure that come from liking them. When Suzanne the party girl announced, "Ich bin Katolikin," I was still two years from beginning my catechesis. But if I'd been in the Church, her gesture would have impressed me in much in the same way that John Paul's visit to the Wailing Wall impressed Jewish people worldwide.

To mix metaphors, there's something especially moving about a mountain that will come to Muhammad, or a Muhammad that can attract a mountain.

I don't kid myself that John Paul's beatification will bring back those good old days—which, of course, weren't always good. But this reminder that they're not, really, so small in the rear-view mirror will restore to me the courage I need to keep driving.

5/1/2011 4:00:00 AM