‘Those who question the sanctity of John Paul II don’t know what they’re talking about’

George Weigel

From 1991 until 2005, Cardinal Camillo Ruini served Pope John Paul II as the papal Vicar for Rome – the man who handled the daily affairs of the diocese of which the Pope was, of course, bishop. Ruini was a creative cardinal-vicar who energized the Diocese of Rome for the New Evangelization – a concept he grasped perhaps better than any other Italian prelate. As president of the Italian bishops’ conference, he was committed to John Paul II’s program of “broadening the Tiber:” that is, getting the Italian Church out of its customary entanglements with partisan Italian politics and into the business of Catholic moral witness and the Christian transformation of culture. Had the College of Cardinals decided to elect an Italian to the papacy in 2005, Cardinal Ruini would have made an excellent choice.     

I last spoke with the cardinal in October 2019. A few months short of his 89th birthday, he was, as ever, sharp, shrewd, candid, humorous, and well-informed about the Catholic situation around the world. So I was not surprised when Cardinal Ruini took to the pages of the newspaper Il Foglio last month in defense of the pontificate and sanctity of John Paul II, demonstrating that he had lost none of his vigor in the 13 months since we had seen each other. His responses to various attacks on John Paul’s character and competence since the publication of the McCarrick Report are worth recording for an English-language audience.

Why did John Paul II’s beatification and canonization cause begin immediately? Because, Cardinal Ruini explained, more than 80 cardinals had signed a petition to the “future pope” before the conclave of 2005, asking whoever was elected to waive the normal five-year waiting period before a cause begins. The petition was entrusted to Ruini, and the newly-elected Benedict XVI “immediately” agreed with the request when the cardinal, as Vicar of Rome, presented it to him at their first audience. 

Why did the cause proceed so rapidly? The process unfolded “with absolute regularity, in compliance with all regulations.” Moreover, reports of miracles – “and what miracles!” – were pouring into the Vicariate of Rome even before the process began. Was the finger of God not to be seen in this?

What does the cardinal say when the holiness of John Paul II is questioned? Those who make this charge are “blinded by preconceptions and don’t know what they’re talking about.” The cardinal went on to discuss his “close contact” with the Polish pope over two decades and how he was “struck from the beginning by the intensity of his prayer: he immersed himself in it…totally…and nothing that happened around him distracted him.”

Was John Paul II an absentee manager who didn’t pay sufficient attention to administration?Not according to his longtime cardinal-vicar. “He carefully chose his closest collaborators” and then put his confidence in them. “At the same time, he had a very high sense of his own responsibility and mission, fully understanding the nature of governance.” Any charge that John Paul II’s management style was “superficial” is “false and deeply unfair: nothing in his way of being or operating was superficial.”

Was John Paul II intimidated by Theodore McCarrick’s exuberance and seeming power? “To think that McCarrick, or even people much more important than him, could intimidate John Paul II is simply ridiculous…..John Paul II was not afraid of anyone on earth….In his choices [John Paul] placed himself before God and made decisions not only in conscience but in the presence of God. All this does not mean that one or another decision could not have been wrong.” (As the decisions regarding McCarrick’s transfer to Washington and his cardinalate surely were). But it does mean John Paul never took decisions “lightly.”       

Shouldn’t the Church wait longer before canonizing popes? In measuring sanctity, Cardinal Ruini concluded, popes should be regarded “as far as possible like every other member of the Church, without preferential tracks and without penalties.” 

As he got to know John Paul II, Cardinal Ruini came to be “amazed by [John Paul’s] extraordinary ability to forgive.” If life at the Throne of Grace is the perfection of virtues displayed in this life, then St. John Paul II has forgiven his recent detractors: those settling old ideological scores, and those who agree with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, that magic and crime both work by getting people to look the wrong way so that they don’t see what’s really going on. Knowing of his forgiveness, perhaps the John Paul II detractors will be moved to a similar generosity of spirit. I’m doubtful. But we may hope. 

Featured image by Vatican Media

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!