Remembering Pope John Paul II

As everyone who is anyone knows by now, Pope John Paul II died on Saturday at 2:37 EST. It is times like this when it is especially difficult to be a member of a particular Christian sect that is so isolated from the rest of Christendom. Of the over one million members of Churches of Christ across the U.S. only a handful even care about the pope’s death. Most probably view him as off to the punishment of hell. Instead, I like to focus on the positive things that this pope did in his many years of service to God and the Catholic Church. I was a bit suprised to learn that his tenure as pope surpasses that of every other pope save one. He is the most traveled pope visiting over 100 nations. He lived out the teachings of Vatican II and even broadened those horizons opening dialogue between Catholics, Orthodox Christians, not to mention those of non Christian faiths. All in all, this pope was a powerful person for the cause of Christian faith in the world.

I am not sure that I ever truly realized the power and influence of the pope until he died. His death is recieving more attention than the capture of Sadam Hussein, than the Super Bowl, and even the Bill Clinton trial. I venture to say that his death has received more publicity than anything in this country with the exception of a national tragedy (ie. Sept. 11, presidential assasination). The pope is truly a powerful and influential person. Why can’t I as a fellow Christian celebrate his life? Sure the Catholic church has its problems . . . but don’t we all? I think they have more problems than my current sectarian choice, if I didn’t think that I would be Catholic. I grew up being taught that the pope was the antiChrist. The more that I have learned and experienced, I think that that teaching might be closer to the teaching of the antiChrist than anything the pope ever did.

Upon his death I am impressed with the Catholic church (one of the few times I might add). I am impressed with their tradition and the pagentry of it all. This whole episode represents so much of what Martin Luther fought against with his Reformation, but I wonder if he went too far. The hierarchy was corrupt . . . no doubt still is corrupt . . . but there still is much good. Catholics place way too much confidence and trust in theirs priests and leaders, the pope more than anyone, but how much different is that than in evangelical circles, and yes, even circles of Churches of Christ. Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Charcles Swindoll – these names bring a certain swagger within evangelical circles that rival that of the pope, just in a more “evangelical way.” Working for a time in Nashville at the West End Church of Christ I have seen this in the way people revere Jim Bill McInteer. Women there were so proud to tell you that they were one of Jim Bill’s secretaries. Jeff Walling, Lynn Anderson, Rubel Shelly . . . the list goes on here too. I have said it many times, and I will say it again: We in Churches of Christ are a lot more like Catholics than we would ever choose to admit.

The fact is that the pope was a great man of faith, a man that all Christians would do well to emulate. He was strong enough in his faith to see the error of the ways of the Bush administration as it pertains to policiy in Iraq. He was committed to nonviolence. He was conservative on moral issues. He loved all those of faith. The world has truly lost an important faith leader. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the Catholic hierarchy gets under all our Protestant skins, but we must get past it and embrace those also calling on the name of the Lord. Perhaps Catholics are those driving out demons in the name of Jesus. While we are asking Jesus if he wants us to call fire down on them to destroy them, he is trying to teach us a lesson. You don’t have all the answers. You haven’t solved theology. You would do well to listen to others . . . to converse with those who are different than you. When will we listen?

P.S. I am still working on the picture thing. It looks like it might be awhile. I may try to get it hooked up on a computer at work so I can do it from there. We’re off to Tennessee on Thursday. We’ll see how jr. does on the long car ride. Peace.


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