Pope or Rockstar?
Was Catholic Woodstock Good For The Church?
I was there at Cherry Creek state park in Denver in 1993 and I can remember the thrill of seeing the helicopters carrying Pope St. John Paul II to the stage. Then he appeared on the jumbotron! It was a thrilling, emotion filled moment. Of course, it was also difficult. We were reminded it was a pilgrimage, so hardship was to be expected, even welcomed. I can remember huddling in the little bit of shade in our square patch of dirt during the Mass and homily. I remember not really understanding what he was saying and hoping I could listen to a recording or read a transcript later. I remember lines for the out-houses. Long, painful lines with a pit at the end.
I don’t know that the experience made a huge impact on the direction of my life—I was already a JPII fan and what I considered an orthodox Catholic. A year later I would quit my job and go to Franciscan University of Steubenville to get my graduate degree in Theology. The experience may have influenced that move. I did meet many people at FUS who attributed their conversion/reversion/resurgence in the Faith to that world youth day experience. Also, many vocations to the priesthood and religious life can be attributed to those events. And those are wonderful fruits that cannot be denied!
I eventually got married and actually met JPII in person. He blessed my husband and I and our first child, still in the womb. An experience I will always treasure.
When Pope John Paul II died and Cardinal Ratzinger was elevated to Pope Benedict XVI the JPII generation was thrilled. We loved our new pope, so it was easy to transfer that rockstar-pope enthusiasm to him. I was able to see Pope Benedict in Rome with my husband and children. This was a very different experience from Denver. There was a thrill to see the Holy Father, but it was all wrapped up in the beauty and history of Rome. It was connected to the tradition of the Church and her saints. The apostles were depicted in statues as a backdrop to the current apostle.
We were still attached to the person who was Cardinal Ratzinger. There was still a cult of personality surrounding him. We hung on his every word because we knew his reputation. And I highly recommend all of his books!
However, I want to address what happened to many of the JPII generationwhen Pope Benedict stepped down. For many of us, it was a punch in the gut. I recently heard it described as your father walking out to get a pack of cigarettes and never returning. A little coarse, but applicable.
Only, we had to deal with the father who walked in—the current pope. We spent the first few years trying to defend everything he said, then we stopped paying attention because it was too painful. Finally, we began to speak frankly to friends and family—some of whom understood, others thought us heretics.
From the point of view of the current little mountain on which we stand looking back at the trail that led here, and looking ahead to where it seems to be going, I wonder if I would feel less abandoned, less gut-punched, less black pilled, if I had not given into the cult of personality that surrounded the Pope of my childhood. Maybe if he remained a distant, somewhat mysterious figure, sequestered at the Vatican, rarely heard from, I would be better able to handle being faced with the current pope. I would be ready to face the fact that he is just a man, sinful like any other, not necessarily a good leader or preacher, perhaps a bit bumbling, maybe even nefarious.
Maybe if I could see him, rather, as he sits on The Chair with the Archangel Michael standing behind him holding a sword over his head ready to strike him, in case he fails in his one job. That image puts the whole thing in perspective, doesn’t it?
I fear we made a god out of Pope John Paul II. And that led us down a path that was harmful to the Church. When Benedict resigned we were both devastated and naively hopeful. I can remember thinking the next pope was going to be another young, dynamic man. He would bring us into the next century, renewing the liturgy, combating all the problems in the church, and remaining pope for another 30 years.
Alas, reality is usually more sobering. And it was.
So, where are we now. World Youth Day approaches in 2023. Is WYD about the Pope anymore? It was when I went. I hope it isn’t, because, as I said, I think a Rock Star Pope was damaging to our faith.
But then why WYD? Is it just about Youth? That, is a bigger problem. Our culture is narcissistic enough without having to send our kids clear across the world to contemplate their youth.
I fear it is just Catholic Woodstock. And since the kids are all Catholic and they are going to gather at huge Masses, and go to talks and chant Catholic slogans, and carry signs, we feel good about sending them. It makes us happy that they have Catholic friends and can see that there are Catholics all over the world.
My fear is that the message the youth get is that being Catholic is good, as long as it has enough backing in the world stage. Being Catholic is good, as long as it meets my needs. Being Catholic is good as long as my friends support me. Being Catholic is good as long as the hierarchy are listening to the youth. Being Catholic is good as long as the liturgy speaks to me.
But being Catholic is good for one reason—because it is True. It is true whether or not my friends agree. It is true whether or not I have fun at a Catholic event. It is true whether or not there are more than twelve Catholics in the world.
And, it is True even if the Pope is a sinner (all of them are) and a heretic (we hope we have very few of these). And you don’t even like him, to boot.
These statements made about God and his Church have not been evaluated by Heaven or The Catholic Church. They are not guaranteed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any spiritual condition or disease, nor are they guaranteed to be worded in the best and most accurate way. Please consult with your own priest, the Catechism, or God himself regarding the statements and analogies made in this article.
I hate naming generations, but here it is useful. Watch for another post on this topic coming soon…
From John Zmirak via Twitter, I believe. Or maybe Stream.org. Sorry, can’t remember.