Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
On the second Sunday of Easter (last Sunday), Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict celebrated the sainthood of John XXIII and John Paul II.
What the Catholic Church means by this is that they made it to heaven and are in union with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and with all of the holy people who lived holy lives and relied on God’s mercy to forgive the sins that they committed.
It is God who makes us saints, not because we are perfect, but that we know that we are sinners who need his mercy. In gratitude, we attempt to live holy lives, that involve trying to keep the commandments, caring for the poor, and maintain a life of communal and private prayer.
The Church rarely makes her former popes saints. It’s difficult enough to live a holy life; even more so when you add the responsibility of leadership for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
About 20 years ago when I was in college, I went to Chicago with my parents over the Christmas break. On Sunday we attended mass at Holy Name Cathedral. I remember that the priest in his homily commented on the former cardinals’ hats that were hanging from the ceiling of the cathedral. He said that when the cord that held the hat from ceiling disintegrated and let the hat fall to the cathedral floor, it was a sign that the deceased cardinal’s soul sprang from purgatory.
Of course this is not official doctrine, but was probably discussed between priests while sharing an aperitif before dinner and speaking about the lives of their former bosses. The truth behind the comical idea of the poor cardinal’s soul waiting in purgatory is the realization of how difficult it is to be a holy leader.
Starting in the 3rd century, holy men and women fled to the deserts of Egypt to focus their life on prayer and penance. This was the beginning of monasticism. There are many stories that when a bishop would go out into the desert to look for these holy men to ordain as priests, they would run away from the bishop. They were aware of the added difficulty they would face in their life if they had to be responsible as a pastor.
I was assigned by Bishop John Wester (he is the pastor of the entire state of Utah and Wendover) to Tooele four years ago. I was formerly pastor of a little church in Salt Lake City called St. Patrick on the west side of the city. Before this I was an associate pastor or parochial vicar in Midvale and then Park City and Heber.
I was informed of all of the challenges that St. Marguerite faced and that the bishop trusted my pastoral abilities to put out the fires. My naiveté made me think, “Oh, we’ll figure out these problems. We’ll all be joining hands and singing around the campfire in no time.”
I am often reminded of the saying that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. In this case, the fool applies to me. I appreciate the wisdom of the early desert monastics who ran to their caves when they saw the bishop coming.
Leadership, whether it is being the pope, bishop, or pastor, requires humility in the sense that you have to be willing to be humiliated often by the people that you are called to serve and guide. As Christians we call it, “embracing the cross.” The great popes — John XXIII and John Paul II — guided the Church so that it responded to the needs of the current world.
John XXIII initiated the 2nd Vatican Council in 1962. He died in 1963. Paul XI continued with the council, which ended in 1965. The Church also renewed herself to adapt to the turbulent times of the 60s. The Church looked to the past and to the current times, and asked the question of who are we, what are we called to do, and how do we relate to the rest of the world.
John Paul II visited more places than any other pope. He was charismatic and loved. He built bridges with the Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, and Protestants. How we see the pope is largely based upon how John Paul II lived the papacy. I feel that Francis also will be remembered as one of the great popes. It is little wonder that he embraces humility and service to the poor.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.