When I heard that Pope John Paul II had finally passed on this past Saturday, I felt saddened.  There is a host of reasons that I was saddened by this event, but the main reason is because he reminds me of my father.  I sat in my car in front of a Target listening to NPR’s coverage of his death and I thought for some time.  My wife had just called me to break the news and, although I wasn’t surprised, I was definitely taken aback.  It seemed as though he might never die.  Pope John Paul II was seemingly immortal, especially considering the many times he narrowly escaped death all through his life.  I was saddened becuase he is the only pope that I’ve ever really known.  My grade school years were spent with his photos adorning our hallways at Our Lady Queen of Peace.  I even had a chance to see the pope in person at a massive service held at the Pontiac Silverdome.  All these memories came flooding forth as I listened to the crowd singing in Latin songs of lamentation.

It has been several days since the pope’s passing and I’ve watched intently the regalia and ritual behind the death of a pope.  It is amazing to see the mile long line of people waiting for almost a whole day’s worth of time to just pass near this lifeless body.  Everyone across all spectrums of media have been talking about his works, his life, and his legacy.  Yet, it all seems to boil down to politics.  It all boils down to red and blue.  It all boils down to senseless blathering on our screens from people who act like they knew Pope John Paul II when, in reality, I knew the pope as well as they did.  What we have here, once again, is a rendering of complexity.  To place the obvious complexities of church doctrine, political discourse, and human sanctification into what amounts to cans of Kool-Aid is irreverant and wrong.  There have been many things that have affected my thoughts on Catholicism that stem not only from this pope alone but from long-standing Catholic dogma as well.  The ordination of women, the full acceptance of people as they are, the right for Catholic priests to marry are all issues I hold close to my heart and they are the very reasons why I yet cannot associate myself with the Catholic church until these things change.  But, this does not preclude my utter respect for the pope and all the good that he’s done throughout the world.  Yes, his stance for life has always been consistent on issues ranging from abortion to the death penalty.  This is what I respect.  The pope has always been consistent in his intention (not only words) to enforce social justice and peace.  This is what I respect.  Whether or not I agree with all of these is of no consequence.  We have lost a leader of faith that has been unwavering from his first day in the papacy.

While Pope John Paul II gets the dissection due him from all of us (media, consumers, religious/non-religious, Catholics/non-Catholics) upon his death, it would benefit us all to remember that it is simplicity that leads us to think in terms of red and blue.  We are humans and are therefore complex, and we do an injustice to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters when we look at them as one color or another, one party or another, one religion or another, one mind or another.  We can learn much from what John Paul II had to say to us all as members of this world.  This, I think, is his lasting legacy.

This is from an article written by Jack Lessenberry printed in this week’s Metro Times:

What is unique about Roman Catholicism, however, is that alone among the world’s great religions, it invests what amounts to absolute power in a single individual who cannot be removed for any reason whatsoever, and who, the church teaches, has the right to declare what he says as infallible.

That invests the pope with the power to do perhaps more good — or harm — than any other world leader. Some popes have had no desire to use that power politically; others lacked the finesse. But Pope John Paul II had the wit and the skill and the drive to become a major actor on the world stage.

I think many of us didn’t realize exactly how important he was. For those of us who happen to be progressive, or whatever liberals call themselves nowadays, it was easy to get caught up in indignation over his medieval ideas about women, birth control, abortion and other social issues.

Yet he was perfectly sincere about all of that, not a crass hypocrite like Tom DeLay, and that’s where I don’t think we can really criticize him, especially if we aren’t believing Roman Catholics. He was totally up-front, and never attempted to conceal his opinions for a moment.