Sunday, April 10, 2005

Nunc Dimittis

There has been much dispute over the legacy of Pope John Paul II, whom some American observers suggest was "too liberal" or "too conservative."

Catholic leaders say "JPII" (as his young followers called him) was neither of these things, but "faithful to the gospel."

By the word "gospel," they mean God's public revelation of truth as Rome has shaped and disseminated it over the past 2,000 years.

Some in the non-Catholic world seem confused, repulsed, or downright fatigued by the worldwide attention heaped on the late pontiff last week.

It seems to me John Paul II does not have to answer at this point to Christopher Hitchens, Bill O'Reilly, George Weigel, John Allen or any of us. He's gone to meet God's mercy.

As for the attention the pope received last week, I think the explanation should be obvious even to his detractors: He touched billions of lives personally and politically.

For Catholic and even non-Catholic religious believers, it felt like the pope was a member of our families. He was a brother, a father, a grandfather.

For world leaders, the pope was a shrewd political player on the world stage. He exploited mass communications in a way no previous pope could have imagined, and this at least merited a nod of respect.

For John Paul II, the pope was "the servant of the servants of God," completely in the hands of divine providence just like any other soul.

In his last will and testament, the pope left the world to God, as if all creation was both his possession and possessor.

And he repeated the Biblical words of Simeon as the third millenium dawned. "Nunc dimittis." In other words: "I have seen Christ and now I can die."

The Christian gospel says God promised Simeon, a devout prophet in the Jewish temple, that he would see the Messiah before he died.

So when Joseph and Mary brought the child Jesus to the temple for a customary blessing, the elderly Simeon took the child into his arms and said, "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation."


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