In 1990, I endured a grueling 10-day sojourn in Utah. It was strenuous not because of the location in downtown Salt Lake City, but because I was a delegate to an annual denominational dogfight called a Presbyterian General Assembly. Like all delegates, I found the experience exhausting because sometimes the moderator's gavel did not fall to dismiss us from our day's legislative work until the wee hours of the next morning.
But the brightest light of the whole experience was the illumination of world events. What used to be called the Eastern Bloc countries of Europe were knocking down the both the Berlin wall and the so-called Iron Curtain. The Soviet Union was dissolving back into Russia and a cluster of independent nations. Marxist socialism had failed and was being consigned to its proper place as a quirk of history.
This historic background to the Presbyterian gathering in Utah 31 years ago was bright for me because I was a delegate from a seminary that was infested with Marxist professors. And their like-minded co-religionists at the Salt Lake City gathering were a-dither with cognitive dissonance as their world view was rejected.
But most of the light came from representatives and visitors from the former Eastern Bloc. Missionaries and church leaders from Hungary, Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Yugoslavia and other countries were aglow with reports of the transformation of their nations into free democracies.
But there was a surprise.
When these Christians described how their countries were liberated they gave most of the credit to the great enemy of communism, a Polish priest named Karol Wojtyla. Nineteen ninety was the 12th year of Wojtyla's service from the throne of Peter as John Paul II, now "Blessed."
I doubt it's a simple coincidence that John Paul II was beatified 24 days ago on May Day. The 1st of May used to be a major communist holiday.
As a true biblical-style prophet the Blessed John Paul II didn't hesitate to preach repentance to the world. With same energy he devoted to opposing communism he zealously chastised the capitalist West for materialism. On one hand the Blessed John Paul II looked outward in condemning warfare, advocating for the poor, and demanding relief from oppression. But he even exhorted his own church to abandon its many institutional sins.
The 26 !1/2 year papacy of the Blessed John Paul II was the second longest in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Very few generations of Christians have been privileged to live in a time blessed by a history-making pope.
Now, the beatification and addition of "Blessed" to John Paul II's name is the second of three steps to canonization and sainthood. Most of the world's Christians believe those who died in Christ still live. And like faithful who often ask their Christian friends to pray for them, most of the world's Christians turn to the living beyond the veil and ask for prayers on their behalf. If those prayers are answered, particularly with a documented medical miracle, the road to sainthood opens.
John Paul II is now "Blessed" because there is a scientifically documented medical miracle attributed his prayers on behalf of someone. In this case it was an inexplicable cure of Parkinson's disease. More miraculous cures will follow and Karol Wojtyla will be canonized and known as Saint John Paul II.
But wait, there's more ...
At the Blessed John Paul II's funeral there were cries of "Sainthood now!" At his beatification there were cries of "Doctor! Doctor!" Well, well. There are literally thousands of saints. But the Church of Jesus Christ (East and West) has a total of 33 saints who were "promoted" to Doctor.
The most recent saint promoted to Doctor of the Church was ThA(c)rA(r)se of Lisieux, a French nun who died in 1897. Other Doctors are more familiar, Augustine of Hippo (Doctor of Grace), Anselm of Canterbury (Doctor of Scholasticism), Thomas Aquinas (Angelic Doctor), Teresa of Avila (Doctor of Prayer). Only two of the 33 were popes, Gregory (Doctor of Hymnology) and Leo (Doctor of Doctrine).
Of course there's no surprise at the approaching canonization of the Blessed John Paul II. I've already gotten into the habit of referring to him as John Paul the Great. But Doctor of what? My Presbyterian vote goes to promoting him to Doctor of Liberation (or Kicking Commie Butt).