Pope John Paul II has been referred to as a 'politician' in some of the broadcasts that I watched over the weekend. I disagree completely. The Pope is unlike any politician the world has ever known. Pope John Paul II has never wavered from the principles of his platform, a life-based platform that causes many American Catholics to treat Catholicism as a buffet: only take the parts you like.
I recognize in myself the way that I have casually treated my faith. When I started college, I drifted away from accepted church teachings. After a childhood of regular mass attendance, I attended church irregularly in college. I didn't see anything fundamentally wrong with birth control, premarital sex, a woman's right to choose, married priests, swearing, or same-sex marriage. I returned to regular mass attendance after getting married (1995) but since my church closed last Fall, my attendance has gone way down. I don't know whether my absence is more political protest or whether I was just "tired of the message."
The Pope of the Catholic Church since I was ten years old has never wavered from this message, the "Good News" of Jesus Christ, the message of life. His steadfastness comforted me. I reach for my faith because it is the only thing that I have ever known to "believe." I was raised a Catholic and I continue to declare myself a Catholic. I may be skeptical about my faith. I may be critical about my faith. I may be sullen about my faith. But I don't deny my faith.
This weekend begins a mourning period the world over. There are complex and well described rituals that must be followed in the coming days to handle the pope's funeral, the mourning, and, inevitably, the selection of a new pope. As a critical and curious Catholic, the rituals remind me of the man-made 'construction' of my faith. But the rituals will also allow me and the rest of the world to celebrate the life of a man who believed in Jesus Christ's message completely and utterly.