It’s commonplace in some circles to identify people as belonging to one of two divisions in the Roman Catholic church: there are those who are “Vatican 2 Catholics,” and those who are “JPII Catholics.” These labels do not literally refer to the generational divide between those who were alive during the early years of the Second Vatican Council, and those who were raised during the years of JPII’s papacy. Instead, they are used to identify a general set of theological and liturgical sympathies, which are not strictly generational: those whose Catholicism is shaped by and ordered towards the spirit of the Vatican 2 reforms, and those whose Catholicism is shaped by and ordered towards the “reform of the reform” that emerged during JPII’s papacy. They very roughly map to what may also be called liberal/progressive and conservative/traditional Catholics.
The choice of the word “division” to describe these populations is sadly accurate; “faction” might be even more accurate.
And that’s why this coming Sunday’s canonization of John XXIII, who astonished the church by calling the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II, who powerfully influenced so many Catholics, especially young people through his institution of World Youth Day, is so important. Francis’ decision to jointly canonize these two men is a creative, dramatic gesture of reconciliation. The official Vatican petition to make John XXIII and John Paul II saints lists them both together, John first, so that the canonization will formally occur at exactly the same time; the canonization occurs on the day that John Paul II declared to be Divine Mercy Sunday. Their feast days will be 11 days apart: John XXIII’s feast will be October 11th, the day on which the Second Vatican Council opened; John Paul II’s feast will be October 22nd, the day on which he began his papal ministry.
Commentary on whether either man really deserves to be made a saint, that focuses on their flaws and shortcomings, or on the flaws in the process, misses the point of this papal gesture. Our deeply divided church is in desperate need of reconciliation. The image of these two saints, proclaimed to be saints at the same moment, together in heaven, together interceding for the good of the church they each served, is a grace and a reconciling blessing that should inspire all of us, all of us Catholics, to come together across everything and anything that divides us, to join our hands and hearts and voices in prayer for the good of the church as a whole and for each other.
This canonization is a time to set aside the areas in which we may have disapproved of, disagreed with, were offended by, or were hurt by any element of the ministry of these two men, and focus instead on the unity of the church, and the blessings which many received through their ministry. In the language of the Eucharistic Prayer, let us pray that God will bring the church to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our pope, through the intercession of
Blessed Saint John XXIII and Blessed Saint John Paul II.
Gracious God, we pray for your holy catholic church.
Fill it with your truth;
Keep it in your peace.
Where it is corrupt, reform it.
Where it is in error, correct it.
Where it is right, defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.