While the saint-making process (learn more) can be mind-numbingly slow, John Paul is on the fast track. Normally, the process begins no sooner than five years after the person's death. But Pope Benedict XVI has already waived the five-year rule, as John Paul did for Mother Teresa. Sister Marie's cure means that he may have the miracle required for beatification, which is just one step away from canonization. (True, that "one step" requires a second miracle--which means person can languish between beatification and canonization for years, even centuries.) But if a second miracle is attributed to him, and the Vatican approves of his papers, we may soon see churches and schools named for St. John Paul II.
There's been some lively discussion among the Catholic intelligentsia about John Paul's canonization. On one side, critics aver that since he made some mistakes as pope he shouldn't be a saint. Many Catholics in favor of women's ordination, for example, are still angered by his firm stance against that position. "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women," he wrote in 1994, "and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." Gays and lesbians object to documents on homosexuality that were issued by the Vatican during his pontificate. And some American Catholics point to the fact that, as pope, John Paul not only was slow to respond to the sexual abuse crisis in the United States, but also appointed most of the bishops responsible for shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish.
On the other side, his supporters, who point to his obvious personal holiness and his towering accomplishments in the church and on the world stage, and seem horrified over mention of any flaws, as if these somehow are blots on his saintly copybook.
Both sides are wrong. Being a saint doesn't mean being perfect. Sanctity is not the same as divinity. And holiness always has to make its home in humanity.
The list of saints' foibles could fill volumes. You might begin with Saint Peter who, after all, denied Jesus, three times before his crucifixion. As the priest in "Moonstruck" says to Cher's character, "That's a pretty big sin." You could continue with St. Jerome, the fifth-century polymath who was famously nasty to anyone who dared criticize him. And you could include Mother Teresa, who occasionally wrote tart letters to her sisters accusing them of malingering. "Is this not a humiliation for you that I at my age can take a regular meal and do a full day's work, and you live with the name of the poor and enjoy a lazy life?" The saints were, and are, refreshingly human.
Even though I disagreed with some of Pope John Paul's positions, and even though he wasn't always a fan of the Jesuits, for me the late pope was clearly a saint. Not simply because of his well-catalogued achievements, but also because of his astonishing personal faith, nurtured in the pious atmosphere of early 20th-century Polish Catholicism, forged in the terrors of mid-century Nazi and Communist régimes, and, finally, allowed to blossom, like a tall tree, for the good of the late-century world.
For me, his most meaningful message wasn't even his own, though he repeated it often enough that many thought it originated with him. "Be not afraid!" he would say. (It was also the title of one of his most popular books.) Echoing the message that Jesus repeated to his disciples, when John Paul uttered those words, people knew that they were hearing from a man who not only believed in fearlessness, but who had experienced things that were truly fearful. Karol Wojtyla's life was always centered doing his best, fearlessly, for God. And I liked him even more after hearing that, despite his having reached the top rung of the ecclesiastical ladder, he was humble enough to go to confession—every week.
To use the traditional formula, Pope John Paul lived a life of "heroic virtue." He is certainly worthy of what the church calls "public veneration." And if he's not in heaven, there's little hope for the rest of us.
What happens next? Well, some of it is in John Paul's hands. He's got some more interceding to do before he's named a saint. And frankly, now that he's searching for another miracle to take up, he's my go-to guy to get things done in heaven.