A few weeks ago the Guardian ran an article reviewing a newly published book about Pope John Paul II by a Vatican “official” (employee) who is “in charge of the process that could lead to sainthood.” I have a lot of problems with just one guy apparently being in charge of this process, but that’s another post.
The author claims that the late Pope used to “self flagellate” with a tool like a belt that hung in his closet. If you don’t know what that means, in essence it means that the Pope would remove his clothing, take a whip from his closet, and whip himself on the back to hurt himself. Apparently the idea behind tormenting himself was to imitate Christ, to identify with Christ’s suffering, and to log some suffering to show how devoted he was to Jesus.
I tried to write that last paragraph with as little passion as possible. Just the facts and all that.
Am I the only one who finds this behavior fanatical, illogical, and just plain old ridiculous? Not to mention, it sounds like punishment right out of the middle ages.
I grew up in the Catholic Church. As far as I can figure out, the Church does not teach that people need to hurt themselves in order to be good people or to honor Jesus Christ.
It gets me thinking what Jesus would really think about someone using a whip to hurt himself. Jesus was an OK kind of fellow, by all accounts. He lost his temper a few times and sometimes lacked empathy, but he was human and is allowed faults. He was just a young man and he wasn’t exactly born in the most fortunate of circumstances (being predestined to be tortured to death). It seems to me that if Jesus were asked whether a person should use a whip to hurt himself (or herself) in Jesus’s name, Jesus would probably sit back and calmly say something like this:
You know, my friend, whipping yourself with a leather strap is really not necessary. I suffered a lot and died an agonizing death by being crucified, but I did it so that you believers who came after me wouldn’t have to suffer. If you want to sacrifice something, maybe you could give some of your precious time and energy to someone less fortunate, or do something you don’t really enjoy but which you know benefits someone else. How about it?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m way off, here. But the Catholic catechism suggests that three things can be done as penance: prayers, fasting, and almsgiving. (Frankly, none of these seem very good to me if you’ve really harmed someone in some way. How about starting with an apology, and then asking what you can do to make it right? —-Once again, a subject for another post.)
At any rate, I can’t find any suggestions about flagellation in the catechism (although I’ll keep looking). And on a personal note—which is really what my blog is all about—I am really weirded out by learning that the previous Pope engaged in self-flagellation. It’s fanatical. Read any Dan Brown lately?