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This Hero's Journey

"The Pope made Catholics feel secure. That's certainly the way I feel, and I think that's certainly the way most Catholics would feel... I hope that with the next Pope there'll be a similar sense of security" - Cardinal Pell, speaking on ABC Radio

"Spiritual life and secure life do not go together. To save oneself one must struggle and take risks" - Ignazio Silone, Italian author

When a person dies, especially a person for whom so many people have a strong sense of connection, there is an inevitable tussle for the ownership of the memory of that person.

We tend to appropriate the life of the loved one and re-make it to suit our own agenda. This, to some degree, is happening in the case of Pope John Paul II.

Some emphasise his love of freedom. Or his distrust of capitalism. Or his defence of the unborn. He is authoritarian, and authoritative; he upholds the dignity of the human person, but never will never meet with any survivor of clerical abuse.

This edition of Online Catholics contains some of the best analysis and commentary gathered from all over the world on the life and work of Pope John Paul. These analyses explore our fascination with this Pope, and the contradictions in his personality and ministry. However there is one adjective which is never applied to John Paul by any of these expert commentators.

That adjective is 'safe'.

John Paul II was never about security or safety. This Pope, born in a dangerous place at a dangerous time, was a towering example of courage. The world fell in love with him, not because he was a savvy media operator, or even that he was immensely powerful. It was because he was a hero. Not a champion, but a hero - that is, one who sacrifices himself for others. As Ignazio Silone and innumerable other spiritual thinkers know, the pursuit of safety and security does not lead to spirituality; it is struggle, and sacrifice, that lead us there. That is the quality which distinguished John Paul; he personified courage because of his ready willingness to respond 'yes' to the Divine call.

There is much to be done, in our Church, now. Amid all the fine words and jostling for places at the table, perhaps the first task is to throw out some of the thoroughly barmy ideas, recently promoted by some.

The first is the curious notion that John Paul (and indeed Christianity) favoured libertarian free market capitalism. The US priest and political advocate Robert Sirico has this week used the death of John Paul to again promote this particular fad.

The second is the idea that adherence to doctrine can deliver certainty or "security". But certainty is a con, a mere park bench upon which one may plonk oneself and rest, and assume that strict obedience to the rules will remove the need to engage. Or actually think.

The third is our first-world complacency toward a series of environmental disasters that, verily, are looming. The Church, a wealthy, international organisation not subject to the vagaries of the ballot box, is in a unique position to offer leadership and help facilitate change.

That, however, would require courage to take on vested interests, a willingness to risk and sacrifice, and to forego safety and security.

What do you think John Paul would have done?

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