Pope John Paul II was a flagellator
In a new book, "Why a Saint?," Monsignor Slawomir Oder, a Vatican official, confirmed that the late pope regularly whipped himself as an act of penance to feel closer to God.
"In his wardrobe, among his vestments, there hung on a clothes hanger a special belt for trousers which he used as a whip," Oder says. The self-flagellation was "an instrument of Christian perfection," Oder adds, emulating the sufferings of Jesus Christ.
I hardly know where to begin. I am sitting at my keyboard shaking my head. This self-punishment, this loathing of the body as though its very existence poisoned the beauty of the spirit, is heinous. yet it is mentioned frequently as an attribute of those who are considered saintly -- Mother Teresa also was said to beat herself as punishment.
This confusion between pain and righteousness always troubled me as a young Catholic girl in the 1950's and 60's. Suffering was the ideal, because it was like emulating Jesus.
It seems to me that other Christlike qualities might have worked their way to the top of the emulation list -- like kindness, love, compassion, inclusion. It would be lovely to have any religious group think of kindness or gentleness or generosity as truly noble qualities.
The problem with the idealization of suffering is that it focuses the life of Christ wrongly on the pre-Ressurective moment. It is not the message of life beyond suffering. So it makes it easier to accept the suffering of others around us. They should appreciate and offer up their suffering to God. Mother Tresa even said "I was talking to our lepers and telling them that leprosy is a gift from God, that God can trust them so much that he gives them this terrible suffering. "
I think the Catholic church has the idea of suffering all gnarled up and twisted into knots. If suffering is such a great gift, why move to eradicate it?
It seems to me that God wants us to heal suffering, that he does not send it as some sort of agonizing gift. I would say that God is with us in our suffering, but also that He is also always pointing to something beyond suffering, willing us to move ourselves and others toward wholeness in this life as He will in the next.
Why did the Pope or Mother Teresa or certain sects in central and South America engage in flagellation as an act of holiness? And what incredible harm does that bring to a worldview?
Is self-punishment a way to remove sexual thoughts and desires? I do not even want to imagine the psyche beneath that -- the same psyche that does marriage counseling or ministers to young children.
Enough enough enough!! When will we learn to love ourselves and others?