Interesting stuff about the late pope’s ascetical practices from a forthcoming book by the Monsignor who’s promoting his candidacy for sainthood:
Pope John Paul II whipped himself with a belt, even on vacation, and slept on the floor as acts of penitence and to bring him closer to Christian perfection, according to a new book by the Polish prelate spearheading his sainthood case. . . .
At a news conference Tuesday, [Monsignor] Oder defended John Paul’s practice of self-mortification, which some faithful use to remind them of the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
“It’s an instrument of Christian perfection,” Oder said, responding to questions about how such a practice could be condoned considering Catholic teaching holds that the human body is a gift from God.
In the book, Oder wrote that John Paul frequently denied himself food — especially during the holy season of Lent — and “frequently spent the night on the bare floor,” messing up his bed in the morning so he wouldn’t draw attention to his act of penitence.
“But it wasn’t limited to this. As some members of his close entourage in Poland and in the Vatican were able to hear with their own ears, John Paul flagellated himself. In his armoire, amid all the vestments and hanging on a hanger, was a belt which he used as a whip and which he always brought to Castel Gandolfo,” the papal retreat where John Paul vacationed each summer.
For a fellow so deeply known for his book Theology of the Body, I can’t help but find this at least a bit odd/interesting. I certainly think there is plenty of good and fitting modes of ascetical practice (like fasting, vigils, etc.), but I find something deeply incongruous between the act of self-flagellation and the affirmation of the body’s goodness and dignity.
When does bodily discipline simply degenerate into bodily denigration?