The Pope’s Body

I have very mixed feelings about seeing the Pope’s body on television every time I turn it on. These conflicting emotions have nothing to do with my well documented lack of faith. No, they actually have to do with my aversion to dead and/or wounded bodies. Or, to be even more precise, they have to do with my disgust at seeing photographs of bodies lying in state.

I’ve been to plenty of funerals now in my young life and, while the sight of the body always makes me a bit queasy, I manage to get through them. But the viewing of a body, it seems to me, should be a private thing. I’ve seen photographs of bodies lying in state before, but it always seemed unwarranted to me. They always seemed to be in poor taste.

But when it comes to the body of figure like the Pope, how can anyone honestly expect the body not to be displayed? There are millions of followers all around the world who will not be able to make a pilgrimage to see the corpse. How could you deny them their chance to see him, to take that image into their hearts?

What I don’t get is why the image of a closed casket wouldn’t be enough? When Reagan died last year (and I’m not trying to say that Reagan had as many followers as does Karol Józef Wojtyła) they showed the closed casket and that was just fine. Why couldn’t they do the same for the Pope? Why do we, as human beings, have this fascination with corpses?

I don’t know. Since I first read Beth’s post on Friday, which was written in response to the initial Italian reports that the Pontiff had flatlined, I have been intrigued by the developments in this story. Perhaps because I am in the middle of writing a novel that has a deeply religious/spiritual subplot running through it, and perhaps because I feel guilty for writing what have lately been mostly insensitive and uninformed posts about things I know nothing about, I have tried to pay extra attention to this story, with the intention that I might one day write something heartfelt and thought-provoking about it.

I know this much: I am not a religious man, but I am not blind. I have seen men and women weeping over the passing of this man. I have heard stories of blessings he gave and of the differences he made in people’s lives. And, even though I would never claim to be a member of the flock to which he preached, I feel a connection with him, too, an ethnic connection, through my Polish roots. There are certain things about his face—the strong, square jawline present, especially in photographs when he was younger—that remind me of old pictures of my Grandma’s brothers. As strange as it may sound, I feel the loss on that level. We were, he and I, on some level, members of the same tribe.

I don’t have anything to say about his politics or his policies. I don’t have anything to say about the church, one way or the other. I just wonder why we have to see so many pictures of his dead body. Maybe that’s a dumb thing to write about, but I wanted to contribute to the dialogue on this event somehow, and this is really all I have.