Christianity Today discusses why Pope John Paul whipped himself, and offers an explanation from a Catholic perspective, and also includes Peter T. O’Brien‘s thoughts:

So how do Catholics explain self-flagellation, a practice so foreign to Protestants, let alone non-Christians? Several writers have defended the late pope. Writing for the National Catholic Register, Jimmy Akin faults a “pleasure-obsessed culture” for portraying the pope’s behavior as repulsive.

“Self-mortification teaches humility by making us recognize that there are things more important than our own pleasure,” Akin writes. “It teaches compassion by giving us a window into the sufferings of others—who don’t have a choice in whether they’re suffering. And it strengthens self-control. As well as (here’s the big one I’ve saved for last) encouraging us to follow the example of Our Lord, who made the central act of the Christian religion one of self-denial and (in his case) literal mortification to bring salvation to all mankind.”

Indeed, the pope believed suffering brought him closer to Christ, according to Oder. For precedent, the pope appealed to Colossians 1:24, where the apostle Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” With no parallel in the New Testament, this verse has vexed biblical commentators for centuries. Surveying the Old Testament apocalyptic literature, Peter O’Brien understands “what is lacking” to mean that God has appointed a measure of suffering before the end comes. Paul’s suffering on behalf of the Colossians, whom he never even met, helped to fill that gap. The suffering he endured for the sake of the gospel in his apostolic ministry united him with other Christians and even Christ himself, who suffered untold anguish on the Cross.

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