What better day than Ash Wednesday to listen to Fr. Robert Barron on the revelations last week that Pope John Paul II used a "discipline".
(My first reaction was "so?" So did St. Dominic and St. Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, etc.
Yes, there has been a debate among orthodox Catholics about the relative place of physical penances for the past 400 years. St. Francis de Sales urged inner detachment and obedience rather than physical penances which he felt often didn't go to the heart of the matter. We have to understand St. Francis in context because the first generation of the 17th century French revival focused an enormous amount of energy on fasting and a wide variety of physical austerities, some of which were quite extreme. But the idea that people would regard this revelation about the late Pope's life as a manifestation of some kind of sickness never occurred to me.)
Barron addresses the issue in his usual clear and helpful way, drawing upon Charles Williams, Thomas Merton, and the so common and honored experience of working out in the gym, enduring pain and discomfort for better health and our dream of . . . a great body, a new personal best in that next 10k, or just a way to work off stress.
One of our local mountain running guru's has a slogan for his running club. "When it hurts, speed up!" While even other runners regard Matt Carpenter's saying as a bit out there, I've never heard anyone accuse him of masochism or mental illness.
But compared to what Carpenter's Incline Club members go through during the winter around here - slogging up thousands of feet, in near zero temps, through snow and ice, day after day around Pike's Peak as part of their training - what is reported about the Pope seems pretty mild.
So if you or someone you know was take aback by the story about Pope John Paul, have them watch this little video.
And then be prepared to have a really interesting conversation.