Saints have been known to refuse all comfortable chairs and beds, throw themselves into thorn bushes, deliberately expose themselves to extremes of heat and cold, even whip themselves with a scourge, in order to accomplish this goal. In fact, this last practice, that is, self-flagellation, was so common among those pursuing sanctity that it was known simply as The Discipline.
Now, in a great sign of the possible sanctity of John Paul II, we have the testimony of his closest companions that he, too, mortified his own flesh through use of The Discipline:
Polish nun Tobiana Sobodka, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus order, who worked for Pope John Paul in his private Vatican apartments and at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo near Rome.
Sister Sobodka said: 'Several times he (Pope John Paul) would put himself through bodily penance.
'We would hear it - we were in the next room at Castel Gandolfo. You could hear the sound of the blows when he flagellated himself. He did it when he was still capable of moving on his own.'
The flagellation is also confirmed by another bishop who has given testimony, Emery Kabongo, who for several years was a secretary for Pope John Paul.
He said: 'He would punish himself and in particular just before he ordained bishops and priests. Before passing on the sacraments he wanted to prepare himself.
'I never actually saw it myself but several people told me about it.'Why is this important? Because Chris West has, on numerous occasions, publicly said that anyone who mortifies the flesh in this fashion does not really understand the Theology of the Body. He has mocked the saints who have undertaken physical mortifications, especially self-inflicted physical mortification, as not fully understanding the theology of the body. According to West, such individuals showed their spiritual immaturity, their failure to plumb the full richness of Christian teaching, when they did these things. As Chris himself said, "The Church is at about the level of a teenager in her understanding of human sexuality."
I have personal experience of the errors he has publicly taught in this area. Several years ago, I was present for a three-day weekend given by Christopher West on the theology of the body in a Midwestern diocese. Although it was sponsored by a private individual, the event was advertised throughout the diocese, resulting in numerous diocesan officials being present.
West spent the entirety of Friday evening mis-teaching on the place of suffering in the theology of the body, to such an extent that several diocesan officials took turns walking out of the room because they couldn't stand to listen to his errors. Although not a member of the diocesan staff, I had several friends on staff who were aghast at West's teachings. Because they were staff, they could not come forward easily to confront West on these errors.
So, I waited until all the other participants in the evening had conversed with him and departed. Then I personally entered into a conversation with him in order to privately correct him on his erroneous teaching concerning the place of human suffering in the pursuit of sanctity. Mr. West took enormous issue with my statements and responded in a decidedly unfriendly fashion, shouting at me and physically pushing me.
Others who were in the area but out of earshot, including the man who sponsored his talk, saw Mr. West's actions and personally apologized to me for his response, swearing that they would never bring the man into the area again.
Now it turns out that Christopher West, the self-anointed expert on the Theology of the Body, knows that theology so well that he was inadvertently but implicitly mocking Pope John Paul II's own understanding of TOB.
If we needed any further proof that Christopher West is a positive danger to the Church in his misrepresentation of Pope John Paul II's teaching, this personal testimony as to John Paul II's practice versus Christopher West's "interpretation" should put the final nail in the coffin.
Cardinal Rigali, Bishop Rhoades, I call upon you to discipline Christopher West.