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February 11, 2005

What Pope John Paul II is teaching us through his suffering.

Topics: Faith

This article is about a Pope, but the message is in behalf of all Christendom and secularists alike. Indeed, all of us, regardless of our health or status in life, should strive to leave this earth only when our maker decides that our job is done.

Peggy Noonan has been watching tenacious Pope John Paul II's declining health and offers her thoughts, with help from Michael Novak, on the meaning of the example he is setting now.

I have been thinking about John Paul II. Everyone has, I suppose. The pope yesterday missed Ash Wednesday services at the Vatican. This after a recent hospitalization.

Ash Wednesday reminds Catholics that we will leave this world some day, that from dust we came and to dust we will return. We are asked to renew our spiritual lives, to give up some small pleasure and give that sacrifice to God, at least until the spring, and Easter.

The pope's long physical decline is part of a long goodbye that carries within it meaning.

His whole life is a goodbye tour now. He knows they come to see him in part because they want to be able to say, "I saw John Paul the Great." And so there is around him a sense of inescapable twilight.

An explosion of joy and sadness will mark his passing. Joy because it is time now for a younger man to put his stamp upon the age. Sadness because he is a giant, the last pope of the old age. And something else. After him the real modern world begins, the new one, the post-9/11 one, and all will be in play. He was the last fruit of the old world. His presence was definite and dense as the Vatican itself.

His suffering is his witness. It has a purpose. It is telling us something. Yesterday, in thinking about this and remembering that audience, I called the great writer and thinker Michael Novak. He thought aloud for me. St. Therese of Lisieux, he reminded me, believed her suffering could help others. She would take her moments of pain or annoyance or sadness and offer them to God, believing that they became united with God's love, united that is with something infinitely powerful which works always for the betterment of man. She would ask God to take her suffering and use it to help the missionaries of the world. She knew, Mr. Novak said, what Dostoevsky knew: there's a kind of web around the world, an electric web in which we're all united in suffering and in love. When you give to it what you have, you add to the communion of love all around the world.

Therese was a Carmelite. Mr. Novak spoke of George Weigel's observation that the pope has a Carmelite soul, a soul at home with the Carmelite tradition of everyday mysticism.

What should the pope's suffering tell us? Several things, said Mr. Novak. He is telling us it is important in an age like ours to honor the suffering of the old and the infirm. He wants us to know they have a place in life and a purpose. He not only says this; he lives it. He was an actor as a youth; he teaches by doing and showing, by being. His suffering is a drama he is living out quite deliberately. John Paul stands for life, for all of life. He wants to honor what the world does not honor.

But why, I said, does God allow this man he must so love to be dragged through the world in pain? He could have taken him years ago. Maybe, said Mr. Novak, God wants to show us how much he loves us, and he is doing it right now by letting the pope show us how much he loves us. Christ couldn't take it anymore during his passion, and yet he kept going.

Which reminded me of something the pope said to a friend when the subject of retirement came up a few years ago: "Christ didn't come down from the cross." Christ left when his work was done.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip - The Petrified Truth

Posted by Hyscience at February 11, 2005 5:18 PM

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