Originally written July 29, 2002, considering the recent health challenges of the Holy Father, I thought of reposting this with a new explanatory note:
[Last Easter Sunday, I agonized at the sight of John Paul II unable to speak but bravely trying to. My heart went out to this courageous man who has, despite the frailty of his body, shown us the indomitability of his spirit and the robustness of his faith.
There have been so many things said about John Paul II being unable to lead a Church he cannot speak to. Some have said that since he can no longer speak, he might as well step down because apparently for them, the Pope is only as good as his words. Some have expressed concern that he might no longer be in control as he cannot speak or make known what he wants and thus, the pronouncements that are attributed to him--with the stamp of infallibility on matters of doctrine and faith--might not actually be his but someone else's.
Everyone is a conspiracy theorist at heart. And I would be dishonest if I said the thought has not crossed my mind. Time and again, however,I have banished these thoughts simply because I know that God still has a mission for John Paul II--even in these difficult days of physical challenge for him. Whatever physical impossibility may be posed by his inability to speak, I believe that God will grant him grace to be able to communicate through other instruments and vessels. As to his words not being his, I claim in faith that God's hand is at work and He will not allow the evil to strike at the heart of goodness.
John Paul's most lasting legacy will be his ability to make an impact--one way or the other. And if the reaction of the crowd to him during the Easter celebration at St. Peter's Square is any indication, his ability to make an impact despite his physical weakness remains strong. Even speechless, he remains a great inspiration to the faithful; his mere presence was enough last Sunday.
I pray that God will continue to minister to this Servant of the Servants of God, His bishop on earth, that John Paul II may live out his mission to the last of his strength, his mind, his soul, his heart and his spirit.]
"A soul leading the body, a soul stronger than the body"
[Regardless of what you may read in the next few paragraphs, this is not a
eulogy nor is it intended to be one.]
The title of this piece comes from Joaquin Cardinal Navarro-Valls, the Vatican Secretary of State, and he describes, in those words, the state that John Paul II is in right now. It is a sad commentary on humanity's frailty but its also a glorious exhortation of the magnificence of the human spirit and soul, especially one that is led, animated and inhabited by God.
I was in first year high school (1978) when Karol Wotyla became John Paul II and captivated the world not only with his personal history--he was a priest at a time when it was unfashionable and dangerous to do so in a Poland riven by war--but also by his vigor, charm, charisma and strength. As a polish pontiff, he was a breath of fresh air in the stuffy confines of a centuries-long tradition of Roman Popes--especially one that hinted of a scandal in the way John Paul I died. The promise of vigor, charisma, and charm clearly seen upon his ascension to St. Peter's throne was on full display throughout his papacy. Using these and his direct claim to being God's vicar, John Paul II revolutionized evangelization throughout the world. Comparable with John XXIII, who courageously reformed the church through Vatican II and Paul VI, who quietly but effectively led the Church throughout his papacy, John Paul II was the perfect pope for the new age--that of electronic evangelization, globetrotting diplomacy and even brave advocacies.
To see John Paul II now--bent, tired, frail and weak--is agonizing for those of us who witnessed him at his prime--full of vigor, charm and strength. To see him struggle with his words and his thoughts is a terrible sight; to see this once strong and vigorous prince of the church felled by his physical limitations is frustrating.
But the sight of John Paul II struggling, in his weakness to still discharge God's mandate to him, is an inspiring one. Truly, lesser men would have simply given up; he has not and shows no sign of doing so. For other lesser mortals, the depradations of physical frailty would be cause enough for honorable retreat into obscurity, not so for John Paul II. Clearly, he views his continued existence as being a direct command from God--that his mission on Earth is not yet done and that, even as he journeys closer and closer to heaven, he still has work to do. The evangelization that he has revolutionized---with rockstar proportion crowds, multi-ethnic welcome parties in every place he visits, the hero-like proportions he is received worldwide (especially in the Philippines)---cannot be performed by any other pontiff. And that is why, apparently to the very last ounce of physical strength, he continues to be led by God and His will for him.
Even as I do not agree with some of his views (although not those that are ex cathedra, on which he is infallible), I draw inspiration and strength from John Paul II's struggle over his own frail physicality and his unwavering focus on being led by God. Too many times in my life (especially the last two weeks), my physical self has been complaining loudly and often my spirit has followed suit. Too many times have I felt pain, fatigue, tiredness and weakness in my physical self and, tragically, saw my spirit quickly wither. Human frailty is not enough reason to not stand our ground and stake our claim on God's mission. That is what John Paul II is showing me--us.
The strength of his soul is evident even as the weakness of his body is manifest. And that is because his is a soul that is directly tied up to God and exists only for God. Would that all of us could possess that strength of soul and spirit to say, despite all the depradations and frailties of the flesh, that "For you alone, Oh Lord, I continue to exist. Only you and no one else. For without you, there is no reason to continue but with you and for you, every thing has meaning."
Let us continue to pray for the Holy Father, that his soul may continue to lead his physical self that he may continue to minister to all of us whose physical and spiritual selves are broken and under repair; let us also continue to pray that God, in His infinite mercy and divine wisdom, may shower His faithful servant John Paul II with every measure of blessing and grace while on earth and upon his departure, swiftly bring him on the wings of angels to His heavenly reign.