March 26, 2005


In suffering's redemptive embrace (George Weigel, March 25, 2005, Newsday)

During the recent weeks of his illness, all sorts of seemingly pressing questions have been raised: Would the pope ever consider abdication? What would happen if he were to become gravely incapacitated for a long period of time?

The questions are not without interest. But they miss the more compelling point in this drama. The world is watching a man live out, to the end, one of the convictions that has shaped his life and his impact on history: the conviction that the light of Easter is always preceded by the darkness of Good Friday, not just on the calendar but in the realm of the spirit.

Contemporary Western culture doesn't have much truck with suffering. We avoid it if possible. We sequester it when it becomes unavoidable: How many of us will die at home? Embracing suffering is a concept alien to us. And yet, suffering embraced in obedience to God's will is at the center of Christianity.

The Christ whose Passion more than a billion and a half Christians commemorate this week is not portrayed in the Gospels as someone to whom suffering just happened - a prophet with the typical prophet's run of bad luck. The Christ of the Gospels reaches out and embraces suffering as his destiny, his vocation - and is vindicated in that self-sacrifice on Easter.

That is what John Paul II, not a stubborn old man but a thoroughly committed Christian disciple, has been doing this past month: bearing witness to the truth that suffering embraced in obedience and love can be redemptive.

Strange sometimes how reality is an allegory for itself.

His greatest performance: In his agony, the Pope invites us to share something truly instructive (Martin Kettle, March 26, 2005, The Guardian)

In spite of all the dramas and distractions of the modern world, I bet that right now there are millions of us whose attention is repeatedly - and sometimes unwillingly - drawn back to the most public private ordeal that many of us have witnessed.

Even for those, like me, who are neither Catholic nor even Christian, these last days of Pope John Paul II - for that is surely what they are - have become an inclusive and shared drama. It is more than the 21st-century habit of voyeurism that makes it difficult to turn our eyes away from the Vatican this Easter weekend. For the ailing Pope is speaking to all of us, saying things about life and death that touch everyone in some way.

It is nearly two weeks since John Paul was driven back to his apartments from the Gemelli hospital in Rome after a tracheotomy operation. Vatican aides, and the Pope himself, put on an extraordinary show, especially considering his age and physical weakness.

They did everything they could to imply that the pontiff had made a strong recovery. He sat upright in the front seat of a grey Mercedes van, in full view but with his papal robes drawn tight around his neck to conceal the tube that had been inserted into his throat to ease his breathing difficulties. Behind his left shoulder, a camera crew captured the 84-year-old Pope waving to delighted roadside crowds.

It looked - and it was intended to look - as though everything was normal. But of course it was not normal at all - and we knew that too. It may, after all, have been the Pope's final earthly journey of significance. It was in many respects an El Cid moment - a form of defiance through faith that John Paul has gradually perfected through his career - suggestive of the climax of the Spanish epic when the dead Cid is strapped into his saddle to lead his troops into battle against the infidels one last time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 26, 2005 9:22 AM

This is such a nice example of reality bowing to human will. The Pope is a disciple of one who taught 2000 years ago.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 26, 2005 10:03 AM

This former Catholic, who has witnessed the fallibility of priests and does not accept the infallibility of popes, agrees that John Paul II is a truly great man.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 26, 2005 12:07 PM