Saint John Paul II and the Value of Suffering

Is there value in suffering? Much of the world would say no.

In 1978 the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to the papacy rocked the world. He was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the youngest pope since 1846.

At the age of 58 he was also one of the most active popes we had seen in some time.

That his how many of us remember him, his charm and wit and love of children was on constant display as he travelled the globe visiting churches all over the world.

But in 1992 all that began to change. Various surgeries and injuries affected his health and it became clear that the pontiff, now in his 70’s was entering a stage of life marked by failing health and suffering.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would succeed to the papacy as Benedict XVI, said of the pope, “The pain is written on his face. His figure is bent, and he needs to support himself on his pastoral staff. He leans on the cross, on the crucifix….”

But even as his health continued to decline, John Paul II would not rest. He continued to lead the Church as the Vicar of Christ, enduring the physical pain and suffering that racked his body.

On a trip to Cuba it is said that someone asked him why he does no retire from the papacy, “after all, Holy Father, you have trouble walking and your hand trembles.”

“Fortunately,” replied the pope, “I do not lead the Church with my feet or my hands, but with my mind and my heart.”

We are not here to make a broken world run smoothly; we are here to be signs of contention. We are called to conform ourselves not too this world, but to Christ. By doing this we transform ourselves into both a sermon and a sacrifice to the world.

Suffering is a virtue that is little understood in society today. It is shunned and avoided because our broken world sees no value in it, only pointless discomfort and pain. And yet all throughout the gospel Jesus shows us that we cannot achieve the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven without enduring the suffering of our age. Jesus became man in order to suffer as no one ever has.

Pope John Paul II wrote much about suffering in his later years. It was said that he transformed himself into an icon of the suffering servant. By enduring suffering we share in the saving work of Jesus. Through His suffering He overcame evil, and by conforming ourselves to Him we are able to overcome evil as well, for we are united to Him and his saving action.

For the suffering among us we are charged to go out and meet them, bringing them comfort and hope, to make a gift of ourselves to them. A Good Samaritan is anyone who attends to the needs of those who are suffering.

As Christians our lifelong task is to make of ourselves a living and holy sacrifice. This is the true worship suited to Christ the Word.

Pax Vobiscum

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