I am not Catholic, but I have often appreciated Pope John Paul’s articulate and eloquent stand for righteousness in a world gone amok, and I mourn his passing with the rest of the world.
In these last days before his death, I have mostly been drawn to consider the nature of suffering. As a Christian, I understand that suffering entered the world with sin, and that there will be no dearth of it till Christ’s return. Scripture tells us that suffering benefits us: we learn to trust and rely on our God; we learn perseverance; we learn humility; we learn compassion. But in our humanness, we do not really want these benefits at the cost we must pay.
I have read that Pope John Paul would often refuse painkillers because he said it was his call to suffer for the world. I didn’t understand that at first, but I think I am beginning to grasp a little of what it means.
Pope John Paul accepted his suffering. He didn’t resist it, complain of it, try to avoid it at all costs and at all times. He accepted it. He demonstrated to us the life of the suffering servant; he shone forth Christ to us. Christ suffered to save us. Pope John Paul suffered to show us how to accept suffering and allow God to turn it to our good.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of the essence of all beings in his sonnet “As kingfishers catch fire.” Kingfishers’ and dragonflies’ wings flash in the sun, stones ring on the well’s rim, bells peal their notes . . . They cannot help but do what they were created to do, to play out the “inscape” of their being. And we were created for a purpose, too:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
What if we learned to accept suffering as Pope John Paul did? How much more deeply might we touch the lives of those around us to show forth Christ and draw men to Him?