Message to the Sick; Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II gave his “Message to the Sick” in 1999, in Mexico. Diagnosed in 1996 with Parkinson’s disease, he did not write words of mere platitudes, he wrote with real meaning in his life. He would have had a taste of the progression of his own illness and the words were borne out of his own painful experience.
The pope’s questions, “Why do we suffer? For what purpose do we suffer? Is there any meaning in human suffering? Can physical or moral suffering be a positive experience?” were not rhetorical for him…he asked real questions and they had real meaning in his life.
This man, the most visible religious figure on the planet, did not hide from life or to live a life of complaint…his suffering pointed him to the basis of his faith – Christ, who died for the sins of the world, was now with His servant who suffered.
Each person who suffers, whether physical pain, or emotional or mental, has the opportunity to use their suffering in positive ways, or to wallow in negativity. The pope chose the positive, ever pointing to the source of his hope.
A man, dying of cancer, had spent years turning away from God. He found hope in the Psalms of David and turned to Christ in the last days of his life. When he wrote his own funeral, it pointed others to the source of his hope. After that funeral, his widow found comfort in the message that her brother, who had also spent years in rebellion, had returned to the church because of the way her husband’s suffering had pointed to Christ.
That widow looks back at life, seeing years of infertility, the losses of pregnancies and the pain of her premature child…she finds comfort in the knowledge that beyond the grave, there is peace and fullness of life. She understands now that she would not have the strength and compassion if she had not felt the suffering in her life.
Pope John Paul had a greater understanding than most people – when we suffer, we partake in the sufferings of Christ. He died in April, 2005 – 12 years after his diagnosis. He spent those years pointing others to the source of his hope.
It is in this pointing to Christ that we find meaning of pain and suffering in our human existence.
With these thoughts, I have wanted to arouse in each one of you the feelings which will lead you to live your current trials with supernatural sense; discovering in them an occasion to see God in the midst of darkness and doubt; and to gaze at the broad horizons which are visible from atop the crosses of our everyday lives – Pope John Paul II, January 24, 1999