Friday, April 29, 2011


Over more than twenty-five years, Pope John Paul II taught us so many things: God's overwhelming love for us, the incredible gift of his Son, Jesus Christ, and the teachings of Jesus which the Church carries forward down through the ages. For all of his gifts as Pastor and as our Holy Father, we give thanks to God.

Of all the Pope's teachings, inspiration, holiness, and example, two remain the most precious for me: He taught us how to grow old, and he taught us how to endure bodily illness.

Having turned 75 just recently, I am now beginning to understand more deeply the frailty of our human bodies. I don't have the strength nor endurance of younger years. Our aging bodies put constraints on our activities and our yearnings.

But Pope John Paul taught us to keep moving forward with our eyes fixed on Jesus [Hebrews 12:2] and with a determination to live out God's will in our lives--regardless of the lessening of our physical and mental abilities. Our Holy Father gave clear witness to us that we should never give up, that we should strive daily to live our lives after the pattern of Jesus.

In addition, Pope John Paul bore serious and more debilitating illness in his later years. Yet, he never complained, never hesitated to accept his share in the sufferings of Jesus for the salvation of the world. He used every ounce of his limited energy to continue to serve God and to shepherd the entire Church.

For me, his Christian witness in the final few years of his life was more powerful than all of his world pastoral travels and brilliant writings. By remaining ever faithful to his life in Christ especially during those difficult final years of his journey Pope John Paul proclaimed his most eloquent and touching sermon.

This wondrous example of Blessed John Paul has direct appeal to millions of people around the world. With people living longer than in previous generations John Paul has become a beacon of hope to the elderly and those with diminishing bodily strength. He taught us to accept God's precious gift of life and to live each day as fully as we can through God's grace.

And with so many people suffering from illness, natural disasters, and the violence of wars, John Paul walks ahead of us--possibly at a slower pace--but with a keen sense of how much we are loved by God.

While I cherish the many photos of Pope John Paul celebrating Mass in the Los Angeles Coliseum and in Dodger Stadium in September of 1987, my most cherished pictures are of him stooped and slowly moving about because of age and illness. The strength of his virtuous life was so visible and easy to comprehend in those last years.

I recall visiting cancer patients during those final years of Blessed John Paul, and I would take along several pictures which showed him obviously ill. His acceptance of age and illness inspired so many who were suffering. Through his own living example he called so many to allow Christ the Healer to embrace them in their struggles and on their difficult journeys.

May Blessed John Paul continue to be an inspiration to all of us, but most especially, to us who are aging and enduring bodily sufferings.

May we always keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and live each day according to God's plan for each of us!