Pope's example offers lessons - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Pope’s example offers lessons

We knew it was coming. We followed the intense media coverage of his final journey. We prepared for it in a vigil of prayer.

But the death of Pope John Paul II still jolts us. It leaves us to sort through our memories of him, to ponder his contribution to the church and the human family, to think of the ways in which he touched our lives.

I offer below some brief comments of some of the themes I have been thinking and praying about since I heard the news.

1) I deeply admire the way he handled his illness and the suffering it caused him. I think that his physical suffering over the years was greater than he ever let on. Certainly that suffering was intense and obvious in recent months. But he never stopped serving others to the very limits of his strength and energy. And I loved what he taught us about life and death when he decided to greet death at home rather than return to the hospital for a series of extraordinary medical procedures.

2) I can never forget that he ordained me a bishop at the Basilica of St. Peter in May of 1979, just seven months after he was elected the Successor of Peter. That was the beginning of a relationship that was renewed at a series of encounters in the years since — five ad limina visits to the Holy See, World Youth Days in Denver and Toronto, his occasional visits to our country and on one of his visits to Mexico. His commitment of time and energy to his brother bishops was always both a gift and a lesson to me.

3) Pope John Paul II had a special relationship with young people. He loved them very much. They knew it and returned the affection. I always thought it important to remember that this went deeper than a relationship between a celebrity and his fans. There was something deeper that drew them together. I think the relationship centered on spiritual values. And I always had the feeling that the Holy Father wanted to learn from the young as well as offer them what he had. I think the kids knew that and loved him for it. One of our priests told me recently that his vocational call was focused on something the pope said in one of his talks to the young, “If you have a sense that God is calling you to priesthood, don’t you think it’s time to talk with someone about it?”

4) That which emerges most strongly in my heart as I remember this man is the way in which he treasured the gift of life and the dignity of the human person. His conviction that we are made in the image and likeness of God was the source of the fiery energy he brought to the table whenever life was threatened. He was ever at the side of the weak and vulnerable among us — the poor, the ill, the impoverished, the prisoner, the starving. His advocacy was honest and direct. He expressed it to heads of state, to teens, to the infirm, the comfortable. He shared his views when he knew he would be praised for them. He did the same when he was sure scorn would be the response.

As I think of his ministry in the Chair of Peter, I believe that his convictions about the precious gift of life and the dignity of the human person and his advocacy of both will be at the core of his remarkable legacy.

May he rest in peace, and may God prosper his successor.

Peace to all.

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