As the pope lay
dying in his apartment, the 24-hour news machine buzzed with life throughout the
night. Nearly all seemed to spend a great deal of time discussing the years before
his health declined due to Parkinson’s Disease and other ailments. They showed video
and photographs of his youth, admired his athleticism, and marvelled at his boundless
energy. These things are good in their own right, but I think the media missed the
The pontificate of John Paul II, formerly Karol Jozef Wojtyla, was notable for its
constant championing of the dignity of every human life. In the youthful days of
his reign, he fought tirelessly for the dignity of the poor, the downtrodden, the
oppressed, and the unborn. In those years, he taught us that even those whom the
world had rejected had dignity as human beings. In his waning years, he taught us
that there is dignity in infirmity. Old age is not something to be ashamed of. Physical
impairment is not a curse. Life does not end when disability begins.
Too many societies, including our own, abandon our handicapped and elderly in nursing
homes. We’re either too afraid to deal with their weaknesses or too busy with our
youthful lives to be bothered with caring for them. There are many lessons to be
learned from examining John Paul II’s life, not the least of which is how to grow
old, face adversity, and die with grace and dignity. As many called for his resignation,
he bravely, yet humbly, continued to do whatever he could muster his body to do
in order to perform his duties. He showed that human worth is not defined by utility.
I pray that the societies of the world learns to embrace and support their weakest
members, because they are beautiful creations made in the image and likeness of
their Creator and without regard for how useful they are or are not. I pray also
that when faced with infirmities and approaching mortality I can do so with a fraction
of the dignity Pope John Paul II had.
May the Lord bless him and keep him. May He make his face shine on him and be
gracious unto him. May the Lord lift His countenance upon him and give him peace.