Monday, March 21, 2005

The Dignity of the Vicar of Christ

Pope John Paul II

Musings below are based in part on this.

Although I am a confirmed protestant, Pope John Paul II continues to be a man who grows in my respect, almost with each passing day. And now, with his declining health, the world is watching as he becomes more infirm, more feeble, and well, less cool.

I mean if he were a cool Pope, he would be younger, dress better, say cool things, be funny, and not wear that zuchetto (skull cap) thingie. Come on please! And, oh yeah, the dude would retire at some mandatory age and go fishing in the Italian Alps. Like all of us western types you know, we are only useful for a season in life, and then it is time to move on. Mandatory retirement and then, off to the Old Pope's Home. Casa De El Papo Retirementamundo. Happy Acres. The Pope Farm. Get on with it old fella, out the door for you! Cash in on the 401k, baby.

But no. He stays. He goes in and out of the hospital. And he won't retire. Not this Pope. And perhaps, just maybe, this decision is infused with some of the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. I posted recently about this. Perhaps Eugene Peterson and the Pope have it right. Perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven is an upside down thing. Perhaps we, with our western civilization view of things, just don't understand this.

From Catholic theologian George Weigel, in the Washington Post, this:

A few days ago in Rome, when I asked Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze what this phase of the remarkable pontificate of John Paul II meant, the cardinal suggested that, from his hospital bed, the pope was putting some serious questions on the world's agenda -- does suffering mean anything, or is it simply an absurdity? Does the suffering contribute anything to the rest of us? Is there dignity in old age?

In Cardinal Arinze's mind, the example of John Paul II offered an answer to those questions. Yes, suffering can have meaning. Yes, that suffering can teach the rest of us: It reminds us that we cannot control our lives, and it elicits a compassion that ennobles us. Moreover, the cardinal suggested, John Paul II, in his weakness and suffering, was a tremendous encouragement to the elderly, the sick, the disabled and the dying, who find strength and hope in his example.

The world has missed a lot of Karol Wojtyla's story in his 26 years as pope, because the world tries to understand him in political terms, as another power player on the global stage. There's no doubt that John Paul II has been the most politically influential pope in centuries. But that is not who he is, or what he's about, at his deepest level. His two recent hospitalizations and his unembarrassed struggle to live out the commitment to service that he made at his election in 1978 should remind everyone that this man is, first and foremost, a Christian pastor who is going to challenge us with the message of the cross -- the message of Good Friday and Easter -- until the end.

As Hanna Suchocka, the former Polish prime minister, described the pope to me recently, "He is living his via crucis," his way of the cross. It's not something the world has watched a pope do for a very long time. We should recognize it for what it is, and be grateful for the example.

It seems to me the Pope gets it. Much about this life is learning how to die, in so many ways. And so, Pope John Paul looks to us to be "out of it", infirm. We don't like this, it is not cool, it makes us uncomfortable. And perhaps, it is in these places where God dwells.

More on Terry

Terry Shiavo

We can't get far now in the car without the news radio telling us the latest on Terry Shiavo. And so it should be. This continues to be a tragedy, slowly unraveling. Today's Wall Street Journal has a great piece which summarizes the whole debate well, written by James Q. Wilson. Just a quote:

This is a tragedy. Congress has responded by rushing to pass a law that will allow her case, but only her case, to be heard in federal court. But there is no guarantee that, if it is heard there, a federal judge will do any better than the Florida one. What is lacking in this matter is not the correct set of jurisdictional rules but a decent set of moral imperatives.

That moral imperative should be that medical care cannot be withheld from a person who is not brain dead and who is not at risk for dying from an untreatable
disease in the near future. To do otherwise makes us recall Nazi Germany where retarded people and those with serious disabilities were "euthanized" (that is, killed). We hear around the country echoes of this view in the demands that
doctors be allowed to participate, as they do in Oregon, in physician-assisted
suicide, whereby doctors can end the life of patients who request death and have
less than six months to live. This policy endorses the right of a person to end
his or her life with medical help. It is justified by the alleged success of this policy in the Netherlands. But it has not been a success in the Netherlands. In that country there have been well over 1,000 doctor-induced deaths among patients who had not requested death, and in a large fraction of those cases the patients were sufficiently competent to have made the request had they wished.

Keeping people alive is the goal of medicine. We can only modify that policy in the case of patients for whom death is imminent and where all competent family members believe that nothing can be gained by extending life for a few more days. This is clearly not the case with Terri Schiavo. Indeed, her death by starvation may take weeks. Meanwhile, her parents are pleading for her life.

Might we together, agree to plea for the life of Terri to The Only Resource Left?
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