Suffering in fulfilling Peter's mission
Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski
It may seem a paradox but when the Pope, stricken by his illness, does not stay in the Vatican but in hospital, his presence is in some way even much more felt among his closest collaborators. He is present in their thoughts and prayers, their spiritual unity with him and in the sense of responsibility for the task, which each of them has been entrusted with. The Pope's presence is felt especially through his example of suffering, included in the work of evangelization and the fulfillment of Peter's mission.
Taking this into consideration I would like to pay your attention to the fact that as far as effectiveness is concerned the logic of faith is different from pure human reasoning: effectiveness depends on physical fitness, intelligence and efforts. It is different in the field of the spirit, i.e. when we consider spiritual-religious creativity.
In his suffering, with limited physical capacity and yet indefatigably witnessing to Christ and strengthening his brothers in faith, the Pope is a very vivid expression of this logic of faith. Thus he is a powerful challenge to priests and all believers, showing them the truth that the fulfillment of priesthood, and in general any mission entrusted by Christ, does not depend so much on physical strength and on the capacity of doing external works, but above all on giving witness to Christ, on holiness and self-dedication. The suffering Pope shows that we cannot only be apostles through words but also through our attitudes, prayers, sufferings, which we connect with Christ's suffering for the salvation of people; that even in the biggest physical weakness we can yield fruit, be spiritually creative and we can build the Church. After all Christ performed his greatest deed when - looking at it from the human perspective - he could do nothing more, being nailed to the cross. Then he completed the work of redemption. I am fully convinced that through his suffering, united with the suffering of Christ, the Holy Father is nowadays making an enormous contribution to building the Kingdom of God on earth and is creatively fulfilling the task of strengthening his brothers in faith, the task that Christ has entrusted him. I admire his attitude of self-dedication to the end 'Totus Tuus' (he finished his first message, which was of necessity written, after the operation with the words: 'I always entrust myself Totus Tuus'). Writing to retired priests I often say that they have retired from administering parish affairs or teaching at school, but they never retire from their priesthood. They will be priests for good. Even in a serious illness one can effectively, or even to a greater extent, fulfill his priesthood because priesthood is in fact being fulfilled more than anything else through the sacrifice offered to Christ and this can be always made and everyone can have an occasion for that.
This refers to all believers as well. Being a chaplain to elderly people in a certain centre in Rome I tried to make these people active apostles through their prayers and sufferings. I used to explain them that it was not true they could not do anything, and because of their age or illnesses they were not productive. I used to tell them that it would not be good if their sufferings were fruitless and led only to a deeper depression, and that if they endured and joined their sufferings with the suffering of Christ for the salvation of the world, they would change their sufferings into powerful means of apostleship and their own sanctification. I very often admired their generosity in offering their sufferings in the intention of fruitfulness of the Holy Father's pilgrimages or some other concrete apostolic intentions. Such an attitude towards suffering made their spirits much stronger and gave them a feeling of being useful as well as cheerful.
As a matter of fact, when our activities, experiences or sufferings are not imbued with love, they bear little fruit as far as apostleship and salvation are concerned. St Paul expressed this in a very clear way: 'If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simple a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever' (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
In the epilogue to his last book 'Memory and Identity' the Holy Father very thoroughly explains the dynamism of love transforming suffering. In his explanation we find a very obvious reference to the reality of the contemporary world and his own suffering, The Pope writes that Christ, suffering for all of us, gave a new meaning to suffering, led suffering to a new dimension, to a new order; it is true that suffering comes into man's history with the original sin. It is sin that is the 'sting' (cf. 1 Cor 15:55-56), which causes pain and which inflicts a mortal wound on human being. But the suffering of Christ on the cross gave a totally new sense to suffering; it changed it internally. It introduced suffering without fault, taken only out of love, into the history of humanity, which is the history of sin. This is suffering, which opens the door of hope to freedom, to final taking off this 'sting', which tears humanity apart. This is the suffering, which burns and devours evil with fire of love, and can yield all sorts of good fruits even out of sin.
John Paul II continues that every suffering, every pain and every weakness hides a promise of liberation, promise of joy: 'I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake' (Colossians 1:24). This refers to every suffering that has been caused by evil. It also refers to enormous social and political evil, which shakes up the contemporary world and tear it apart: evil of wars, slavery of individuals and nations, social injustice, disrespect for human dignity, racial and religious discrimination, violence, terrorism, tortures and arms race - all this suffering also exists in the world so that we show love, this generous and selfless gift of your own self for those who suffer.
The Pope has made his way of the cross creative in the perspective of fulfilling his specific mission entrusted by Christ, and he gives us an example of such an attitude towards suffering.