Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 8, 2002
Life is found on the cross
With the death of the Queen Mother and the all-too-apparent physical decline of Pope John Paul, we are reminded of the wisdom of the aged.
We don't know if the Queen Mum was truly wise, but she certainly gave the sense of being the solid rock in a Royal Family that had become a symbol of moral disintegration. She lived an active life to the end, was loved by the people and was always gracious in public.
These are not high virtues, but are virtues nonetheless, especially in an era when celebrity is too often equated with a lack of grace.
Her high virtues were displayed decades earlier when she steeled her husband for the unexpected and unwanted duty of being King of England and when the couple helped to inspire high morale during the darkest days of the Second World War.
Twenty years younger than the Queen Mum, the pope who was once so vigorous, is now a mere shell of his former physical self. And yet he remains a man of high courage, ready to give his all for the Lord. While his physical abilities have eroded, his mind is alert and his spirit focused.
He remains not a mere symbol of what once was, but a true player on the world stage.
"Nothing is resolved by war," he said on Easter morning, this time condemning the mounting violence in the Middle East. "It only brings greater suffering and death."
The pope has made almost identical statements numerous times over the past 23 years, with little evident effect. Yet, he continues to speak, to make a great effort to speak, in the hope that this time the words will be heard and draw people to their senses.
His poor health, broadcast on TV to billions around the world, is a sign there is a life despite the cross.
Indeed, there is life because of the cross.
Pope John Paul and the Queen Mum, each in very different ways, bear witness to the fact that our golden years need be neither a time to be put out to pasture, nor a second childhood of fun and games.
"Fun culture" - the view that human beings were created mainly to have a good time - has been one of the pernicious undercurrents of the 20th century.
We work in order to make money and have free time in order to have fun.
We work in order to retire so that we can devote all of our healthy remaining days to having a good time.
While fun is a good thing, fun as a way of life is a debased view of human nature.
Meanwhile, the view that the elderly have lost their usefulness to society is equally an undercurrent in societal thinking. In its more extreme forms, it finds a justification for euthanasia. And not just euthanasia of the frail and elderly, but also of the severely mentally and physically handicapped.
Jean Vanier writes, "I have come to the conclusion that those with intellectual disabilities are among the most oppressed and excluded people in the world. Even their own parents are ashamed to have given birth to a child 'like that.'"
I have heard a friend repeatedly refer to her aging institutionalized father as "a vegetable."
"Should the pope retire?" is a question that assumes much about the aged and the papacy. It assumes that the pope should be a man of administrative vigour, not a man who sits in a chair and drools.
Someday, we may have a pope whose only apparent witness is to sit in a chair and drool. He will challenge the world, including us, with the full weight of St. Paul's dictum that strength is found in weakness. He will be a true sign that life is found on the cross.
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