We’re coming up on the very first feast day of St. John Paul II. In 2011, just ahead of his beatification, I had the opportunity to interview his biographer, George Weigel, who called his priestly death the pope’s last encyclical.
I would argue that, of all the great teachings we have from our former Holy Father – pages upon pages of his writings – his lived experience of redemptive suffering is perhaps the greatest of them all. Karol Wojtyla began his papacy as a spry and athletic 58-year-old, but he ended it as an 84-year-old man who had slowly deteriorated from Parkinson’s Disease – all as the world watched. It had to have been incredibly frustrating and humbling for a former athlete and “rock star pope” to have trouble walking and even speaking, and I imagine that he was often tempted to retreat into seclusion where he could deal with his frailties hidden from the public eye. But he didn’t. He kept his public engagements in Rome, he kept writing, he kept traveling.
He kept living. In doing so, he showed the world a kind of holiness that is not often put on display: Constantly clinging to the cross, he united his suffering to that of our Lord, and his life became a beacon of hope for the millions who witnessed it.
It is in light of John Paul II that I want to start a nationwide novena for Brittany Maynard. You’ve probably read her story by now (link: http://www.thebrittanyfund.org/). She has terminal brain cancer and plans to utilize the “die with dignity” law in Oregon to end her life on November 1.
Brittany has been fed a lie. She believes that suffering is ugly and meaningless, and so she is doing the only thing that seems dignified. On one level, I get it. Who wants to suffer? I doubt that John Paul II wanted to suffer. I know that Jesus didn’t want to suffer. But suffering can be beautiful and full of meaning, which is why they accepted it.
Suicide is never dignified, and it expresses a complete lack of trust in God’s will and providence. Who knows how long God intends for her to live? Who knows in that time how many lives she could touch for the good?
So, starting tomorrow, I hope Catholics across the country will join me in praying a novena to John Paul II for Brittany, that she has a change of heart – that she realizes, in the words of John Paul, that she is “single, unique and unrepeatable, someone thought of and chosen from eternity, someone called and identified by name,” and that she can never be replaced. Pray that she recognizes her innate dignity as a human being and that, in choosing to live, she, too, can be a beacon of hope for millions. And pray for her healing – yes, bodily healing, but also spiritual healing. Suicide is the ultimate despair of God.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
PRAYER FOR INTERCESSION OF ST JOHN PAUL II
O Blessed Trinity, we thank you
For having graced the Church with
Saint John Paul II and for allowing
The tenderness of your fatherly care,
The glory of the Cross of Christ
And the splendor of the Spirit of love
To shine through him.
Trusting fully in your infinite mercy
And in the maternal intercession of Mary,
He has given us a living image of
Jesus the Good Shepherd.
He has shown us that holiness
Is the necessary measure of ordinary
Christian life and is the way of
Achieving eternal communion with you.
Grant us, by his intercession,
And according to your will,
The graces we implore,
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I will begin the novena tomorrow, October 14, to end on John Paul’s feast, October 22. Please share this far and wide, so that we get thousands of people across the nation praying for Brittany, and for all those who think death is the only way to live with dignity.