One of the past hundred years' strongest Popes, John Paul II, has become a trembling, fragile old man. His Parkinson's disease and just-completed tracheostomy lead many commentators -- even many Catholics -- to suggest he ought to resign.
I'm just a low-church Protestant mutt. But for my two cents, I am deeply moved by what I think this pope is trying to do.
Leaders on this planet are supposed to be strong, dynamic, forceful people. And John Paul II has certainly been that during most of his tenure as leader of the Catholic Church. Sometimes, I've cringed, as with his flirtation with the idea of Mary as Co-Redemptrix, or Rome's continued hard line on celebacy in the priesthood. But I've also found in his example of faith a poetic, deep man who seems very concerned to reflect the image of Jesus to the watching world.
That's where his current refusal to step down seems especially appropriate to this Christian. How humiliating must it be to John Paul II, this wonderful speaker and incredibly articulate man, to be reduced to a public spectacle? I've sensed it even among Catholics, one nun recently voicing her irritation: "He needs to get out of there."
Why is it, I wondered, that I in my protestant faith find this Pope's current example the most potent one ever? If the Catholics want a leader who exemplifies Jesus, cannot they see that he is certainly now identifying with Jesus' passion? It is as if John Paul is walking through the stations of the cross, not by choice, but because he is mortal and his body is failing though his heart remains fixed on completing the race.
No, I don't think he should resign. Rather, I look at him as someone suffering, and in that weakness allowing the Lord's strength to be made manifest. Jesus becomes most transparently obvious -- to me at least -- when I encounter a Christian who suffers for him and in him.
In that, Pope John Paul II moves me most profoundly. He is in my prayers today, and I hope in the prayers of all believers Catholic or not.