Magazine article Conscience

Reflecting on Suffering

Magazine article Conscience

Reflecting on Suffering

Article excerpt

CONSCIENCE GOES TO PRESS AS THE CHURCH MARKS the 25th anniversary of the election of Karol Wojtyla as pope. Reactions right and left are somewhat predictable, and perhaps mine are no exception. A significant part of the last 25 years of my life is inextricably joined to that of the pope. After all, we have been locked in a long distance battle over women, sex and reproduction. Of course, we've never met; I'm not on the A list for invitations to papal events. I'd like to think that the work I'm doing has entered his consciousness and given rise to more than passing irritation. But most likely, I've barely registered on the papal Richter scale.

I, on the other hand, have spent a lot of time thinking about him. After all, he is my pope. I've scoured photos; read much of what he's written; and collected pope kitsch from paper dolls to Halloween masks and foam mitres. I've tried to love him, to see what is best in him, to he generous. At the deepest level, I suspect there is a profound spirituality, perhaps more easily seen in his present vulnerability. There is something profoundly moving about his presence as an old, frail suffering man. What is this man--who has exerted such enormous will, had so much power and control over the lives of so many--thinking when he cannot speak, slurs his words, is unable to walk? Is he frustrated? Does he see himself as a symbol of Christ's suffering? Conservative Catholics who are close to him speak of his suffering as a source of inspiration. I can see it, and, to some extent, respect it.

After all, the exaltation of suffering is what his papacy is all about. In some existential, essentialist way does he feel a connection between what he is now suffering and the pain he has caused so many in the church and in the larger world? As he becomes in some way isolated by his inability to communicate, does he reflect on the isolation and marginalization he has provoked in the church? …

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