Today in the universal Church, Roman Catholics everywhere (and others of many faiths) celebrate the feast of Pope John Paul II, now a canonized saint, well-known and remembered for his long and active stint as Pope. A vibrant middle-aged man in 1978, he spent 27 years “globe-trotting” to 124 countries and did much to improve relations with other denominations of Christians as well as with the Muslim world. His biography is replete with accomplishments for which he is well-known everywhere. We watched him age for almost three decades and many people wondered toward the end of his life why he did not give up the papacy to one who was more able.
Today, in reflecting on his life, I think of our elderly Sisters and even of myself as I move forward in my seventh decade of life, hoping to persevere and desiring a longer life to learn the lessons that life will teach me. There is so much that concerns us; who would not want to “stay in the fray” of service? Of course, there is a moment when each of us needs to recognize the necessity of letting go when our bodies tell us it is time. Some thought that John Paul II stayed too long; only the Pope himself would have the answer to that decision.
In 1999, six years before his death, he wrote a “Letter to the Elderly” in which he spoke very personally about his own aging and suffering. The letter ends with the following prayer which I quote here in its entirety in the hope that it will comfort some (young or old) who adopt it as a daily prayer.
Grant, O Lord of Life, that we may…savor every season of our lives as a gift filled with promise for the future. Grant that we may lovingly accept your will, and place ourselves each day in your merciful hands. And when the moment of our definitive ‘passage’ comes, grant that we may face it with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting you, after having sought you for so long, we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known here on earth, in the company of all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope. Mary, Mother of pilgrim humanity, pray for us, ‘now and at the hour of our death.’ Keep us ever close to Jesus, your beloved Son and our brother, the Lord of life and glory. Amen.