The Pope Takes Questions, Part III

From the August 6th Q&A (love this one!):

Third Question: Fr. Willi Fusaro

Holy Father, I’m Fr. Willi Fusaro. I’m 42, and I’ve been ill since the year of my priestly ordination. I was ordained in June 1991; in September of the same year, I was diagnosed wityh multiple sclerosis. I’m an associate in the parish of Corpus Domini in Bolzano. I was very struck by the figure of John Paul II, above all in the last part of his pontificate, when he carried his human weakness with courage and humility before the whole world. Given your closeness to your beloved predecessor, and on the basis of your personal experience, what words can you give me and all of us to help elderly and ill priests to live their priesthood well and fruitfully in the presbyterate and in the Christian community? Thank you!

Benedict XVI

Thank you, Reverend. I would say that also for me, the two parts of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II are equally important. In the first part, we saw him as a giant of the faith: with incredible courage, extraordinary strength, true joy of the faith and great lucidity, he carried the message of the Gosepl to the ends of the earth. He spoke with everyone, he opened new paths with the movements, with interreligious dialogue, with ecumenical meetings, with a deepened sense of listening to the Divine Word, with everything … with his love for the Sacred liturgy. In real sense, we can say, he brought down not the walls of Jericho, but the walls between two worlds, with the strength of his faith, and this witness remains unforgettable, a light also for this new millennium.
But I have to say that for me, the later years of his pontificate were not of lesser importance, because of this humble witness of his passion. The way he carried the Cross of the Lord before us and realized the word of the Lord: ‘Follow me, carrying with me, and following me, the Cross!’ I’m talking about his humility, the patience with which he accepted almost the destruction of his body, his growing incapacity to use words – he who was always the master of the word. In this way he visibly demonstrated to us, it seems to me, the deep truth that the Lord has redeemed us with his Cross, with the Passion as an extreme act of his love. He showed that suffering is not just a ‘not,’ something negative, the absence of something, but it’s a positive reality. Suffering accepted in the love of Christ, in the love of God and others, is a redemptive force, a force of love which is no less powerful than the great acts he committed in the first part of his pontificate. He taught us a new love for the suffering, and helped us understand what it means to say ‘we are saved in the Cross and by the Cross.’
We find these two aspects also in the life of the Lord. In the first part he teaches the joy of the Reign of God and carries his gifts to humanity. Then, in the second part, comes the immersion in the Passion up to his last cry upon the Cross. In precisely this way he taught us who God is, that God is love and that in identifying with our suffering as human beings he takes us in his hands and immerses us in his love. Only love offers this bath of redemption, purification and rebirth.
For this reason, it seems to me that all of us – and especially in a world that thrives on activism, youthfulness, being young, strong, and beautiful, always able to do great things – we have to learn the truth of a love that expresses itself in suffering, and thereby redeems the human person and unites us with God who is love.
Therefore, I would like to thank all those who accept suffering, who suffer with the Lord, and I want to encourage all of us to have an open heart for the suffering, for the elderly, and to understand that their passion is a wellspring of renewal for humanity, creating love in us and uniting us with the Lord.
In the end, however, it is always difficult to suffer. I remember when Cardinal Mayer’s sister was very ill, and he said to her once when she was impatient: ‘But, look, you’re now with the Lord.’ She replied, ‘That’s easy for you to say, because you’re healthy, but I’m in the passion.’ It’s true, amid real passion it’s difficult to really unite oneself to the Lord and to remain in this disposition of union with the suffering Lord. Let us pray, therefore, for all the suffering and do whatever we can to help them. Let’s show our gratitude for their suffering and assist them as much as possible, with great respect for the value of human life, especially suffering life up to the end.
This is a fundamental message of Christianity, which comes from the theology of the Cross: the love of Christ is present in suffering, in the passion, and it’s a challenge for us to unite ourselves with his passion. We have to love the suffering not only with words, but with all our action and commitment. It seems to me that only in this way are we really Christians. I wrote in my encyclical ‘Spe Salvi’ that the capacity to accept suffering, and those who suffer, is the measure of the humanity that we possess. Where this capacity is missing, the human person is reduced and put on a lesser scale. Hence let us pray to the Lord for help in our suffering, and that he may lead us to be close to all those who are suffering in this word.