Monday, February 28, 2005

The Pope's Life
I haven't been reading Andrew Sullivan very regularly, since he claims to have retired from blogging. I check in every few days, however, and regularly find more posts, belying that claim. Today I found something he posted on Friday, and felt compelled to send him an email about it. I'll reproduce for you here first what he said, and then my emailed response:

We have been informed that the pontiff's current suffering and persistence against multiple illnesses and debilities is sending a message about the dignity of suffering and the importance of life. There is indeed a great truth to that. But there is also a point at which clinging to life itself becomes a little odd for a Christian, no? Isn't the fundamental point about Christianity that our life on earth is but a blink in the eye of our real existence, which begins at death and lasts for eternity in God's loving presence? Why is the Pope sending a signal that we should cling to life at all costs - and that this clinging represents some kind of moral achievement? Isn't there a moment at which the proper Christian approach to death is to let it come and be glad? Or put it another way: if the Pope is this desperate to stay alive, what hope is there for the rest of us?
I responded to this, saying:

I think you're making a serious mistake in understanding why the Pope clings to life, and doing Christianity a great disservice in the meantime. By your logic, Christians should welcome death as freedom from the Hobbesian concept of earthly existence. In reality, Christianity values the beauty of life as well. While we are here, we have callings that we are supposed to follow at every turn—most often in ways that dignify and improve the lives of those around us. The Pope has expressed repeatedly that he feels he was put on this planet to fulfill certain missions, and that he will continue on that path until such time as God calls him home. In that context, his struggle to cling to the time he has left is not a contest with God, or avoiding death, but an attempt to live up to God's desires. It is a beautiful thing for a man who is almost assured of eternal Grace in heaven to so profoundly want to remain here as long as he can make a difference. Christianity is not centered around the eternal salvation to come as too many misrepresent it (including many major sects), but around the goodness that is in everyone just waiting to be brought out in this existence through God's help. To succumb to the dying of the light would be to undermine God's wishes for us, and remove the dignity of following God's will, by choice, right until the last moment. Death is, by definition, God's decision for us; it is truly a miracle that the Pope is so strongly willed that he can hold true to his choice to leave his fate in God's all-knowing hands, rather than take it into his own and preempt that divine prerogative.

As my regular readers know, I'm not Catholic, but I am what I call Anglo-Catholic—that is, Episcopalian in the Anglican tradition, or as I sometimes say "Catholic without the Pope." As such, I don't follow the Pope's health too closely, but I do feel that he validates Christian life in the way he constantly hangs on, always trying to keep making a difference for the rest of us. Heck, the man just published another book!

For more on the subject, I invite you to read the brilliant thoughts of Peggy Noonan, who is actually Catholic, here.

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