Today the Church embarks on the liturgical season of Lent. In his last Lenten message, Blessed John Paul II wrote that during Lent, “a spiritual journey is outlined for us that prepares us to relive the Great Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ.”
During his last Lent here on earth, the late Holy Father experienced this journey in a unique way. As his health failed, he suffered much like Christ did in preparation for death. The debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease, the wounds from the assassination attempt, multiple surgeries, and the loss of his voice humbled him before the world and before God.
Even as he aged and became more vulnerable due to sickness, Blessed John Paul II never hid himself from the world. As he wrote in his final message for Lent, “reaching old age is a sign of the Most High’s gracious benevolence.” Longevity is a “special divine gift.”
If growing old, with its inevitable conditions, is accepted serenely in the light of faith, it can become an invaluable opportunity for better comprehending the Mystery of the Cross, which gives full sense to human existence.
Old age is a gift for growth in holiness, and it is also a gift to younger generations:
If it is true that man lives upon the heritage of those who preceded him, and that his future depends definitively on how the cultural values of his own people are transmitted to him, then the wisdom and experience of the elderly can illuminate his path on the way of progress toward an ever more complete form of civilization.
Blessed John Paul II viewed his own “length of days” as a gift from God, and so he continued to give himself faithfully and tirelessly to the Church. As the world watched him march towards death, he continued to give all those in it hope, love, and a sincere witness to the dignity of every human life.
During this season of Lent, let us not only grow through prayer and fasting, but let us also follow this great Saint as a model of complete self-gift. Like Blessed John Paul II, let us give of ourselves in the way that God is calling us to.
In addition, please pray for us here at the Shrine as we prepare for the upcoming canonization and as we finish the permanent exhibit featuring the life and legacy of soon-to-be-Saint John Paul II, slated to open this summer.