Cardinal Raymond L. Burke thinks that Blessed John Paul II's life and teachings are a model for how Christians should view suffering.
“Blessed John Paul II is extraordinary,” Cardinal Burke said Feb. 25. “His own life is a testimony to suffering embraced in order to love more.”
“But in addition to that he was also the great teacher, especially in this document ‘Salvifici Doloris,’ which he wrote after the attempt on his life.”
Cardinal Burke spoke to CNA after giving the keynote address at “The Boundaries of the Human” conference in Rome. The Feb. 25-26 gathering was organized by the groups The Life Guardian Foundation, Family of the Americas, and the Italian pro-family group Associazione Famiglia Domani.
In his speech, Cardinal Burke challenged “a mechanical approach” that views the sick person merely “as an object burdened with great suffering,” leading to “the conclusion ... that their life no longer has meaning.”
Instead, he said, “the mystery of suffering” should be seen as “something to be lived and to be accepted as an invitation to love God and our neighbor more completely.” It is also an opportunity for others to “demonstrate the same kind of love” in how they care for those who are suffering.
This way of seeing suffering was lived out by Bl. John Paul II, he said.
“Here is a person who from his very early years of life experience one great suffering after another,” recalled Cardinal Burke.
Born in 1920 in the Polish town of Wadowice, Bl. John Paul II lost his mother, brother and father in the early years of his life. He then suffered the hardship of Nazi occupation, which was followed by Communist persecution.
“And what do we see but a man who grows ever greater in love, embracing the priestly vocation and becoming a heroic priest and bishop and eventually Pope.”
Cardinal Burke described the final days of Bl. John Paul II’s life in 2005 as “perhaps one of the most powerful lessons he gave to us” on how to suffer. The way the Pope died, he added, was “extraordinarily beautiful and inspiring.”
Cardinal Burke recalled how Bl. John Paul II rejected the medical description “vegetative” because the person suffering “does not become a vegetable or an animal – he remains a human being.”
“Even if he is not able to respond in any way perceptible to us, our relationship with that person grows and develops and can even become heroic in its virtue,” the cardinal said.