It was a hard year. I was pretty sick. During Saint John Paul II's final illness, I was especially sick. I didn't realize at the time that I was on my way to getting better (temporarily). First, however, I would get much worse, to a point which I can only describe (without going into details that no one wants to hear and I don't want to recall) as abject humiliation.
It was a bumpy ride that year.
But April 2, 2005 was not a bad day. Just as thousands had gathered beneath his window in St. Peter's Square, we were all "gathered together" in a mysterious way, within ourselves, in our homes, in our churches. The whole world gathered around his bed to keep vigil and pray and say goodbye. It seemed almost tangible in those final hours that the end of human life is an opening up to God's embrace.
When he died at 9:37 PM, ten years ago, we wept. Something had come to an end. But something new also had begun.
I began praying to him almost immediately. He gained a new availability and a new closeness. He has continued to be a mentor to me, and is now so much more a companion and friend. He is an intercessor, and boy do I need him.
He left us with one final lesson before he died. He taught us how to suffer, to become powerless, to live in a physical state of "abject humiliation." He showed us that -- even in a state of total weakness and vulnerability and dependence -- the human person always remains a gift.
It's a lesson I'm still trying to learn.
But today, I recall a passage from the great encyclical Dives in Misericordia, 14. In the practice of mercy, the one who does good and the one who receives it both "give mercy" to each other.
It is good to consider this mystery of mercy as we commemorate the crucified Love of Christ who saves us through His abject humiliation, His "powerlessness" in suffering and death.
"Merciful love," John Paul II teaches, "by its essence is a creative love. In reciprocal relationships between persons merciful love is never a unilateral act or process." Even when it seems that "only one party is giving and offering, and the other only receiving and taking... in reality the one who gives is always also a beneficiary." This is true above all because we "show mercy to others, knowing that Christ accepts it as if it were shown to Himself." Mercy is different from simple philanthropy: "An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us." Blessed are the merciful, in that mercy is expressive of "that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example" and draws on "the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him."