The Difference in John Paul II’s public suffering and Brittany’s Maynard’s public suffering

Of the pope’s funeral, he said, “I watched every bit of it.” Asked why, he said: “He was teaching us how to suffer, and he taught us how to die.”

Billy Graham on the death and funeral of Saint John Paul II’s death and funeral in New York Times, June 12, 2005

Brittany Maynard is suffering. Everywhere we look she is suffering. Suffering on the cover of People magazine. Suffering in our facebook feeds and on television specials. She is suffering publicly so she can end her own life soon. She is suffering in public so that she can “die with dignity” and give others that “right.” She wants people to see her suffering so that they will be more sympathetic to those with terminal illness in their quests to end their lives.

But she’s not dying with dignity. Creating a media circus surrounding your “choice” to end your life because you don’t want to suffer is not dignified. There’s been an example of how to die with dignity. And today we celebrate his first feast day as a saint.

John Paul II was in the media eye already because of his very public figure as the earthly leader of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics. He was also a head of state being the leader of Vatican City. He had no choices in whether his suffering from Parkinsons disease would be public or not. But he lived every day he was given. He made the difficult choices to continue traveling when many of us would not. He continued to engage his sheep and give them hope.

On October 22, 1978, he extorted the people he had been newly elected to lead to “Be not afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.” And he lived that every day of his extraordinary life and if affected both Catholics, and non-Catholics alike, and as Billy Graham points out, part of that was in teaching us how to suffer and how to die.

Suffering, contrary to what anyone in this world will probably tell you, is not worthless. If it were, Jesus Christ’s suffering would mean nothing. But here we are 2000 years later still talking about it. If it meant nothing, no one would know His name today. It may be hard for many lured by the world’s promises to understand the joys and gifts of suffering. But this young seminarian in my Diocese can tell you about them. 

I have experienced so much sadness due to my illness, but there have also been times of great joy.  The support I have received from others encourages me to keep pushing on. I want to be a priest, I want to see my three young nephews grow up, and these goals give me the hope to wake up each day and live my life with trust. –Philip Johnson

Read his whole writing, he is in a very similar situation and he knows and understands better than most what Brittany is going through. Certainly better than most of us.

John Paul II’s public suffering may not have been as much of a choice, but it was a powerful statement. His smile betrayed the joy that can be had even through debilitating physical pain. Blessed Mother Teresa was another example of profound joy and redemption in the face of suffering. We see them and we know, this is only temporary. Philip Johnson is a modern example of a small, but vocal group speaking out saying,  “we’re suffering, we’re in pain, we hate it, but we’re going to live in a way that is pleasing to God and not give into physical temptations.”

My heart aches for Brittany, both for the pain she has and will suffer and for the decision she has made. There is still time for that to change and I would pray that not only would it change, but for people everywhere who have come out to support Brittany to also support her if she decides she is not going to go through with this radical and awful decision.

St John Paul II, Blessed Mother Teresa, Our Blessed Mother, you all suffered so much, please pray for Brittany as her soul suffers at the cost of her decision. Help her to know the dignity of a life lived for Christ with suffering. And I offer up my own sufferings for her, that she may see her life is worth more lived here on earth than ended by her own hand. Amen.