success stories

Posted February 28, 2003

How Does the Pope Keep Going?

By Father Eugene Hemrick

Even a person fit for a marathon would have found Pope John Paul II's trip to the Holy Land taxing.

Each morning he had to be up at the crack of dawn ready to make innumerable appearances, speak in a language other than his own and dialogue with heads of state whose agendas were not always his.

Where does the pope get the strength to carry on when from all appearances he seems in poor health? Could it be that this strength itself sends a message that rings louder than words?

People who are athletic and stay fit as they grow older often develop a constitution that sustains them when they are faced with serious illnesses.

Could it be that the pope is reaping the benefits of being an athletic person -- that this now sustains him?

Or could it be that having lost his parents at an early age, he learned as a young man to fend for himself and that this has created a toughness in him which still exists?

Could it be that he is just blessed with good genes that enable him to persist even though he is physically worn down?

But here we need to ask whether we should focus solely on physical attributes or if in doing so we are overlooking the psychological side of things.

Many who serve large groups of people draw energy from them. I can personally attest to this. There have been times I could barely get out of bed due to illness. However, once up and delivering a homily or talk, the presence of the people often revived me. Instead of feeling drained, the people had a healing effect.

We know that Pope John Paul II loves people and that he mingles with them whenever possible. Is this the secret to his strength?

Or is his strength found in his intellectual acumen? History is replete with stories of great artists, poets, writers and philosophers who, although on their last breath, were so consumed with creating a masterpiece that they carried on far beyond the time anyone might have expected.

Pope John Paul II's writings are voluminous. He loves ideas and forever is creating new ones. Is this perhaps where he finds his strength?

I believe all these explanations help to account for the pope's amazing ability to carry on. However, there is a deeper reason for his strength.

No doubt getting out of bed is difficult for him, but once up he starts his morning much differently than most people. His day begins with prayer, meditation, Mass -- setting a sacred tone for the day. I would venture that this tone is one of petition in which he asks God's guidance in accomplishing God's work. God is his staff.

Another secret to the pope's strength is surely that he stops his work periodically during the day to pray. This helps him to remain centered in God's work and to draw upon the power this creates.

Being in harmony with God is awesome and capable of moving mountains. It is also capable of moving a tired, ill man onward with astonishing inner strength.