Dignify and Deploy 34: Living the Cross
‘Suffering is one of those points in which man in a certain sense is destined to go beyond himself.’ St. John Paul II
‘I resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified…so that your faith might not rest on man’s wisdom but on God’s power’ (1 Cor. 2:1, 5).
One of John Wimber’s critics suggested he become more ‘cross’-centered. Not hard. During his most fruitful ministry years, John lived the cross in physical suffering.
He had a major heart attack in ’86, at which point he was instructed to put off all travel plans. He refused. ‘If I let this stop me, I might as well go home and be with the Lord right now because it will never end’ (The Way It Was…p. 177). He went to Australia and Japan and Africa and…the physical suffering never ended. Heart attacks, cancer and strokes interrupted briefly his ‘yes’ to a host of Kingdom invitations but didn’t stop him until he died in ’97.
Pharisees added insult to injury by insisting John’s distress was ‘judgment’ due to his welcoming the Spirit or frustrating Him, depending on their place on the lunatic fringe. John lived St. Paul’s truth: ‘We always carry in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body’ (2 Cor. 4:10).
Holy Spirit amplified Himself through John’s bruised reed of a body. I was there often toward John’s end and can attest to the greater power at work in his physical weakness.
Carol’s poignant take on John’s ills describes marriage at its best and most painful. She was there. 46 treatments for cancer in his nasal passage was followed by a horrifying stroke in ’95. Disoriented, John lost his equilibrium and experienced life as if spinning. He fell constantly. John immediately said ‘yes’ to an interview with newscaster Peter Jennings. Upright and radiant in a wheelchair, he cast Kingdom vision for America on primetime.
St. John Paul II had only been pope 3 years when he was shot in Rome by Mehmet Ali Agca, an escaped Turkish prisoner. He fired two shots at extremely close range and hit the pope’s abdomen, ripping it apart. Better that than the bullet’s hairline miss of an artery that would have killed him.
Surrounding John Paul’s recovery was a tense Russian crackdown of Poland, Jesuit resistance toward him in choosing a new leader for the order, and waves of communist unrest in Latin America. Recovery-on-the-go: John Paul ‘filled up in his body what was still lacking in Christ’s suffering for the sake of His Body, the Church’ (Col. 1:24).
He lived robustly until a fall in his early seventies from which he only partially recovered. He walked with a limp into Parkinson’s disease; most of us can recall the low-grade tremble that marked John Paul’s last years. And the humor. ‘How do you feel, John Paul?’ ‘Neck down, not so good…’
The strength of his arm labored to steady the crucifix that shook as he raised it for us. Wojtyla and Wimber lived the Cross.
“Thank You God for these two witnesses of Your Cross. They lived what they preached. Help us to own minor afflictions from which Your Life springs. Surprise us with the humiliations You choose to manifest Your power. May we always direct the strength we access toward building up Your Body, in the Spirit of Wimber and Wojtyla. Come Holy Spirit, liberate what is true and beautiful from what debases us. May we not settle but aspire to the dignity of our sexual humanity. May we grow into ‘mature expressions of the gift’ by helping others do the same. Deployed to dignify, we ‘harness the John force.’”