"The Church Still Needs You"by Julie Onderko on 03/13/16
My brother in law, Mark Onderko died recently after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. During the increasingly debilitating months as the disease progressed, he could have felt useless but he did not. He united his suffering with the redemptive work of Jesus’ Cross—taking the concerns for his friends and family right to the heart of Jesus. Mark used his suffering for perhaps the most important work he would ever do!
Mark’s death got me to thinking. In this day and age where the value of a person’s life is often measured by how much they can do and even by how much they are able to “enjoy” life—many are made to feel like they are a burden or even disposable. Venerable Fulton Sheen used to lament the wasted suffering in hospitals. If only the patients realized the enormously spiritual value of their suffering when united with the Cross of Christ. If we are alive, we still have work to do—especially when we are dying.
For those persons who feel they have lost their usefulness and especially to the elderly, the sick and the dying, Pope John Paul II had this to say,
The Church still needs you…She (the Church) appreciates the services which you may wish to provide in many areas of the apostolate; she counts on the support of your longer periods of prayer; she counts on your advice born of experience, and she is enriched by your daily witness to the Gospel.
In Pope John Paul’s Letter to the Elderly, he emphasizes that all the phases of life have their particular character and that every phase (even the dying phase) is a meaningful preparation for eternity. In the letter, he recounts the different periods of his life, drawing lessons from his own personal history.
Just as John Paul reached out to the many different groups in his lifetime (the youth, families, women, etc.), he writes this particular letter to the elderly with a deep desire to connect with them:
As an older person myself, I have felt the desire to engage in a conversation with you. I feel a spontaneous desire to share fully with you my own feelings at this point of my life, after more than twenty years of ministry on the throne of Peter and as we await the arrival, now imminent, of the Third Millennium. Despite the limitations brought on by age, I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord.
Let’s hope and pray that whether we are young or old, rich or poor, gifted or challenged, healthy or infirmed, we will be able to truthfully say with Pope Saint John Paul II and Mark Onderko, It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the kingdom of God!