The Pope Gets Physical

Parkinson's-Plagued JPII Taking Care, Looking Stronger These Days

“Let’s get physical, physical. I wanna get physical…”

I can still picture the headband,
the 80’s perm, and the cliché fat sweaty guy. Yep, I remember Olivia Newton John’s video for “Physical” like it was just yesterday. The fact that I’ve finally reconciled the loss of my mullet proves I’ve had a tough time moving on.

And it’s amazing how much can change over just a couple decades. Music…fashion…I hear people 20 years ago even lived without cable TV. (What an odd world that must have been.) And yet, the one thing which remains constant in an ever-changing world is our faith. And for those of us in our 20s and 30s, there’s been another constant in our lives: The pope.

For many of us, there’s really only been one pope our whole lives: John Paul II . We recognize the names of past popes; John XXIII, Paul VI, etc…But when you say “Pope”, JPII is who I picture.

That 70’s pope
Back in 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was named the 263rd pope. Now 25 years may not sound like that big a deal. But think again: Jimmy Carter was president. Larry King had been married only a handful of times. Michael Jackson was still black. This was a long time ago, people.

And at the time, John Paul II was a (relatively) young man. I still remember how odd I thought it was to see the canoeing, hiking, skiing Supreme Pontiff. The pope skiing? I couldn’t believe how cool it was they had made a little white papal skiing outfit for him and everything. He was probably the most athletic pope in history.

But over the years, his body has started to wear down. I guess that’s what happens when you get hit by a German army truck at the age of 23. At the age of 60 you get shot (twice) at point blank range. Yet he continues a schedule which has him praying, writing, meeting, and working countless hours a day. When he’s 83 years old!

The pope and I
I had a chance to meet John Paul II a couple years ago. There were about 20 of us in his private chapel for Mass, and afterwards we each got a few moments with him. His sense of humor was obvious. His mind was definitely there. Hearing him crack jokes in English, Italian, Polish, French, even Latin. And we all know how tough it is doing Latin jokes.

His mind is still there. It’s just his body doesn’t always cooperate.

Yet, strangely enough, the Holy Father has actually been improving in recent months. His voice is stronger, and so his is body. The Vatican attributes these improvements to rest, medicine, physical therapy–and yes, prayer.

What I found most interesting was that the word “rest” showed up at all. The physical therapy part I can understand. And yes, like everyone else, the pope resisted it at first. Medicine, sure. The modern miracle. Prayer, of course. He’s the pope, for (St.) Pete’s sake. But rest? It’s something this pope hasn’t done much of in his whole life.

And it’s not like he’s slowing his schedule down that much—but he’s taking some time to rest. Here, once again, the pope has lots to teach us. (Popes have a way of doing that, you know.)

Gimme a break
There’s no better time than the summer for rest. Heck, even God rested on the 7th day. And if God got to take a breather, we shouldn’t feel bad for taking some time off too. Someone once told me that “recreation” was really a time for “re-creation.” Pretty clever, huh? In rest and in recreation, we are able to re-create ourselves. Re-energize both body and soul. Because if resting is good enough for God, it’s something we all need to do.