It is amazing how quickly the beloved Pope John Paul II seems to have faded from public memory. Six years after his death (on April 2, 2005), it is difficult to find many people talking about his life and legacy anymore.
There have been a couple of made-for-television movies about the former leader of the world's Catholics. One of them -- aptly titled "Pope John Paul II" -- even starred Academy-award winner, Jon Voight, as JPII. It was pretty good. And then major retrospectives and biographies have been published, detailing the heroism of JPII during the Nazi occupation of Poland, the role that he later played in the downfall of communism, his criticisms of the excesses of Western capitalism, and how he improved Catholic relations (if only for a time!) with people of other faiths, particularly Jews and Muslims. There have also been numerous repackaged collections of his spiritual reflections, not to mention a John Paul II for Dummies and The Life of Pope John Paul II in Comics.
JPII is now known to the faithful as The Venerable Pope John Paul II, which means that his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, declared that JPII lived a heroic, virtuous life. His official beatification is coming next. It could happen any day now. A verified miracle is required in order for the Catholic Church to make someone officially "Blessed," and that is the next step on the way to official sainthood. JPII's beatification case hinges on the recovery from Parkinson's disease of a young nun in France. Saintly miracles almost always come about as a result of prayers made to the candidate after his or her death. If a healing or some other special result happens, it is said that the candidate has interceded to God in heaven for the favorable response. The young French nun made it known that she prayed to Pope John Paul II for intercession and healing and she was inexplicably healed. She, as well as many of the sisters in her religious community, chose to pray to JPII because she had been diagnosed with premature systems of Parkinson's disease, an ailment the Pope suffered from for many years.
Chances are good that we will soon be acknowledging JPII as "Saint," as well, once another miracle is recorded, investigated, and verified by the Church. Many have been claimed and some have already been investigated. But none of this will make much difference in how Catholics live their lives everyday, even less, non-Catholics. There is a more important reason, I think, to remember JPII.
When he was in his last days, beginning on March 31, 2005, after years of chronic illness, riddled with infection, JPII refused to be taken to the hospital. It was his "explicit wish" to remain at home, the Vatican later reported. JPII then refused medical treatments that would have possibly extended his life, believing instead that it was his time to die. "Let me depart to the house of the Father," he stated to his closest friends and assistants. He was determined to close his life on his own terms, not to become a Terri Schiavo case (remember her in Florida right at that same time?).
The example of JPII showed the world the importance of having a "Living Will" -- an advance health care directive. If you don't have one, if your closest family don't know your wishes around end of life issues, get one, fill it out, and discuss it. Luckily, JPII had good friends by his side when he was dying and they knew what to do -- and what not to do. We should all be so fortunate.
Jon M. Sweeney is the author of many books including 'Almost Catholic' and 'Light in the Dark Ages: The Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi'