Friday, April 01, 2005

In Tribute to the Man Who Changed My Life

As of this writing, the Italian press is reporting that the Holy Father has died. Godspeed to him and may he see the fruits of his labor. Say a "Hail, Mary" for the repose of his soul, he who dedicated himself "Totally Yours" to our Blessed Mother. Relevant Radio is carrying live news -- go there for updates.

I met the Holy Father in 1995. While in the seminary, the students on the Spiritual Year were invited by our New York classmates to join them in welcoming and praying with the Holy Father. So, with 300 of my closest friends, we prayed Evening Prayer with the Holy Father leading us, not only as Shepherd of the Universal Church, but as liturgical father. The seating tickets were provided randomly, but as it turned out, I was seated on the aisle. At the conclusion of Vespers, the Holy Father shook hands with each of the seminarians that could reach him. I expected his hands to be thin, the hands of a scholar, the hands of a man who had never done any physical labor. The hand that met mine was the hand of every farmer I had ever met, thick, calloused, strong. He looked into my eyes and smiled a half-smile. I would like to believe he saw something of the future of the Church in the sparkling eyes of the young men who were working to give away their lives for Christ. One of the other guys in my class said, "It was amazing to see you with the Holy Father. You were transfigured." And it was true. I touched Peter's hands when I touched the Holy Father. I still have the rosary that I received from him. But the transfiguration didn't stop there.

While I was in seminary at Saint Charles, Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J. made a presentation to the seminarians on the work and influence of the Holy Father. This was right before the release of Fides et Ratio. Because of this, I ended up reading all of the Holy Father's encyclicals, one a month for a year. It was this comprehensive vision that allowed me to see that it is the human person who is the actor in the theological drama.

You see, when I heard the story of his life, how John Paul was an actor, and someone who lost his family early, one who was subjected to poverty, I heard the outlines of my own life. The unhappiness I saw in my life was paralleled but because John Paul, through the theological virtues, rose above it, I knew I could rise above it too. As George Weigel titled his biography, John Paul was for me a witness to hope, a witness to never submitting to the terror of the Fall.

I am sorry. This is very emotional for me. I will try to clean up so that it is more complete.

On this First Friday, our Holy Father walks the way of his own personal cross -- the cross of illness. May he, through the compassionate Sacred Heart, see the fruits of his labors and of his sacrifices.

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