April 29, 2011 – Thank You JPII

I hope you had a great Easter celebration despite the weather.  If the old adage holds true that rain on Easter Sunday means rain for the next 7 Sundays following, well let’s not even go there.  I also hope that you had a prayerful Holy Week and had a chance to take in some of the Masses and other services, especially the Good Friday service in which our young people did such a wonderful job portraying the passion and tenebrae.  It is always a touching service, particularly the ending when the candles are extinguished as Jesus’ seven last words on the cross are proclaimed and the church slips into complete darkness.  It really sets the stage for the contrast of the somber tone of Good Friday to the joyfulness of Easter.  And one final little note … to those who did not feel that their Easter Sunday Mass experience was as fulfilling as it should have been – you missed a beautiful Mass at the Easter Vigil with the lighting of the fire, the candlelight vigil, the blessing of water, and of course all kinds of choice seating.  I’m just saying …

This Sunday marks a very important event in the Catholic church, particularly for those of us who have been faithful Catholics over the last 3 decades or so.  This Sunday the late Pope John Paul II (JPII) will be beatified, which in a nutshell means that he will be placed one step away from full canonization as a saint in the Catholic Church.  Normally this process takes longer, but an exception has been made for JPII, and deservedly so.  I placed a link to the EWTN website on the homepage of our website, www.maryhoc.org, which gives the schedule of coverage of the event which includes a vigil the day prior and the beatification ceremony itself on Sunday.  It also has a lot of information about JPII and his life and the process one has to go through to be canonized a saint.  I’m sure there is also much more information floating around on the internet – just do a Google search.

Despite all of the challenges the Catholic Church faces and all of the questioning of the church’s positions on social issues, JPII continues to be one of the most respected figures certainly of my time, and probably of all time.  He was one of those people that just had that certain “something”, a certain aura and spirit that was hard to describe in words.  There are 3 events in his life that particularly stick out in my mind.  The first was when he was elected Pope.  I remember this because it was one of the rare times when the TV was on in the classroom at St. Mary’s (it was a black & white TV, so you know how long ago we are talking about).  When he made his initial address to the crowd at the Vatican I remember him saying something to the effect that because he was of Polish descent, that he may occassionally struggle when speaking Italian, and that if he made a mistake, to feel free to correct him.  I think this showed that he realized he was really no different than us – he was someone who came from humble beginnings and someone who was willing to admit that he was not perfect.  Thus I think this helped him relate to us, especially with young people.

My second memory came with the assassination attempt on JPII in May of 1981.  This came a short time after the attempt to take Ronald Reagan’s life.  As a 6th grader I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of world I was growing up into.  Would this be the norm instead of the exception?  But then I witnessed the forgiving spirit of JPII, even visiting the prison where the gunman was and offering him his personal forgiveness.  I think this was one of my first lessons in how important it is for us to be good witnesses.

My final and most lasting memory was JPII’s visit to St. Louis in 1999.  I was privileged to attend the event.  It was quite a day.  Our bus left Chester at about 12:30 in the morning, so I tried to get a little sleep the evening before, but instead I found myself watching the youth event.  So we left and on the way we of course had to deal with the security checks, etc.  When we finally got to the America’s Center, our bus driver tried to explain to the attendant that he had to be able to get out of the parking area so he could go back to Belleville and pick up more passengers.  The attendant was not at all cooperative, and a shouting match ensued.  I know the bus driver wanted to use a curse word badly, but to his credit he was able to keep his cool.  We finally got off of the bus and found our way into the building, where I promptly set off the metal detector (guess it was my watch). 

But the long trip was more than worth it.  There were beautiful banners hanging everywhere and just an undescribable spirit – a feeling of oneness among total strangers.  I was not actually in the dome – I was in the convention center wing so we watched the Mass on giant screens, but the Popemobile circled around us before Mass, so I did get a glimpse of JPII.  What I’ll take from that day is not the harrowing bus ride, or the long day (and night), and not even the beautiful weather on that January day (thank you again Pink Sisters).  What I’ll remember the most is 100,000 Catholics coming together for a common purpose – to see the leader of our church and to worship as a family of faith.  Though JPII was frail at this point in his life, there was still an energy in that vast place that I had never experienced before and probably never will again.  I am always proud to call myself a Catholic, but I was never more proud than on that day.

These are my own personal memories of JPII.  I know you have your own memories whether you were privileged to see him in person or not, which is what makes this beatification so special for so many people around the world.  I hope you get the chance to see or listen to at least some of the celebrations.

As we Catholics rejoice in the Easter season and in our memories of JPII, we also know that there are many in our country that are suffering due to the extreme weather  – tornadoes, floods, etc.  We thank God for the miracle on Good Friday that no one was killed or even seriously injured in the tornado outbreak in the St. Louis area.  However those in the southeast were not as fortunate.  Please pray for a much needed break in the weather so folks can begin to clean up and rebuild their lives and so the farmers can get in the fields and plant their spring crops.

And finally, the royal wedding … thank goodness its over!  ‘Nuff said.

Peace.

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