May 31, 2011

The Visitation

Today is the Feast of the Visitation. I love this painting by Carl Block, an artist I am not familiar with.  I love this painting because of the excitement that is shown in Elizabeth welcoming Mary and her unborn Son.  Her arms are open wide and it seems as if any moment she will run down the stairs to embrace her cousin and welcome Mary into her home.

This feast, I believe, celebrate hospitality.  As an Benedictine Oblate, hospitality is something that we are called to practice.  St. Benedict teaches to welcome all as if welcoming Christ.  But that is not always easy and as an introvert, it is not always easy for me.  I am being challenged to come out of my own insecurities and to show more hospitality toward others.

I also believe that this is a feast that celebrates women.  There is a special bond between women that I don't think can exist between men.  Social mores allow a certain amount of intimacy and physicality between women that is not usually accepted between men.  Women tend to be more open with other women and more accepting, despite what the TV reality shows would like us to believe.  

I also think that childbirth creates a unique bond.  The fact that women can bring forth life is something that brings all women together, even those who do not have children.  It is something innate, a sense of nurturing and nourishing that is part of our nature as women.  I found this painting online. I don't know the artist, but again it portrays the great joy Elizabeth expresses.  Luke writes on the lips of Elizabeth, "But who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" We too can ask that same question. Mary comes to us, as a mother, but also as a woman, who shares with us everything that womanhood entails.  Let us welcome her as we welcome her Son.

May 26, 2011

Seat of Wisdom

OK, seems the USCCB had almost the same idea as me with regard to Mary this month.  On their Facebook page they are presenting Mary under her many titles. Today they appealed to art lovers by focusing Our Lady as "Seat of Wisdom. " This is one of my favorite depictions of Mary under that title. I don't know who painted it but I have seen prints of it in retreat houses and on cards. Notice she is sitting on a large chair. I just love the flowers around her and the peacefulness of her face. The USCCB Facebook page states, "As Jesus is the incarnate Wisdom of God, Mary is literally the 'Seat of Wisdom.' As her children, we strive to follow Mary in choosing the wise and prudent path of God."  

It just so happens this is also the title of our diocesan seminary's online journal, and that I am writing a book review that will appear in the next issue. As timing will also have it I am on vacation, so in between lying in the Florida sun, spending time with family, and getting a well deserved rest, I am working to meet next week's deadline. 

So, if I don't write for awhile you will know why.

May 23, 2011

Botticelli and the Nativity

Since I am on a well deserved vacation, my posts will probably be short, but I'll continue exploring art work on the subject of our Blessed Lady. While not specifically focused on Mary, we cannot ignore the images of the nativity. We are so used to seeing the sometimes overly sentimental images we see on Christmas cards that we overlook some of the great paintings that have been created throughout the centuries. The above painting of the birth of Jesus is titled "Mystical Nativity" and was painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1500.  It is full of symbolism, and while it is a depiction of the birth of Jesus it also contains images from Revelation and the second coming. It also contains iconic elements.  

Botticelli was a Florentine artist of the early Renaissance and his work certainly influences some of the great Renaissance artists.  He also painted several images of the "Adoration of the Magi," such as the one above. While he created many religious paintings he is probably most known for his paintings done for villa of Lorenzo de Medici, "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera" which show his fascination with the Greek mythology.

Just as with many Renaissance artists, Mary was a favorite subject. This painting, "Madonna and Child with Six Saints," is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  From left to right the saints are Mary Magdelene, John the Baptist, Cosmos and Damian, St. Francis and Catherine of Alexandria.

May 20, 2011

Presentation of Mary

Back to Our Lady in art and again I find myself with Giotto, this time for the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple.  Like the birth of Mary, this account is not found in the Gospels but comes from apocryphal writings and is celebrated by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  The story tells that Mary's parents were childless and when they conceived Mary they promised to dedicate her to God.  They brought her to the temple where, the story goes, she remained there until betrothed to Joseph.  Nice story, but in all likelihood there was no such thing as Jewish temple virgins.  First of all, women were not allowed in the temple but had to stay in a courtyard for women. Also I don't believe the temple had living quarters. And, who would take care of dedicated children...temple nannies?  Ok, that was a joke. This story, however, shows us that Mary was set apart to be the Theotokos and Giotto is one of the few artists that portrayed this story in art.

This story also brings up something I have been thinking about for awhile. How many people these days actually consecrate their children to God? Yes, we as Christians baptize our children, which means they are reborn in Christ and anointed to share in His mission. We as Catholic parents, promise to take on the responsibility of bringing up our children in the faith as first teachers of the faith.  How many really take this seriously?  I coordinate the baptism ministry in our parish and in the past 5 years the numbers of baptisms have declined significantly.  No, the number of children being born has not, but parents are not that quick to have their children baptized or they see no problem with baptizing them in another faith.  A growing number of these parents were not married in the Church and when I ask them to come to Mass they give all kinds of excuses as to why that is not really possible.  Most likely the next time we will see some of these children in church is when they begin their preparation for First Holy Communion.

Last week I sent away for my baptismal certificate.  We were discussing our own baptisms at work and I didn't know the date of mine.  When I received my certificate the other day I discovered I was baptized at 3 weeks old on May 16. Three weeks!! My own children's baptisms were about a month to six weeks after birth. Most of our baptisms today are celebrated when the children are over 4 months old with over 6 months being the average. We also see a good number past their toddler years. Now there may be good excuses for delaying baptism, but what does that say about the desire to dedicate children to God, to have them as part of God's family. 

Maybe we need to dedicate our children to God each and every day, no matter how old they may be,. I think I am going to start doing that. Maybe some miracles will happen. Hear that kids?

May 18, 2011

Rain Down

We here in the Northeast are being deluged with rain.  I know my family in Florida would love to have some of it since they are experiencing a severe drought, but I just wish it would stop so we could enjoy some spring before the heat of summer arrives.  The fact that I am going to Florida in a few days keeps me from getting too depressed over it

Yet, in meditation this morning, quite a few things came to me regarding the rain.  First of all it reminded me of the little rhyme of my childhood "April showers bring May flowers."  Well it is May and it's been raining too much to even plant my flowers, but the grass is really growing well and the dirt of winter is being washed away.

I was also reminded of something one of our Neophytes said to me on Holy Saturday morning. It was raining and we had just finished the Preparation Rites. She said that when she woke up that morning she was a bit disappointed that it was raining on the day of her baptism. Then she remembered that water was the primary symbol of baptism, and that it was the Holy Spirit raining down upon her preparing her for the waters of baptism that would come later that evening.  WOW, so many times those in our RCIA process really come up with some profound thoughts.

I also thought of St. Teresa of Avila and her image of rain for her fourth stage of contemplation, what can be called infused contemplation or prayer of union. The way Teresa described it is as rain that comes down from heaven with no effort on our part. It is pure Grace. I could say that I have experienced moments of this, very brief moments, at key times in my life, and it truly is a Grace.

So, I guess the rain isn't really that bad.  I guess I'll just settle in with a cup of tea, my journal, and listen to the rain beating on the window...and to the Lord.

May 16, 2011

Birth of Mary

I promised I would dedicate much of the month of May to art work depicting the Blessed Mother. So, even though I have already presented a few pieces I thought I would look at Our Lady in chronological order. The above fresco is of the Birth of Mary and was painted by Giotto.  He was an Italian artist of the late 13th early 14th Centuries.  He is known for making the transition from Byzantine and Middle Age art to the early Renaissance.  He is one of the first artists to give his figures a more realistic look and put them in natural poses. He also used colors that had not been used before. In this fresco, he depicts the mid-wives wrapping the infant Mary in swaddling clothes (pictured on the floor by the bed) and then presenting the child to her mother Anne.  The presentation of two figures of the same subject in the same painting looks odd, but was fairly common in the Middle Ages.

What is really interesting about this subject, the birth of Mary, is that it is not Scriptural.  The account of the birth is found in the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel, yet it found its way into Catholic and Orthodox tradition, and is attested to from the 4th Century on. The birth of Mary is celebrated on September 8th.

May 15, 2011

Good Shepherd Sunday

Early depiction of the Good Shepherd -
Catacomb of St. Priscilla, Rome
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest depictions of Jesus as shown above in this ceiling painting found in the Catacomb of Priscilla, where I had the privilege of seeing it. Even before images of the crucifixion became popular, the image of the Good Shepherd was the most popular portrayal of Jesus.  The Gospel we hear today is from John 10, where Jesus identifies himself with the Good Shepherd.  It is a bit different than the parables of the Lost Sheep that we hear in Matthew and Luke.  When we think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd we easily identify Him with these parables, especially since artistic renderings usually show Jesus carrying a sheep on his shoulders, bringing it back to the flock.  What makes the pericope from John different is that Jesus is not speaking about seeking out the lost, but giving up His life in protection of His flock.  This Shepherd just doesn't go looking for lost sheep but protects all His sheep to the point of dying for them.  Jesus also issues a warning for those who would lead His sheep astray, the "false shepherds," who do not really care for the sheep but just for their own gain.

Important to this passage is that Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. He says, "I AM the Good Shepherd."  It is one of the seven "I AM" statements in John's Gospel.  These statements recall what God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14 when Moses asked God to tell him His name, and God said "I AM WHO AM."  Observant first century Jews would have easily made this connection.

Good Shepherd mosaic
Mausoleum of Galla, Ravenna, Italy
But the thing that stands out for me in this passage is, "The shepherd calls each of his sheep by name and leads them out...and the sheep follow him because they know his voice." The idea of God calling us by name is one that we hear over and over again in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Yet, we have to be attentive to the call, and once we recognize Who it is that is calling us, I believe that the only choice we can make is to follow His voice because it leads to the abundant life.  I think this is beautifully portrayed in this 5th century mosaic in Ravenna.  In this mosaic, Jesus is not just a simple peasant shepherd, but He is easily identified as Christ by the gold nimbus,  the cross, and the gold and purple colors of his garments.  This mosaic is of Byzantine style so everything in it has some meaning.

Also today we celebrate Vocations Sunday. When Pope Paul VI instituted the first World Day of Prayer for Vocations in 1964, he said, "O Jesus, Divine Shepherd of the spirit, you have called the Apostles in order to make them fishermen of men, you still attract to you burning spirits and generous young people, in order to render them your followers and ministers to us." Let us pray today and always that more young people will be open to hearing God's call to serve God and God's people in ordained ministry, in religious life, and as lay leaders in our Church. But most of all, may we all be open to answering the Shepherd's call to follow Him where ever He may lead us.

May 14, 2011

Tis the season for First Communions

My last post disappeared after Blogger was down for two days.  Maybe it will return some day.  Lots going on in the parish. This is the season of First Communions.  While they are exciting they also expose some of the problems that we are experiencing in the Church.  When I did my doctoral project four years ago on the topic of First Communion, I was surprised by the number of respondents to my survey who admitted that their motives for having their child receive Communion was not because of faith or belief but simply because it was the thing to do if one is Catholic. It didn't matter if the family did not attend Mass on Sundays or practiced their faith at all. It saddens me when I see children so innocent and excited to be receiving the Eucharist on Saturday, and then we don't see them again in church for weeks, months, or even years.  We can't blame the kids, but I wish I knew the way to get the parents to realize the great Gift that the Eucharist is, not just an excuse to get dressed up and have a party. And, that coming to Mass each week is not a burden or unnecessary, but indeed is necessary to foster a deeper relationship with Christ.

I remember my First Communion.  I remember it was raining and my bouquet fell apart. I know we didn't have a party, but I do remember being at my Grandparent's house, probably for dinner. The only gifts I remember receiving were a rosary and a children's missal.  I remember being second to last in the processional line since I was so tall, even in first grade I was taller then those in second grade who were receiving that day.  I remember we sang "O Sacrament Most Holy," "O, Lord I Am Not Worthy," "Jesus, Jesus Come to Me," and a silly little ditty (by 1961 standards) called "Little White Guest."  Mass was in Latin, we received on our knees, on the tongue, and at the altar rail.  But most of all, I clearly remember going back to my pew burying my face in my hands, and feeling that this was a day that would change my life, and so happy that I was receiving Jesus.  I could not wait for the next day to  wear my First Communion dress and receive Jesus again.  I came to Mass the next day all dressed up and happy to receive Jesus. We again wore our dresses the next week at school as we crowned Our Lady, and a few weeks later walking in the Corpus Christi procession following Mass. This Sunday, maybe two or three kids will wear their communion clothes to Mass.  A good number of those who received today will not be there tomorrow.  Only about a third will participate in the May Crowing. The big question is why?

I pray for all our First Communicants, but most of all for their parents that they can come to understand the need for Jesus in their lives and the lives of their children. This past week the daily readings were from the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, the Bread of Life discourse. I know that listening and meditating on these readings always help me to renew my devotion to Christ present in the Eucharist. They are among the most beautiful passages in the Gospels. I pray that the hearts and minds of the parents of these young children will be moved to come to know Jesus in the Eucharist and to instill the Love of Christ on their children so that their memories of First Communion will be more than the clothes, the party and the gifts.

May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

A very blessed and happy Mother's Day to all.  Although Mother's Day is what we would call a "Hallmark holiday," it is a good idea to honor mothers in a special way, at least once a year. After all, our mothers have done so much for us, most importantly, giving birth to us.

Yesterday I was at a joint Oblate meeting at the monestary where I am a Benedictine Oblate, and the topic of the talk given was the sacrificial nature of the Mass.  It was a great talk and something that we all need to be reminded of, and not just focus on the meal aspect.  Someone in the audience brought up the question of Our Blessed Mother's sacrifice.  I am not sure if the presenter really understood the question, and to be honest I was a bit confused as to the connection with the Mass, but I kept thinking about it.  This morning on the way to work, I thought of all the sacrifices that mothers must make for their children, the very first being sacrificing their body and blood to give life to a child.  Our body supports the life that grows within us. Our blood nourishes the growing fetus.  Isn't that what happens when we receive the Eucharist? Christ's Body and Blood supports and nourishes us.  Ok it might be a stretch, but I think it is worth exploring.

You don't find too many renderings of Our Blessed Mother pregnant, aside from paintings of the Visitation or traveling to Bethlehem.  I did however come across this icon.  I thnk of all the sacrifices Mary had to make. A young virgin, not really understanding all that was about to happen to her, she sacrificed her own body and her will in obedience to the Father's will for her.  We are aked to imitate her in her obedience and her fiat, her yes to all that the Father wanted her to do and to be. So too, the God asks us to say yes out of obedience and love. But sacrifice does not mean giving up who we are.  In fact, it means to truly become who we are.  The word sacrifice means "to make holy," and isn't that what God wants of us, to BE HOLY?

Motherhood is a holy thing.  It is a great gift that God gives those women who are blest to become mothers.  On this Mother's Day, as we remember and thank God for the gift of our mothers, let us also remember our Blessed Mother, who teaches us how to be holy, how to obey God's will, and how to sacrifice ourselves for our children.

May 6, 2011

Raphael's Madonnas

One of my favorite artists, and one who especially loved to paint our Blessed Mother, was Raphael Santi.  Raphael was an artist of the high Renaissance and a contemporary (and rival) of Michelangelo. The Madonna seem to be one of his favorite subjects.  One of his most popular is the Madonna of the Chair.  It is painted on a circular piece of wood, which seems to really draw the viewer into the subjects. What I  like best about his paintings are the expressions he puts on the face of his Madonnas.  It is one of peace and tranquility.  

A good number of Raphael's paintings of our Lady show her with Jesus and the young John the Baptist, usually outside in a meadow or in a garden outside a city.  What is striking to me is that the Child Jesus and his cousin are not tiny infants but often toddlers, are usually naked and quite robust.  The other aspect of his compositions that stands out for me is the tenderness of the interactions between Mary and the holy Children.  It is one that any of us who are mothers can easily relate to.  They are very natural and show the true humanity of the Virgin and her Offspring. 

As things have it, I had planned to write about Raphael's paintings and a friend and a classmate of mine from Notre Dame posted this on Facebook yesterday. It includes a number of Raphael's paintings.  He posted it as a tribute to his mother who passed away this year.  I post it in honor of our Lady, in memory of Tom's mom, and for all our mothers.  It is a beautiful composition of Ave Maria by Morten Lauridsen, a contemporary composer.  I hope you enjoy it. I did.

May 5, 2011


"Woman in Prayer" by Paul Gauguin
Today is the National Day of Prayer. In 1988 President Reagan signed a bill into law making the first Thursday in May a day for the nation to focus on prayer, whatever their creed. It's a good idea, but honestly I don't think many people know about it.  I didn't know about it until yesterday when I was looking up some information on the internet.  I do find it interesting though that I was planning on publishing this post on prayer today, May 5th, and even more surprizing is that yesterday in Rome, Pope Benedict announced that his weekly audience talks will focus on prayer.  Coincidence?  Hmmm.

What prompted me to write on prayer was that the other day I came across a quote by Thomas Merton that truly touched me.  He wrote, "All true prayer somehow confesses our absolute dependence on God. It is therefore a deep and vital contact with Him...It is when we pray that we really are."  That is a very powerful statement, but can be a confusing one.  Yes, prayer does express our dependence upon God, because often we are asking for something, something we cannot achieve on our own, or for a need that we have.  Our prayers of thanksgiving recognize that God has graced us in some way and we are expressing our gratitude, which is also acknowledging that we are dependent upon Him.  But what about the rest of that quote.

True prayer, in the sense that Merton conveys, I believe goes beyond asking and thanksgiving. What is the purpose of prayer?  I have often been reminded that the ultimate purpose of prayer is communion with God. Pope Benedict stated in his audience yesterday that "expressed in every the truth of the human creature, which on the one hand experiences weakness and indigence, and because of this asks help from heaven, and on the other is gifted with extraordinary dignity, as, preparing himself to receive divine Revelation, he discovers himself capable of entering communion with God." It is because of God's gift of faith that we can even approach God in prayer. God wants us to come to Him. He calls to us. 

True prayer goes into the realm of simply being in the presence of the Almighty, realizing that He is the fulfillment of all our desires.  It is what is called "mystical union." Many of the great mystics, like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, have written of this union. It is in this communion with God that we become what we are, what we were created to be by God. Eastern Christians call this theosis or divinization, a sharing in the life of the Trinity. St Athanasius, whose feast day we celebrated Monday,    explained theosis as "becoming by grace what God is by nature."  Sort of makes you want to pray, doesn't it?

May 4, 2011

Ora et Labora

Evening Prayer by Jean Francois Millet

One of the venerable prayer traditions of the Church has been praying the Angelus three times daily. It was a way of following monastic tradition of interrupting work with prayer during the course of the day, what we Benedictines call "ora et labora," or prayer and work.  The "ordinary folk," those not bound canonically to pray the Divine Office as the monks, nuns and clergy did, would listen for the church bells at 6 am, noon, and 6 pm, drop what they were doing, and pray the Angelus. There was a time when people took this time for prayer very seriously. Millet expressed this very simply in his painting of two farmers stopping their work in the evening to pray.  Vincent Van Gogh even copied the work in one of his paintings.

Today, many are unfamiliar with this tradition or even the Angelus prayer. Our lives are so busy that we often don't even stop for lunch let alone prayer.  I first learned the Angelus in elementary school where we prayed it as a class at noon.  As an adult, while I didn't pray the prayer, whenever I heard the familiar "bong" eminating from the church steeples at noon, I thought about it, but didn't recall the words.  I did eventually look it up, and after a pilgrimage one year where we prayed it, I tried to pray it every so often.  It wasn't until I entered the doctoral program at our seminary and we joined the seminarians at dinner, did I really begin to pray it regularly. The seminarians began grace before meals with the Angelus, and soon the familiar words to the prayer came back to me.

The one thing I did learn during those dinners at the seminary, that I don't recall learning in elementary school, was that during the Easter Season, from Easter Sunday until Pentecost, the traditional Angelus is not prayed but substituted by the Regina Coeli.  While the Angelus recalls the Annunciation, the Regina Coeli or Queen of Heaven is a beautiful prayer that extols the joy of our Blessed Lady in the Resurrection of her Son.  It is a traditional Easter hymn.

Through the wonders of You Tube I found this rendition of the simple chant version complete with art work (and the English translation).  Perhaps it might encourage us all to remember to stop our work from time to time to offer prayer to the Lord.  May you have continued blessings during this Easter season.

May 2, 2011

Picturing Mary

Since May is the month of Mary, I thought it might be a nice idea to look at some art work depicting Mary througout the centuries.  Of all the human subjects ever used in art, our Blessed Mother is probably the most popular.  Yet if we look at the Marian art most Catholics would have in their homes, I would catagorize it "Catholic kitsch."  What is that, you ask?  It is sort of what you find on holy cards, statuettes, popular renderings, and even some truly outrageous stuff.  I keep saying that one day I am going to start a collection of Catholic kitsch.  If the American Pickers can find buyers and collectors for the stuff they find, think of what I could do in Catholic circles with some of the strange things I've come across. Like the "glow in the dark" Mary.  Or how about this rainbow collection of Marys.  You can have a color for whatever mood you might be in.  I even came across one that had an LED display and it would flash different colors.

Then there are the popular portrayals of Mary that we find on holy cards or receive in the mail with requests for donations.  Usually it is a picture of Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Fatima, or the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  While there is nothing wrong with these images, they pale next to the great works of art down through the centuries that show us the depth of Marian devotion. Having studied art, and being Catholic, I am fascinated by the ways Mary has been portrayed, and while I am sure these popular depictions do much to foster people's devotion, I prefer the more classical artistic renderings.

The earliest known depiction of Mary is found on the walls of the Catacomb of Priscilla  in Rome. The paintings found in this catacomb are beautiful. In this wall painting from the beginning of the third century, we see Mary nursing Jesus while a man who appears to be a prophet, points to the star (out of view). It is a reference to the prophesy by Balaam in the book of Numbers 24:17, "A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel."  I find it appropriate that the first painting of Mary is one of her engaging in one of the most motherly things she can do, and that is nourish her Child. The image of Mary as the nursing mother is not as popular as other images, although I have found many beautiful paintings online.  Perhaps the image of Mary with her breast exposed is something some people don't deal with well expecting a greater sense of modesty in a portrayal of Our Lady, yet nursing a child is the most natural, intimate, and beautiful things a woman can do.  

Over 30 years ago, someone gave me a holy card and medal with the image of "Our Lady of the Plentiful Milk and Happy Delivery" from the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida. I was a young nursing mother at the time and this image meant much to me.  Meditating on Our Lady nursing Jesus got me through many sleepless nights with a fussy baby knowing that Mary too comforted her Precious Child at the breast. The medal is still attached to my rosary.

When I made a pilgrimage to Greece several years ago, I purchased a nineteenth century icon of the nursing Madonna.  It was first spotted by one of my fellow pilgrims who wanted it, but once I saw it I knew I had to have it. It originally comes from Crete. It is a rare depction and very precious to me, although I must admit, it has bothered me that the writer of the icon had very little sense of female anatomy.
Throughout this month of Mary, along with other posts, I will comment on some of my favorite works of art depicting our Blessed Mother.

May 1, 2011

A blessed day

Last night I had to run to pick up some things at the supermarket and while waiting on line a special edition of LIFE Magazine caught my eye.  Despite its $13 price tag, I had to purchase it.  So here I was on line with my cake mix, Snapple, a bag of lettuce and the Pope John Paul II edition of LIFE.

I haven't given much thought to the beatification of John Paul II until the last few weeks, although, as holds true for many of us, he was the Pope that I was most familiar with.  I was too young to remember Pius XII, being only 4 when he died.  I do remember watching parts of John XXIII's funeral on television and praying for him in school. However it was only years later that I realized how what he started would change the face of the Church forever.  Paul VI was the first Pope that I really remember, but then it was only knowing that he "changed" the Mass, and that his encyclical Humane Vitae caused much controversy among the adults in the parish where we lived.  I really didn't hear much about him in my high school and college theology classes. His funeral was something that I recall being impressed with.  I do remember the very short pontificate of John Paul I. I was a young newlywed and I remember watching the coverage of the conclave on TV in August of 1978, and seeing the while smoke, and then the new pope emerge on the balcony of St. Peter's, and feeling proud to be Catholic. And sadly, I remember waking up that September morning a month later and being stunned to hear that John Paul I had suddenly died.  Like the rest of the world I was in shock.

Then came Karol Wojtyla. Not being that up on "who's who" in the curia, I had no idea who he was, but his relative youth and his charismatic smile made me feel really good about this new Pope John Paul II.  As I learned his life story, I was amazed that he was an actor, a writer, a philosopher, an athlete, a world traveler, a friend of the youth, as well as a theologian.  I recall thinking how he was going to be a good leader of the church.  As I discovered my second vocation as a lay ecclesial minister, and began my studies in theology, I began reading his encyclicals, exploring what he wrote and said, and following in the media his many trips around the world.  I was not able to see him when he came to New York, but a year before he died, I was able to be in the assembly at one of his Wednesday audiences, and to be close enough as he passed by in the popemobile to see him clearly, and cheered when he recognized our group from the diocese of Rockville Centre.

John Paul II did many things during his pontificate, but most of all he taught us the meaning of suffering.  I wrote a paper on his Apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris - On the Meaning of Human Suffering, and connected it to the writings on suffering by St. Therese of Lisieux.  They both showed us how suffering can be redemptive and meaningful for those with faith.  He also taught us how to die, with dignity and everlasting Love for God.

Above all, John Paul II taught us to rely on God's Mercy and Love. Through his own personal devotion to Divine Mercy, the feast we celebrate today, as revealed through St. Faustina, whom he canonized, he introduced the world to this devotion.  It is quote appropriate that John Paul II is beatified today, the Feast of Divine Mercy for it was six years ago, on the Saturday evening before this feast that he established for the universal church, that John Paul II went home to the Lord.

This Feast of Divine Mercy, which is celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter, helps us to focus on the forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus imparts to anyone who approaches His merciful Heart in love and humility, asking for forgiveness of sin.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.