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.

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