The Personal Pope

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As John Paul II lay dying last week, I read many stories and saw many pictures on the television and on the web that showed people the world over praying with each other for him. I was moved by this, and it made me think of the times I was able to see him, and how special those moments were.

It then occurred to me: this Pope was so loved precisely because he loved us enough to come to us. This Pope loved us by making himself available to each of us, and in these encounters he tried to bring Christ to us. As a man with a deep prayer life, he knew the experience of meeting Christ face to face, and as Christís Vicar, he wanted to do whatever he could to bring Christ to the world, so that we may all have that same face to face encounter.

In January of 1999, I gave my self a very special 22nd birthday gift: I took a few days off to go with other U of I students to see Pope John Paul II in St. Louis. It was my first time seeing the Pope, as Iíd only received the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation the previous year. I was lucky enough to have gone through RCIA at a place where the priests taught the true teachings of the Church, and they also shared their love for the Holy Father and his teachings with us. Still, I had not yet really grasped how special the Pope was - neither in terms of the office nor the man holding it. I was fortunate enough to score a ticket to the Papal Mass in St. Louis, and I will never forget a certain line that stuck out in that homily. I recreate it here as best as I can from memory:

Our Christian life can be seen as a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father that passes through the door that is Jesus Christ. The keys to that door are repentance and conversion; the strength to pass through that door comes from our faith and our hope and our love.

I was awestruck, by the beauty of the image itself, but also because I was to be giving a talk on a college retreat in a few weeks, the subject of which was Christian Living. I rewrote my talk based on this line, and from that time on, I had a special devotion to the Holy Fatherís teachings.

Over the next couple year, I read some of his writings. The most important of these was Evangelium Vitae. I had been somewhat involved with pro-life work, but reading his exhortation to love - to respect, yes, but more than that, to love, cherish and protect - life was a jolt to me and a call to do more.

In 2000, by pure grace, I was able to go to Rome for the Jubilee World Youth Day. Rome was incredible, but what struck me most was the Mass at Tor Vergata. If I recall correctly, there were about 2 million people there, and it was the first time I ever experienced that kind of event: millions of people gathered together to worship.

I continued looking to the Holy Father for guidance in my Christian life. One of the ways I figured out I wasnít called to be a priest was by reading Gift and Mystery. It was beautiful and inspiring, but not in a way I felt called to imitate.

I read some more and found that he continually exhorted the youth and families to ďBecome what you are.Ē He was trying to help us to see the potential for sanctity that is in each of us, and indeed was teaching us that the best way to truly be ourselves is to be saints, to act as always as images of God, which is how we are created. For families, the way to do this is to live like the Trinity we are called to mirror.

And then , in 2002, I met a woman. This was a woman who I had known for three years. In fact, the first time I met her was on that retreat in 1999 for which the Pope had given me guidance. Indeed, this was a woman I had prayed with in front of abortion clinics during 2000 and 2001, as I tried to follow the teachings and exhortations of Evangelium Vitae. This woman had even traveled with my same pilgrimage group to Rome in 2000 for World Youth Day where we joined millions of other youths in praying with JP2.

All of this we had shared, but in April of 2002, I truly met her. And over the next few months, as we got to know each other more and more, I realized where were headed. Here I found guidance again from John Paul II. I started to listen to a set of Christopher West tapes, where he explained the Holy Fatherís teachings on Marriage and the Body. I learned that God intended our bodies to be used to glorify Him. I learned that marriage was the first sacrament, before all the others, and that it is truly a good path to heaven. I opened Love and Responsibility and learned that persons are beings to whom to the only proper response is love. The Holy Father was guiding me, teaching me, and helping me become a better man, so that I could love my wife better.

In July of 2002, we again traveled to see the Holy Father for World Youth Day, this time in Canada, and this time as a couple. I feel so blessed that my wife shares my love for the Pope, and this was a special moment for us to share as we were growing closer and confirming in our hearts that indeed we were called to join ourselves to each other.

13 months later, our wedding came, and for our invitation, we chose a quote from The Jewelerís Shop: Love can be a collision in which two selves realize profoundly they ought to belong to each other.

Ever since 1999, the Pope was my guide, my teacher, my spiritual director, my father, indeed my friend. To all this I can add that he led me to my vocation, to my spouse. Because of Pope John Paul II, I can love my spouse better; I am a better husband and father because of his teachings, and indeed, I believe that his teachings and influence in our lives led us to each other. Christ of course was the impetus of it all, but the Holy Father, vessel that He was for the Holy Spirit's work, brought Christ to us in a special way.

When I heard of his passing I wept. Joyful as I was that now he was on the final leg of his own pilgrimage to the Fatherís house, I still wept, because I knew then that I had lost a friend whom I will see no more in this life.

And yet, once the tears were shed, indeed, before they were shed, I knew that in losing this guide, teacher, director, father and friend, I had gained a patron. As in his earthly life, he stressed the importance of personally meeting Christ in prayer, so in heaven I know he will continue to teach Christians how to encounter Him. I look forward to continuing to receive assistance in my Christian life from Pope John Paul the Great.

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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on April 9, 2005 10:18 PM.

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