"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, April 02, 2007

St. John Paul

Pope John Paul II fell asleep two years ago today. In his case, Pope Benedict, his long-time Number Two, waived the usual five-year waiting period for opening the "cause" for canonization. The first phase of the process is now over: we have the miracle. See this widely-circulated story about Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a French nun cured of Parkinson's disease by the intercession of the late pope who, in the present pope's words, had been gradually "stripped of everything" by that very disease.

I have no doubt that John Paul the Great is in heaven aiding the Church by his prayers. And I thought so before I heard of the good sister's naturally inexplicable cure. Here's why.

A week or so after the Pope died, my then-parish conducted a "memorial Mass" for him. I walked into the church for that about twenty minutes before it started. On the altar rail they had mounted a fairly large portrait of the late pope and decked it with picked flowers. It was clearly a copy, either of an original oil or a photograph, but I had never seen it before anywhere, and have not seen either copy or original since. Technically it seemed unremarkable. But I was immediately riveted by the eyes—far more so than I had been when I looked into them in person at Yankee Stadium in November 1979, and more so than by those of any other representation of his face.

In fact, I felt the way a cat might feel that had been grabbed by the scruff of the neck and was about to be given a good talking-to, face to face. But he didn't have to say anything. I did.

I said: "I'm sorry, Holiness. Help me to be what you know I ought to be." I said it sotto voce, without deliberation or forethought. I was certain, serenely, that it came from the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, I became certain that the great man knew what I meant and had somehow been expecting to hear it from me. From then on, despite some truly awful days, I have not come nearly as close to despair as I had done a few years earlier, sunk deep in depression. I gained the confidence that I would eventually fulfill my mission, sustained by the prayers not only of those on earth who love me, but by the great "cloud of witnesses" who already behold the Lord's glory. Of course I felt that way. Didn't he, fearless before the Soviet Empire he helped to bring down, always say "Be not afraid?" And had he not suffered even more than I?

He, more than anyone, made be proud to be Catholic. And it looks like Rome won't take so long to catch up with the cult of this saint.
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