Monday, May 2, 2011

Blessed John Paul II And Us

The joy of yesterday remains in my heart today.

Yesterday was a tremendous affirmation of the mystery of the communion of saints. In the world, it seems that when a human being dies, he or she ceases to exist. It is the end. There is memory, legacy, and perhaps artifacts of the person's life. But the person ceases to be present. The possibility for a relationship with the person, it seems, ends with death.

But the Saints are alive.

It was clear, yesterday, that John Paul II is more alive today than he was when he walked the earth. What did one and a half million people come to Rome to see? What were millions more looking for as they watched on television or the internet?

Would so many millions convene in one place simply to remember a dead man?

No. They came to witness the living Church, in a solemn ceremony, acknowledge the conviction that this man lives, sharing in the glory of God, and that he remains united with us in love and in the power of prayer.

He was a man whose life was imbued with prayer, defined by prayer, and now--in glory--he is transformed into a continual prayer that implores the mercy of God upon the whole world, and upon all those who call on him and ask his intercession. We have a great-souled, powerful, and intimate friend who lives with God, in union with Jesus Christ. And he brings Christ closer to us; through him Christ reaches us in a more concrete, more particular way--especially those of us whose lives he changed forever by his teaching and witness.

When I was 23 years old, and deeply immersed in the mental suffering that I have since recognized to be a chronic illness, I picked up the writings of John Paul II. I had read him before, many times. But here I read him with a anguished, searching heart. And my heart recognized something in those words, and in the energy of the man who had written them. It was as if everything he said shined with an implicit but unmistakable truth: "God loves you. God loves every human person. God wants to draw particularly close to every human person in this time, in this age when so many have forgotten Him. God wants to glorify His mercy. Do not be afraid."

"Every person matters. Every person, absolutely every human person has been created by God and is loved by God. And that means that even you, John, are loved by God."

And I felt that I was loved, personally, by the man who wrote the words that I was reading. I "met" him in a dialogue of mind and heart, and through him, I met Jesus Christ in a new way--a way that has remained fundamental to my identity and my way of looking at life. I discovered Jesus not just as a subject for theological study but as a Person who is really there "on the other side" of my prayers, who loves me, who is active in my life and who enables me to love Him.

Ever after, as I walked with Christ on the road that John Paul II had pointed out to me, I thought of the pope as my friend. And when God's providence brought me to the one who was to be the companion on the road of my life--my wife Eileen--He saw to it that the two of us, at the beginning of our journey together, would meet John Paul II and receive his blessing.

But there was a surprise in meeting him. He came toward us, and I remember experiencing the same thing that so many others have spoken of: his personal attention, as if we were the only people in the world at that moment. And yet we also felt something else: his great suffering, his vulnerability, his own need to be loved.

It was a privileged moment. We hugged him and held him and cried out, "We love you, we love you." He needed to experience Christ's love through us, and I know that in that moment we strengthened him. He said very emphatically in English, "Thank you." And then we asked him to bless our marriage, and he traced the sign of the cross on our foreheads. A bond was established between him and us, and the family that God has fashioned out of our married life.

After he died, I felt no hesitation in speaking to him, and in entrusting myself and my family to his prayers. He has been close to us through all our difficulties and joys.

And now our relationship grows in a new way. We join with the praying Church when we call upon him. Our friendship is rediscovered in the great companionship of the communion of saints, and we now joyfully invoke the prayers and the protection of our friend Blessed John Paul II.

He still says the same thing: "Be not afraid. Jesus loves you."