Wednesday, October 21, 2015

An Emotional Moment With St. John Paul II

One of the perks of being an altar server was that I could get very close to various relics that the rector would bring on certain feast days of the Church. One such moment was on the day they announced that John Paul II was beatified. I had walked into the Shrine for our typical Wednesday evening Mass when I saw a new reliquary on the altar. Walking up to it, I saw the name: Ioannes Paulus PP. II. I asked the priest about it and he explained how he came into possession of the first class relic. He and another priest had been in Rome years earlier and there is a custom of giving the pope a new zuchetto - he will take his old one off and give it to you as you pass him the new zuchetto. They did just this and it wasn't until later at the hotel when his friend noticed that there were several of the pope's hairs embedded in the material of the zuchetto! Forward thinking that he was, he carefully removed the hairs and preserved them, knowing deep in his heart that one day we'd have Pope St. John Paul II on the liturgical calendar, which we do now (October 22). So, the hairs were placed in reliquaries and one was given to the priest at the Shrine.

When he announced at the end of Mass that he had this relic, I could hear a gasp from someone in the crowd behind me. As I cleaned up the altar after Mass, every time I passed by the altar - after genuflecting at the tabernacle - my eyes were glued to that gold/grey hair in that reliquary. Finally I asked the priest, "Is it ok if I venerate his relic?" to which the priest said it was ok. We both walked to the altar and he handed the relic over to me. As I gazed at it, thinking about the great man from which it came, I stood frozen in time. My marriage had ended. Every day was in pain and misery, and if I wasn't crying, I was eating until I couldn't move. This "Pope of the Family", this great man who penned the "Theology of the Body", which I had tried to incorporate into my marriage...here was his relic in my hands. And I had failed my family, my marriage. What should I say? What could I say? Did he already know? I imagined his kind face and his strong eyes. In my imagination, I could see him, not saying a word, but gently closing his eyes and slowly nodding his head, as if he already knew the pain and anger I felt in my heart. In the deepest recesses of my broken heart, I could barely muster a wimpy and silent, "Please pray for me," as I kissed the relic. Not wanting to let it go, I sighed a deep and everlasting sigh and handed it back to the priest, never to see it again for he never brought it back to the Shrine between then and his departure for a new parish.

As I now gaze at the icon of St. John Paul II on my wall, I think back to that time when in front of Our Lord at the altar, I could imagine spiritually gazing into the eyes of this great saint and, without saying a word, longed to hear his words in my heart: "Be not afraid," but afraid is all I've become. Please pray for me, St. John Paul...