Thursday, April 2, 2020
Good Morning, Good Morning,
Today marks the 14th anniversary of the death of St. John Paul the Great. He is one of the great icons of the whirlwind of cultural changes in the Church. He survived both the German and Communist dominations of his homeland in Poland. As an academic he attained doctorates, Philosophy and Theology. In 1947, as a student at the Angelicum University in Rome, he met the great Padre Pio who as a phenomenal mystic told him that one day he would be Pope. As God would have it, Padre Pio was declared “Saint Pio of Pietrelcina” in 2002. The ceremony, held in St. Peter’s Square, was led by Pope John Paul II, the same Polish student he met in 1947.
He quickly rose in the ranks of the clergy and was consecrated a bishop at the age of 38. As Bishop and counselor at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) he influenced the documents on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. More on those stories another time.
And now, as the famed radio personality, Paul Harvey, would say… “The Rest of the Story.” In the Year 2000, while serving as Vocation Director for the Diocese of Arlington, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Calcutta, India to teach a class on Spiritual Theology to the Sisters of Charity, the very religious order founded by Mother Teresa. She herself died three years earlier. On the way to India I stopped in Rome for three days to touch up my notes for the class. In reality I was using the time change to adjust to a six hour difference from Virginia before dropping into Calcutta with an eleven hour difference.
An old friend of mine serving as rector of the North American College set me up on the top floor, in the Cardinal’s Suite. His name was Msgr. Tim Dolan. In the old days he worked at the offices of the Papal Nuncio, in Washington. He was stranger to the parties with the priests of Arlington. In welcoming me to Rome he said I should arrange to say Mass with the Pope, in his private chapel, on my return from Calcutta. All I needed was a letter with the diocesan letter head. Not possible. I couldn’t go home to get the proper stationary. So I had him copy one of my recommendation letters for an Arlington seminarian and cut off the top portion, with letter head, and copy it again. Voila, a fresh page for what I needed.
In short order I was coached on how to write the letter and set to paper my duties in Calcutta and as vocation director in the Diocese of Arlington. Arlington was well known for her Bishops and many seminarians. And finally I mentioned my duty as chaplain to the Catholic Medical Association in America. And to top it off I also added the name of my cousin Sheila, a student at the John Paul II Institute in Rome. As an RN with thee academic degrees from South Bend, Loyola in Chicago, and Catholic University, she assisted in some of the CMA statements of which I was involved. The CMA was well known for promoting the Catholic identity for doctors. The letter was submitted as I walked out the door to catch a plane to Zurich, followed by a plane to New Deli, and on to Calcutta. It was December 31 1999, I was over Afghanistan when the Millennium passed. The virus at the time was the Y2K (Year. 2000), and the world was concerned all computers would crash at midnight January 1st. We actually wondered if planes would fall from the sky due to computer failures.
Upon my return to Rome the future Cardinal of New York announced my invitation to join His Holiness in the private chapel the next day. Mass was slated for 7 AM. I called my cousin and announced our good fortune and asked her to meet me by the Swiss Guards at 6:30 sharp.
And that’s when all went south for us. It seems my name was on the guest list but not that of Sheila. I said, “Forget It.” “When Sheila’s mother finds out she was rejected she is going to call my mother and mother is going to call me and give me Holy Hell.” Well, the last epithet is what caught everyone’s attention. Quickly the word went out to the powers that be and the Pope’s assistant, Archbishop Stanisław Dziwisz, came down to see me. No one had ever rejected a chance to attend a private Mass with the Pope. He asked if Sheila was my sister. I said, “No, she’s my cousin and she is your student at the JPII in Rome.” With that we were in for the ride of our lives. Following the Mass we lined up for the formal greeting. When he spoke to Sheila and I he asked if we were American. To which the young energetic Canadian Benedictine to her left in line piped up and said, with a shrill, “No, Canadian.” His holiness took Sheila’s hand, looked up at me at the verbal intrusion and with a smile, adorned with raised his eyebrows, gave a nod. I returned the same. There is nothing like a nod between priests. What a day.
In yesterday’s letter I spoke on the statues of the church being covered for Holy Week. The crucifix is also covered. Fr. Heisler mentioned it was done to remove any distractions from the Lord and His steps to Calvary, His Death, and Resurrection. A young man wrote to me asking if the painting behind the altar should be covered. I said no, only the crucifix and statues. The beauty of the painting behind the altar at St. Francis De Sales Church is that it draws all of us into the great mystery of man’s encounter with the Trinity, with angels in abundance. It is the right template setting us together, even by internet, for Holy Week. God bless one and all. Let us pray for one another.