Yesterday’s canonization of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II took me back ten years to September 9, 2004 when I stood in a private audience with then-Pope John Paul II. It wasn’t just me, of course. I was with 4,000 other pilgrims who had traveled to Rome for the dedication of the Schoenstatt Marian Shrine, Matri Ecclesiae, located in Belmonte, Italy, just a short jog from the Vatican. As part of the pilgrimage, we met with the Holy Father in the courtyard of Castel Gondolfo, to present the Shrine to him as the Movement’s gift to the Church and to listen to his words of wisdom for us..
He had many wise words for us, among which were these:
“This is my wish for all of you…, that supported and comforted by the motherly
protection of Mary, we would be able to contemplate with new eyes the face of Christ
and that we would decisively walk on the path of goodness…”
By the time of our audience with him, John Paul II was already becoming frail. Somewhat stooped, he mustered his strength and attention so that he could look at us – all of us – as they wheeled him onto the platform.
And look he did. We could see him lovingly, slowly, scanning the crowd, taking in the faces the voices, and the love that we had for him. When I compared notes later with others who’d stood with me in the courtyard, I discovered that they had the same impression that I had had. “He seemed to be looking directly at me, right into my eyes.”
Of all of the impressions from that trip, that is the one that’s most deeply embedded into my mind and heart. I felt as though JPII and I were making eye contact and for a split second, it felt as though I was the only one standing before him.
I’ve been re-cherishing that gift as the canonization preparations and celebration have unfolded. Over and over again, I’ve been repeating to myself, “I looked into then eyes of a saint.” I’m grateful for that marvelous moment but even more so for the way JPII reflected to heavenly Father for me.
In my many years educating young couples with my husband, we’ve done our best to pound into their heads that the father of the family is for his children a reflection of the heavenly Father for his children. The way a child sees his natural father is the way he’ll see his heavenly Father. That’s a huge responsibility!
I thought about that when I was at Castel Gondolfo, looking up a the Holy Father as he looked back at us. He was in every way but biologically the father of a family – the Church – and his pride and joy in his children was completely apparent.
It’s St. John Paul II’s fatherly gaze and demeanor that I’ll carry forward with me as I pray to him, honor him, and ask his intercession. I’ll try my best to live the advice he gave to the Scboenstatt Family in 2004 and contemplate with new eyes the face of Christ. Through JPII’s prayers, and God’s grace, I’ll be able to walk on the path of goodness.