Touched by a Saint
In January 2001, I had the opportunity of greeting Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. I knelt before him for a few seconds, grasped his hand, received his blessing. I walked off the platform still in a daze. Had I really been blessed by the Pope?
As the Church would later confirm when it first beatified, then canonized John Paul II, I had not only been blessed by a pope, I had been touched by a saint.
In 2001, I was floored that I had been able to meet John Paul II. I was excited and grateful. Over time, I began reflecting more on the significance of that encounter, apart from checking something exciting off my bucket list and having a neat story to tell.
I had been touched by a saint. What did that really mean?
It meant that sanctity was a reality. In real time. I could no longer associate holiness only with far off stories of medieval Europe, or martyrdom and imprisonment. Holiness exists in the world today, in people we can come in contact with. People with likes and dislikes, struggles and hopes.
It meant that I felt challenged. I felt personally connected with someone who had responded to God’s call to journey closer to him. God relentlessly pursues mankind, faithfully, eternally. Some individuals respond by relentlessly pursuing God. They are called saints. Coming in contact with one of them stirred within me the awareness that I too should be relentlessly pursuing God.
It meant that I had to figure out what holiness actually means. Holiness isn’t something we can accomplish or produce. We can open our hearts to it, but we cannot command it. I finally found a description of holiness that resonates with me (thank you, Benedict XVI!), and that I return to from time to time:
Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness. (…)Consequently, it is not the fact that we have never erred but our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness which makes us saints. And we can all learn this way of holiness. (Pope Benedict XVI Jan 31, 2007).
I appreciate Benedict XVI’s emphasis on the importance of ongoing conversion and forgiveness. Holiness is not something we attain, but a way of life that we strive for anew every day.
It meant that life would be OK. I was 15 when I met Pope John Paul II; he was 80. His wrinkled hand, blessing my forehead, caressing my cheek, was the same hand that had rescued a starving 13 year old Jewish girl during the holocaust. John Paul II saw more of life than most of us ever will. He understood human experience, deeply, and he lived in hope. Without knowing what my own life would have in store, as I clasped that hand, I instinctively knew that life was worth living.
Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us.
Ellen Mady lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where she spends her time working for the local Church and raising her three crazy and adorable children. She enjoys writing on faith and family topics when she has some downtime in the evenings.