Let Me Go To The House Of The Father
During the "Year of 3 Popes", I was 10 and well on my way to Catholic indifference. As a family we were not always attending Mass together and I, certainly, never went alone. A few short years later, in 1980, I would make my last Individual Confession before a priest. It would be April 2, 2005 before I would approach a Confessional again. A gap of separation nearly as long as a Pontificate
This week, we commemorated the anniversary of the death of Servant of God, Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.
I remember in 1978 it seemed that every day I'd walk past a newspaper and a Pope was dead. An exaggeration, sure, but when you are 10 and newsprint was still the dominent way many received their news twice a day (Minneapolis still had morning and afternoon papers in 1978), the large typeface headlines that the news publishers only used for big stories was important to note. Also, three Popes in one year was history. Even I, as removed as I was, seemed to be aware of that.
I remember in October 1978 my maternal Grandfather, who was from Poland, couldn't believe it. A Pole was Pope! My Grandfather had pretty much left the Church in the late-1960s. He still identified himself as Catholic and he could still pray the Pater Noster and other prayers in Latin or Polish but I never remember him in a Church. I'm thinking my Baptism in 1968 may have been the last time he was in a Catholic Church before his Funeral Mass in 1989. We have photos of him at my Baptism. My cousins were not raised Catholic at all. By the time my brother came along in 1971 the liturgies and Sacramental formulas were often too far gone for Grandpa to even remotely stand it. He'd stay home.
Whenever, Pope John Paul II was on TV, Grandpa had to turn up the TV and ask (ok, bellow! LOL!) for silence so he could hear what was going on.
Pope John Paul II is often, on the Catholic online forums we have today, given credit for increases in vocations, for bringing many people to the Faith (esp. young people), for beginning a "Renaissance" period in Holy Church. I'm sad that a Polish Holy Father was not enough of a lure to entice my Grandfather back to Church. It just occurred to me that I should have a Mass said for my Grandfather. Thank you, Angel, for reminding me.
Unfortunately, during the active Pontificate of John Paul II, other than some gratitude that he was Polish and ecumenical (which was a big part of the dissident movement I was in for much of my life), I had no respect for him. I thought he was crazy to forgive his shooter. I felt he was misogynist and completely out of touch. If only he would listen to me and write a mandate giving me everything I wanted instead of reiterating as Truth what I could not bring myself to accept.
I look now and wonder then what? If the Holy Father gave me what I wanted, if he had that power, would that have deepened my horrifically weak spirituality? Would it have caused me to pray more? Love others more? Attend Mass regularly?
In all honesty: No.
I see this all, clearly, now.
The Holy Father is the Holy Father. He's here to shepherd Christ's Church. I'm a member of Christ's Church but I'm not the fullness of the Church in and of myself. What I want is irrelevent. What is best for me in the context of Faith is meaningless. I am nothing. The Church is all. The Faith is everything.
Somehow in the waning years of his Pontificate the New Evangelization he asked for was reaching me in the darkness. I couldn't avoid the conservative "wackos" online who were my age and were actually buying "this stuff" Wait a minute, there are people younger than me who think that old white guy in the Vatican is "cool"? Cute young guys WANT to be priests? Huh?
I decided to see for myself what all the hubbub was about. Not so I could learn and understand so much as to learn enough about it so I could expose it as the pack of lies that I was sure it was. I picked up a copy of the Fides et Ratio and Veritatis Splendor. I read them both. I bought a Catechism and thumbed thru it.
That old sneak, that Polish jokester, he fooled me, he tricked me! I sounded like the demons in Scripture crying out in useless defiance just before they fell to the power of the Lord.
It was I who was defeated.
I don't know what happened. I still don't know what happened.
Gradually, the lights came on. It was not overnight.
I remember being deeply moved by the Holy Father's journey away from us. As someone who'd experienced the slow deaths of my Mom and my brother I believed with all my soul (and still do) that it is important that their humanity be respected. Just because their bodies are broken does not necessarily mean their minds are gone. It definitely doesn't mean their hearts are gone.
I remember getting really angry at the folks who were calling for the Holy Father to just go away somewhere and die. They wanted him to step down. They didn't think anyone should have to see "that" on TV. It was cruel to expect the Holy Father to continue on.
I recall getting really angry at this kind of talk. I had to ask myself: why? Beyond my personal experiences why was I so mad? Did I, perhaps, think there was more to this Papacy "gig" than denying me what I wanted?
I watched the "Way of the Cross" on EWTN. I'm sure many of you did as well. Who can forget the visual of the Holy Father watching the Stations on the TV in his apartment and then struggling to his feet and embracing the Cross? I just bawled. I'm crying now even trying to write this paragraph.
A few days later on April 2, 2005, I was at the gym working out when the news came out that the Holy Father had just died. His last words were reportedly "Pozwólcie mi odejść do domu Ojca”, (“Let me go to the house of the Father”).
I left the gym and went straight to what is now my current parish where I already knew they offered Confessions in the afternoons on Saturday. I'd been circling the parish many times, attended Mass a few times, thought about going back to Confession but was afraid to do it.
I went to the house of the Father and received Absolution for the first time in 15 years. Realization came too late for my Grandfather but his Grand-daughter was not going to make the same mistakes. Oddly, my Grandfather's last words to me were: "Don't make mistakes like I did" I had no idea what he was talking about then and just chalked that up to his hallucinations.
I feel like I owe Pope John Paul II something. An apology certainly. Respect definitely. Love, yes, love.
I love you, Holy Father and I thank you.