Msgr. Michael K. Magee
The Challenge of Jesus Today

This year the Second Sunday of Easter – spanine Mercy Sunday – marked a milestone in my own life and in the lives of many others, some of whom will probably be reading this column. Among the members of the faithful who are recognized by the Church officially as saints and blesseds, there is now one whom many of us were privileged to have met personally: Blessed John Paul II. Even for those who did not meet him, he was a towering figure.

When he died just six years ago this spring, he was the only pope many younger Catholics had ever known, and for those of us who remembered his election, it was difficult to believe he was now gone from us.

It is rare for anyone to be beatified while so many people still have such fresh memories of him. And it is rather refreshing that many of the memories – while holy and good in their own way – are not images that exude the rarified atmosphere of “canned” holiness that would be typical of the pictures usually found on holy cards. {{more}}

There are memories of his appearing at the door of a hallway neighbor in a house where he was a guest, bearing a bottle of vodka and some glasses to share it. Or of his pleasant jokes with morning visitors to his private quarters after Masses to which they had been invited. Or of funny faces he made to amused visitors during one of the rare moments of leisure in the midst of the typical breakneck schedules of his pastoral visits.

There are even some memories of the limitations that were part of his humanity, just as they are of anyone else’s. Some might remember him as one who governed largely by virtue of his charisma while not exactly having a reputation for running the tightest ship in terms of administration.

Such down-to-earth moments, and whatever chinks might be found in his armor, are not merely endearing memories, they remind us that sainthood does not consist in a kind of perfection that people can only admire from afar. Rather, it is a way of life that is eminently human while being given over entirely to God and to others.

While he was a man of immense talents, the impact Blessed John Paul II had on the world was not due so much to the skills he possessed, but to the fact that he spoke to us as one who knew the Lord Jesus personally and intimately, and as the key to the meaning of all life.

My most treasured memory of him is of a morning in 1993 when I concelebrated Mass with him in his private chapel with a few other priests, including four priests from Philadelphia. It was awe-inspiring to walk through the bronze doors at the Vatican on the way to celebrating Mass with the Vicar of Christ.

But not nearly as awe-inspiring as it was to stand behind the pope moments later during the Mass as he focused on the Eucharistic mystery with an intensity so contagious that it caused us concelebrants to forget the Vicar himself and focus as he did upon One present in the sacred host he held in his hands.

Blessed John Paul, pray for us!

Msgr. Michael K. Magee is a faculty member at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood.