Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pope John Paul II, Divine Mercy, and a life ring....

It's been three years since Pope John Paul II passed this world and it goes back to a time before I ever knew Assumption Grotto existed. The Pope's passing was a life-changing event for me. My career had become my "god" and even though I went to Mass every Sunday, I wasn't really there. I had been on Medical since January 1st with a strange asthmatic condition and was hitting spiritual bottom after starving my spiritual life and even feeding my soul the wrong things.

I began to watch the coverage that week and the Saturday on which he passed, I was moved to go to a nearby parish near my suburban home which had a small outdoor shrine to the Blessed Mother. I lit a candle for him. When I lit that candle I noticed people in line for confession in the main church and went in. I realized how shallow it was to just light a candle for the pope when I hadn't stepped into a confessional in two years. I knew nothing of Divine Mercy and the long confession lines associated with it.

About 20th in line, I sat down and said to the lady next to me, "Gee, the Pope dying sure has moved a lot of people to come to confession".

She replied, "It's Divine Mercy Saturday - a big confession day".

I was perplexed because I had not heard of it before. I now know that an act of mercy was extended to me, perhaps by the prayer of some unknown person who offered it up for the conversion of sinners. A life-ring dropped in front of me, and I grabbed hold of it.

It wasn't until this Divine Mercy Sunday that it hit me: I turned back to God not only on the day the Pope died, which is what I attributed my conversion to. I turned back to God on a feast day that was unknown to me, but for which Pope John Paul II was responsible for bringing to full fruition.

Miracles do happen and only I know the private hell I was in before I was led out of that abyss. A few weeks later, as I lay pondering how to get re-oriented, I recall feeling like a ship in disrepair and in need of a port with solid specialists. I recall the pain of sensing that I had been taught some of the wrong things over the years - by priests and nuns even, and pleaded with God to help me to find someone who could put me on the right path. I didn't need another priest to tell me how much God loved me because that is basically all I had heard much of my life. I needed a priest who would teach me how to love God back!

A couple weeks later, I was guided to Fr. Perrone at Grotto through an email by the Mother Superior of a nearby Carmelite convent, after discussing my interest in John of the Cross. I had explored the work over 20 years ago, but set it aside and felt drawn back into it now. Father is a secular Carmelite and the spiritual director of secular Carmelite community. Mother felt I should check it out and that is one of the things that led me to google Assumption Grotto. I walked through the doors for the very first time on Pentecost of 2005. I have been there ever since. I have not only one priest who teaches me how to love God back, but many as the catechetics fly from the pulpit each and every Mass of every Sunday.

And, lay people - ordinary parishioners, have been helpful, as well. It is the difference between being in a Catholic community that wants to understand the teachings of the church to follow them, as opposed to being in a Catholic community with folks that want to change the teachings. Everyone was creating their own idea of what the Catholic Church should be and that is what was mind-boggling. The truth can't be what 5 different people want it to be.

It took months for me to see why I had been so disoriented. I not only lacked catechesis, I had things pretty messed up. The Butterfly & Me catechism of my youth just didn't do the job. By the mercy of God, I was able to see the truth and was given the graces to make the changes accordingly. I have never felt more whole since aligning myself fully with the teachings of the Church once I began to understand them. It was a slow and painful process. But, as the disorientation left, pain was replace by joy.

There's one more interesting thing here. I had looked at my watch when I lit that candle for Pope John Paul II. The next day I learned that I had lit that candle at the time of his death, almost to the minute.

If you have a conversion story of some kind involving Pope John Paul II or Divine Mercy, feel free to share it in the combox.

Santo subito!

Fr. Z has a good photo story up on a Rosary led by some well-known prelates near the tomb of Pope John Paul II.

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