Like so very many people throughout the world, I sat with my eyes practically glued to the television these past several days watching and praying with and for Pope John Paul II.
Saturday afternoon I was sitting at the kitchen table at my parish in Effingham inserting reply cards into my ordination invitations, watching the news the all the while. I had been sitting there for a good two or three hours. I had heard the speculation throughout the morning and afternoon that perhaps the His Holiness had already died or perhaps slipped into a coma. When the scheduled bulletin on the Holy Father's condition was pushed back some forty-five minutes by the Vatican late in the morning I knew his condition must have become worse.
Somehow, even though I had watched the television for nearly two solid days waiting for the death of the Bishop of Rome, when he did die the news still came to my ears with great surprise and shock, as well as much sadness. I heard the news just as it was announced in Rome that the Pope was dead and my heart and spirit were deeply grieved.
I spent the next day and a half or so in a state of shock, confusion, and grief, never quite knowing what to do or to mourn the passing of so great a man, a man who has inspired my brother seminarians and I in ways that we do not even fully know.
I always imagined the death of the Pope would be an exciting time, one filled with the pomp and ceremony of the Church that I so much enjoy. A time to witness the great processions and prayers of the people of God. And, yes, a time to wait anxiously for the announcement of the new Supreme Pontiff.
The death of the Pope, though, was none of this, really. His death is one that fills me still today with deep sorrow and loss. I have come to realize that my love and affection for this man runs deeper than ever I knew.
On Monday morning I watched the ending of the private viewing and the transfer of his body in Basilica of St. Peter with fascination, recalling the month I spent in Rome last year and remembering speding much time in the Basilica. I recalled with great fondness the general audience in which we partook and sang "Ad multos annos, gloriosquae annos, vivas, vivas, vivas!" to the Holy Father and how he smiled at us with genuine appreciation and love as we sang. I remembered being in St. Peter's square three Sundays in a row for the Angelus. I recalled processing through St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday evenings for Solemn Evening Prayer with Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and seminarians from throughout the world.
As they brought John Paul's body through the doors of the basilica I wept for quite a long time, truly grieving the loss of a man who was a sort of father figure, a man who was a source of inspiration and comfort and encouragement.
His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, truly served the Church well. May he always be remembered for the father that he was and will continue to be to the Church.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen!
John Paul II, the Great, pray for us!