Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 11, 2005
Contemplate Christ's face
The white tornado found peace, guidance in praying the rosary
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
From the first year of his papacy, John Paul II set an almost inhuman pace; his entourage began calling him the 'white tornado.' Even towards the end, in the millennium year 2000, although now stricken with Parkinson's disease, he exhibited such diplomatic dexterity on a visit to the Holy Land that one admiring Israeli official was reported to have said that this was a man who could walk between the raindrops without getting wet.
What is not always appreciated about the Holy Father is that he had a mystic temperament, an iron will, and a tremendous ability to concentrate. He prayed for hours each day.
I would like to share a few reflections with you on the spirituality and prayer of the Holy Father.
Every five years a bishop is supposed to go to Rome for an ad limina (a visit to the tombs of Peter and Paul) to meet with the pope, various members of the Curia and make a report on his diocese. It's not really a business meeting or event but, more properly, a religious pilgrimage and meeting of brothers.
A personal note
For me personally, the highlight of my first ad limina was celebrating the Eucharist with the Holy Father in his private chapel early one morning. Emotionally, I was really keyed up for this experience, I didn't sleep much the night before. However, it turned out quite different than I had expected.
Upon entering the papal chapel, I was struck by the fact that the pope was already at his kneeler deep in prayer. After a lengthy period of silence, he finally stood up, acknowledged our presence, vested and began the liturgy.
I was so excited to be celebrating with the pope that I just couldn't concentrate on what was going on and my mind was wandering all over the place - for example, "I got to get a picture of this!" until I heard him say: "Let us pray." The silence grabbed me, rooted me in the present reality and I noted that he was immersed in deep prayer. I, finally, was also moved to pray.
Instead of a homily, he sat down and again prayed. After getting over my initial disappointment, which was considerable, I too began to pray.
We began to follow the same pattern through the rest of the liturgy, wherever there was an opportunity to pray privately, he did and so did I.
Finally, the liturgy concluded but proper protocol dictates that you don't leave the chapel until the pope does. Of course, he returns to his kneeler and prays silently. So do the rest of us. Finally he finishes his prayer, exits and we form a procession and proceed to leave the chapel. In the midst of this one of my fellow bishops elbowed me and says, "I haven't prayed so much for so long."
To which I responded, "Yes, I know what you mean and I think that was his point. If he is to be a good pope, he has to be a man who contemplates the face of Jesus and if we are to be good bishops we must do the same."
"To contemplate the face of Jesus" was a repeated refrain of the Holy Father's teaching and clearly evidenced in his own life.
"Totus Tuus," was his official motto. He wished to indicate that: "The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness.
"No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she "wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manager."
From that point in time onward Mary's gaze would never leave him.
At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: "Son, why have you treated us so."
It would also be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana.
At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the cross, where her vision would still be that of a mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple.
On the morning of Easter, hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring every word: "She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart."
Pope John Paul II recently acknowledged that his favourite prayer, the rosary, has accompanied him in moments of joy and difficulty. To it, he has entrusted a number of his concerns, and in it he has always found comfort.
Comfort of the rosary
"It could be said that each mystery of the rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man. At the same time, it becomes natural to bring to this encounter with sacred humanity of the Redeemer all the problems, anxieties, labours and endeavours which go to make up our lives. 'Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.' To pray the rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and his Mother.
"Twenty five years later, thinking back over the difficulties which have also been part of my exercise of the Petrine ministry, I feel the need to say once more, as a warm invitation to every one to experience it personally: the rosary does indeed mark the rhythm of human life, bringing it into harmony with the rhythm of God's own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy Trinity, our life's destiny and deepest longing."
Contemplating the face of Christ through the various stages of his life, we come face-to-face with our own identity. Contemplating Christ's birth, we learn of the sanctity of life; seeing the household of Nazareth, we learn the original truth of the family according to God's plan; listening to the Master in the mysteries of his public ministry, we find the light that leads us to enter the kingdom of God; and following him on the way to Calvary, we learn the meaning of salvific suffering. Contemplating Christ in glory, we see the goal towards which we are called, if we allow ourselves to be healed by the Holy Spirit.
Contemplating the face of Christ, we form our own face.