[lz_jwplayer video=”y5pl0Us6″ ads=“true”]
While still a seminarian at the Legion of Christ’s Center for Higher Studies in Rome, I was at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II in May 1990. My parents visited from Michigan and we went together to the public rosary that the pope held on the first Saturday of every month.
Thanks to the help of the Rev. John Hopkins, LC, we had great seats right along the barricade where the pope would pass by. After the rosary, as the pope walked by, my mom asked, “Holy Father, could you please give us your blessing?”
The Holy Father’s eyes lit up with a smile as he said, “Sure!”
He blessed my mom and then turned to me. Putting his hand on my forehead, he turned to my mom and asked, “Is your son a priest?”
“Not yet, Holy Father,” she answered.
The pope looked into my eyes for a good three or four seconds and while putting his hand on my dad for a blessing, he said, “He will be a priest!”
This was an incredible experience for me, and I felt that Christ himself was pouring his love into my soul.
Needless to say, I have never doubted my vocation after hearing those powerful words.
Five years later in 1995 — again in the month of May — another opportunity arose. Still a seminarian at the time, I was attending a private Mass with the Holy Father, accompanied this time by my mom and my Aunt Lorna. My dad had passed away a year before.
As we entered the private chapel at 6:45 a.m., we were escorted to the front pew just a few feet away from the pope, who was still immersed in prayer. The experience of witnessing a man of God in prayer was one that I will not easily forget. He had his fists tightly clenched and his eyes were completely shut. I was amazed to see the pope truly battle in prayer. His hands were pounding against the kneeler and it seemed like he was really grappling with an issue.
After celebrating the Mass, the Holy Father went back to his kneeler, where he remained for 45 more minutes of prayer. When he finally came out to meet everyone in the reception parlor, there was a visible light and glow around his face, like Moses coming down from the mountain.
He radiated so much peace and joy with his smile and his kind words. When I looked into his eyes, I could only see the goodness and gentleness of Christ.
Prayer was clearly the secret to his radiance and he simply communicated the love of Christ that had just touched him during his conversation with Our Lord.
St. John Paul II was fully immersed in the present moment and gave himself totally to each person he met, despite the heavy weight of the world’s problems on his shoulders. He saw every encounter as sacred, and did not miss an opportunity to touch the hearts of those who crossed his path.
Here in New York City, one of our business leaders saw Pope Francis drive through Central Park this past fall as he was standing next to a woman holding her special needs child. As the pope passed by, he focused on this mother and child and went out of his way to smile at them and give them a special blessing.
He was fully present and on the lookout for exactly where God wanted him to be in each moment. It’s incredible how he can simply block out all of the noise and distractions to focus on those most in need, day after day.
One of the highlights of my childhood was hearing my dad’s gentle knock on my bedroom door at about 8 p.m. every night. I was usually at my desk, studying away for a test or doing a homework assignment, and my dad would come in to ask, “Michael, how are you doing?”
This was immediately followed by his warm smile, which transmitted a wave of love.
It was such a simple gesture, but his presence and heartfelt attention for those brief moments definitely made an impression.
Don’t waste time excessively pondering the past or wandering anxiously into the future. The spotlight of God is in the present moment. This is where he wants you to be, and this is where you will find your peace and fulfillment. This is what has tremendous power.
Prayer will help you see more clearly where God wants you to be and how he wants you to love. He will be there for tomorrow’s concerns or problems … don’t worry!
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.