April 25, 2014

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Encounter with a saint led to a deepened relationship with Christ

Sean GallagherOn April 2, 1988, I was blessed more than I knew at the time to participate in the Easter Vigil liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

I was 17 at the time and was on a spring break tour of Italy with fellow members of the Latin Club at Shelbyville High School in Shelbyville.

That Saturday morning, a leader of a student group with us from a Catholic high school in Philadelphia offered extra tickets to the vigil that they had just received. I jumped at the chance to attend the Mass, even though I didn’t fully know at the time how important it is in the life of the Church.

Looking back on that day 26 years later, I realize now that participating in that profound liturgy had a tremendous effect on my life of faith. It was inspiring to worship and celebrate the joy of Christ’s Resurrection with so many people from around the world, to witness people from so many countries being baptized into the life of Christ that I shared and to do it all with Christ’s vicar on Earth, Blessed John Paul II.

At about 2 a.m., the four-hour Mass concluded and Pope John Paul processed down the main aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica. I was seated about halfway back from that aisle close to the barrier that separated it from the seats.

It was amazing to see people reach out their arms with such joyful enthusiasm toward the pope as he walked past them. I took photos of this happening as he came near me. Then I realized that maybe I should reach out, too. I did and Blessed John Paul reached out to me and shook my hand.

It wasn’t much of an encounter. I know priests who concelebrated Mass with him in his private chapel, and other people who met him and spoke with him.

Still, I’m proud to say that I’ve shaken hands with a saint.

On April 27, Pope Francis will solemnly declare Blessed John Paul and Blessed John XXIII saints in a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican that will likely number hundreds of thousands of people or more who are now descending on Rome.

Wherever Blessed John Paul traveled around the world, he was greeted in much the same way as he was after that Easter Vigil that I attended in 1988.

But when he spoke to those people, the pontiff pointed them not to himself, but to Christ. He was much more interested in them having an encounter with the Lord than with himself.

By the help of God’s grace, that has happened in my life in the 26 years since shaking hands with that saint. During that time, Christ led me to discern possible calls to the priesthood and religious life before I learned that he wanted me to love and serve him as a husband and father.

I’ve been married for almost 13 years. Each day of that time has given me opportunities to grow closer to Christ in the ordinary events of my everyday life with my wife, Cindy, and our five sons.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve let many of those chances pass me by. But, with the help of God’s grace, I’ve entered into enough of them to know that I’m closer to Christ now than I was before Cindy and I exchanged our wedding vows on June 9, 2001.

And I yearn that I—and especially Cindy and our sons—grow in our relationship with him even more in the years to come, not so much in peak moments like I experienced at St. Peter’s in 1988, but in our daily lives with each other.

This, I believe, is what Blessed John Paul II, Blessed John XXIII and Pope Francis would want for all us. †

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