With this morning's canonization of the popes John XXIII and John Paul II, I can lay claim to have met a saint. The proof is found in the picture above taken on my last visit to Rome following a Wednesday audience. I had been to Rome a number of other times, but the circumstances never panned out for a personal encounter. Even this time, with advance planning and the determination of the guys that I was travelling with, it was iffy. But we were determined, and the effort paid off. As you can see, the Holy Father was suffering the effects of his illness and was physically challenged. I got him following a long general audience. And yet his eyes were alert and his spirit was visibly alive. When I knelt before him I told him my name and my Diocese and country. I assured him of my love and prayers. He looked into my eyes and there was the hint of a smile and a nod of blessing. That was it ... but what an experience. I was honored and deeply moved, cherishing the moment quietly in my heart. The priest just ahead of me never stopped talking as he left, he was so full of excitement.
John XXIII I never met, and yet reading his autobiography "The Journal of a Soul" in my seminary days was an inspiration. His simplicity and ease in dealing with people was evident, and yet his actions and ministry as nuncio in difficult situations in major countries were far from simple or easy. Good Pope John was a delight.
But as Pope Francis declared these two as Saints of God, to be look up to, modeled, and inspired by, I reflect that there are many saints that I have had the blessing of meeting in my lifetime. Most of these saints were or are ordinary individuals who love God, seek to do his will and strive to be holy. I told the story this morning of a woman in the Blair County Home where we visited in the Seminary days on apostolic works efforts. I don't remember her name, but I remember her. She was a double amputee (both legs) and confined to a wheel chair. Every time we visited she was in the common room - knitting, teaching others, lifting spirit and smiling. There was always a deep sense of the love of Christ that radiated through her. We were there to cheer her spirits, but we were the ones truly blessed, cheered and inspired. One of countless examples of people of holiness and faith that I am sure are saints, even if not formally recognized.
Today is a day of celebrated two men of high leadership qualities who are also high in the inspiration business. But it is also a day of recalling our own call to holiness and to express deep gratitude for those who have crossed our paths and inspired.
Saint of God, come to our aid!