Sunday 1st May - In an hour of need

Just when I thought everything was going wrong again, I read this. I found it to be a wonderfully heart-warming and humbling story. I wish I was able to appreciate him more when he was alive.


This is an article from several months ago, but it seems timely to repost it on the eve of the Beatification. Blessed John Paul II, ora pro nobis!

I listened the toLighthouse Media CD of Dr. Scott Hahn delivering an address on the beauty and nature of the Sacrament of Confession. In his talk, Dr. Hahn relayed one of the grandest stories I have heard in quite some time. Please forgive my own recollection of it. The facts are accurate, but the manner in which I relay it could never rival Dr. Hahn’s own oration. To hear him deliver the story, check out the Lighthouse Media CD.
A priest friend of Scott Hahn's had returned from Rome and told Mr. Hahn this story. The priest was on his way to a private audience with the Pope but was running early. He thus decided to stop in a church to pray before his meeting. On the steps of the church were a number of beggars, something fairly common in Rome. As he approached the church, the priest thought that he recognized one of the beggars. After entering the sanctuary he knelt down to pray, whereupon he remembered how he knew the man. The priest immediately rushed out and approached the familiar beggar exclaiming, “I know you. Didn’t we go to seminary together?”
The man gave a humble affirmative.
“So you are a priest then?” he said to the beggar.
The man replied, “Not anymore. I fell off the deep end. Leave me alone.”
The priest mindful of his approaching appointment with the Holy Father, said nothing more than, “I’ll pray for you.”
The familiar man replied, “A lot of good that will do.”
With that, the priest left the man on the steps and departed for his meeting. These sorts of meetings with the Pope are typically very formal. There are any number of people who have been granted a private audience at the same time, and when the Holy Father makes his way around to you, his secretary hands him a blessed rosary, and he in turn hands it to you. At this point, one would probably kiss the Pope’s ring and say something heartfelt, yet almost generic, such as asking him to pray for you, telling him you are praying for him, or thanking him for his service to the Church. However, when Pope John Paul II approached, the priest couldn’t help himself and blurted out, “Please pray for my friend.” Not only this, but the priest continued to blurt out the entire story. The Holy Father, looking concerned, assured the priest that he would pray for his friend.
Later that day, the priest received a letter from the Vatican. Excited and curious, he rushed with the letter back to the church where he last saw his classmate. Only a few beggars were left, and as luck (or grace) would have it, his friend was among the few. He approached the man and said, “I have been to see the Pope, and he said he would pray for you as well.”
The man listened.
“There’s more. He has invited you and me to his private residence for dinner.”
“Impossible,” said the man, “Look at me. I am a mess. I haven’t showered in God knows how long, and my clothes ...”
Sensing the gravity of the situation (and understanding that this man was his admission ticket to have dinner with the Pope), the priest said, “I have a hotel room across the street where you can shower and shave, and I have clothes that will fit you.”
By the grace of God, the man agreed, and so the two of them were off to have dinner with Pope John Paul II.
The hospitality was wondrous. Near the close of dinner, just before dessert, the Holy Father motioned to the priest who didn’t understand what the Pope was trying to say. Finally, the secretary explained, “He want us to leave,” at which point the priest and the secretary left the Holy Father alone with the beggar.
After fifteen minutes, the man emerged from the room in tears.
“What happened in there?” asked the priest.
The most remarkable and unexpected reply came.
“He asked me to hear his confession,” choked the beggar.
After regaining composure, the man continued, “I told him, ‘Your Holiness, look at me. I am a beggar. I am not a priest.’
“The Pope looked at me and said, ‘My son, once a priest always a priest, and who among us is not a beggar. I too come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness of my sins.’ I told him I was not in good standing with the Church, and he assured me that as the Bishop of Rome he could reinstate me then and there.”
The man then relayed that it had been so long since he had heard a confession that the Pope had to help him through the words of absolution.
The priest asked, “But you were in there for fifteen minutes. Surely the Pope’s confession did not last that long.”
“No,” said his friend, “But after I heard his confession, I asked him to hear mine.”
The final words spoken by Pope John Paul II to this prodigal son came in the form of a commission. The Holy Father gave the newly-reconciled priest his first assignment: to go and minister to the homeless and the beggars on the steps of the very church from where he just came.
The only words I can add to the incredible story are this: what a humble example we have in Pope John Paul the Great. Here is a man that was able to see not only Jesus Christ, but also the Priesthood of Christ, in the eyes of a fallen-away beggar. Not only that, but he bowed before the beggar in humility with full awareness of his own sinfulness. In doing so, the Pope gave the man the opportunity to perform the only priestly act that was immediately available to him.
As a closing remark, it is said that Pope John Paul II went to confession every week. Would that we follow this example, how many of us would be saints.


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