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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  Hebrews 12:1

I love being Catholic in November. I like to think of this as the month that the Church reminds us that we’re not alone. Those who went before us are still, in a very real way, with us. We can pray for them. And, once they have entered into glory, they can and do surround us and see us and pray for us.

We think of the saints, rightly, as role models. They have walked in our shoes. They’ve faced trial and temptation and suffering, just as we do, and they have finished the race.  But sometimes, we stop there. We can emulate them, we can ask them to pray for us. But the relationship is pretty one-sided. It’s us looking up to them — literally and figuratively.

But I have found that there’s a lot more to it. The saints want to do more than just passively wait for us. They want to be part of our lives. They want a much more direct, two-way relationship.

A couple of years ago, I told you the story about how my friend, the late Father Michael Scanlon, TOR, reached out in a very real, concrete way to let me know that he is praying for me. That incident was stunning in its clarity. It left me no doubt that he, although no longer in this world, is aware of and interested in what is happening in my life, and that through his prayers he has become an active participant.

This November, I want to tell you about a different and somewhat more subtle experience I had.

Everyone who knows me knows about the tremendous impact St. John Paul II had on me. His Theology of the Body quite literally derailed my life. After I discovered it during my senior year of college, I was determined to share its message as widely as I could. Which turned out to be far wider than I could have ever imagined. Instead of marrying and having children, I spent the next 20 years traveling around the world, speaking on the Holy Father’s vision of love and marriage. I earned a Master’s degree from the program he founded, the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. I wrote two books based on his message.

I never really met him during that time. We spoke at the same events a couple of times. But while I eagerly listened to every word of his addresses, he was not sitting in the audience during mine. I “met” him during a papal audience once, but he was very ill and it was kind of a “department store Santa Claus” set up where we had our pictures taken with him, but no real introduction or conversation happened. I was told at one point that he knew who I was and was familiar with my work. But that’s about as close as we ever got.

Nine years after his death, I traveled to Rome for his canonization. The way that trip came about was really nothing short of miraculous and gave me the distinct impression that “somebody” wanted me there.

While in Rome, I was praying one day at the church of Santo Spirito, the Divine Mercy shrine. It’s a beautiful place, with a side chapel with a large, beautiful picture of St. John Paul II. While I was praying there, I suddenly had what I can only describe as an awareness of his presence. I felt, as strongly as ever, my love for this man who so beautifully radiated Christ. And I heard, in my heart, his deep Polish voice saying “Now I choose you.” I knew, I just knew, that he was telling me that he knew me, and that he was choosing me to be his spiritual daughter — to pray for me, and to help lead me to Christ.

I wept. A lot. It was beautiful.

Could it have been my imagination? Sure. But I don’t think so. And even it if was, I know what St. Paul told us — that our departed brothers and sisters in Heaven are not far from us. They surround us. And thus, the man who influenced my life so profoundly is still real and still present and active in the world, and in my life.

This is not just about me. He influenced thousands of us — perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands. I’m sure many others have had similar experiences, and many others would if they remained silent long enough to hear him

All of us who were touched by his life are his spiritual children, and they are my spiritual siblings.

And what do we do when we’re family? We celebrate important milestones together, of course. And there’s a big one coming up. My spiritual father’s birthday is coming up. St. John Paul II was born on May 20th, 1920. Next year will be his big 1-0-0. And I want to celebrate it. With all of you.

I will be leading a pilgrimage to Poland, “In the Footsteps of St. John Paul II,” next May. We will visit the major sites of his life, and those of other Polish saints like Maximilian Kolbe and St. Faustina. And, best of all, will be in Krakow, the center of so much of St. JPII’s life in Poland, on the date of his 100th birthday.

I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For me, and for everybody who loved him.

I would very much like you to join me. If you’d like to learn more, go to https://rtijourneys.com/in-the-footsteps-of-st-john-paul-ii.

Because family should be together on special occasions.

Featured image by Lucía Ballester/CNA

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

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When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!