The Gospel for this past Sunday began, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” Miracles and signs have not ceased since the time of Christ, in fact, on April 27 the Church celebrated the canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II – two men who have profoundly changed the lives of many and changed the course of history.
Two nights before the canonization, I was having dinner, and a priest approached me with a huge smile on his face and a look of pure joy in his eyes. He had noticed I was a bishop and wanted to tell me how happy he was that he was going to be able to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis at the canonization. He was actually ordained in 1957 by Pope John XXIII when he was the Archbishop of Venice. He showed me a black and white photo of his ordination and could not have been more overjoyed at the wonder of being able to celebrate the canonization.
My connection is with Pope John Paul II. I first had the chance to see him during a visit to Rome in 1983. Over the years, I was blessed to be able to meet him several times, first as a priest and later as a bishop. The most memorable time was World Youth Day in Denver when I assisted with three of the Masses he celebrated and the archdiocesan welcome ceremony.
When I arrived in Rome for the canonization, the air buzzed with the electricity of people from all over the world gathered for the celebration. I met a pilgrim group from Bergamo, the home of St. John XXIII, and ran into many Polish pilgrims. On Friday, I was surprised to learn that I was going to be concelebrating the canonization Mass. It was truly a blessing, and I was able to feel the closeness of Saint John Paul II as we celebrated the Eucharist.
For me, and for so many priests, sisters and laity, John Paul II was a spiritual father who drew me into the embrace of the Father, brought me closer to the Son and helped me know the love of the Holy Spirit. On the occasions when I was able to meet him, it was apparent that he was a true disciple of Jesus Christ, filled with Christ’s love and compassion. And in his declining years, he taught the world how to approach illness and death as a Christian.
Sunday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles echoed a theme of the Gospel reading, speaking about how “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.”
This experience of awe at the signs and wonders being done is something that is not a thing of the past. We know from the investigations done for the causes of John XXIII and John Paul II that miracles have happened through their intercession, and they continue to happen today.
In the case of John XXIII, the miracle involved the cure and ongoing health of Sister Caterina Capitani of the Daughters of Charity. In 1954 she discovered that her spleen and pancreas were not functioning well and had caused ulcerous tumors to develop on the lining of her stomach.
She ended up having her pancreas, spleen and almost all of her stomach removed, and after several months of suffering and the development of a fistula in her abdomen, she was expected to die. The sisters of her order insisted that she pray to Pope John XXIII, and in 1966 when she seemed near death, she had a vision of the pontiff.
He told Sr. Caterina: “You prayed to me very much. … You have really taken this miracle from my heart. But don’t be afraid now, you are healed. … I will hold my hand on your wound, and you will be healed.”
The postulator of Pope John Paul II’s sainthood cause said that thousands of miracles were reported, but the official miracles involved the cure of a French sister Simon Pierre Normand from Parkinson’s disease and the cure of Floribeth Mora Diaz of Costa Rica from a brain aneurysm.
The healing of Mora Diaz, a Costa Rican mother of four children, is striking because she discovered in April 2011 that she had a brain aneurysm and was told she had one month to live. She could have gone to Cuba or Mexico for surgery if she had the money, but her family did not. All they could do was pray.
Over the next month she turned to John Paul II, to whom she had a strong devotion. On May 1, 2011 she watched his beatification on TV and then fell asleep. A few hours later, she heard John Paul II’s voice, “Rise! … Do not be afraid.” She was filled with peace, “a peace that assured me I was healed.”
As I concelebrated at the canonization Mass, I felt the presence of both of them and was aware of how true it is that we live in a time of signs and wonders. We only need to open the eyes of our hearts and minds and put our faith in Jesus Christ and his Church.
May this Easter season be one in which you experience the resurrection of Jesus in a personal way, and may you become aware of the signs he gives you and have faith in the Father’s providential love for you. He desires to perform wonders in your life through his Son and the intercession of the saints!