With so many thoughts and emotions running through me at the Canonization Mass in Washington, D.C., it is hard to narrow it down into a story. So please excuse my list of highlights:
- First of all, it is the canonization of a man, Junipero Serra, who is the patron saint of vocations, the first time Pope Francis has been to the USA, and the entire Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is full. 3,500 people capacity, and yet somehow there were over 3,600 priests, religious, and seminarians crammed in. How fitting that the basilica was reserved for these individuals for the Mass where the patron saint of vocations gets canonized. Now please join me: SAINT Junipero Serra, pray for us!
- Pope Francis, the Vicar of Jesus (representative of Christ and St. Peter’s successor), after he came in and ascended the steps, gave us his blessing. It was beautiful. Before and after the Mass (which was outside the church on the lawn, holding tens of thousands more), he walked right in front of where I was sitting: the Vicar of Christ was only 10 or 12 feet away from me.
- It was amazing to see old friends (randomly or on purpose) and make new friends (usually while standing in fun lines, where everyone was patient and loving) from all over the country: mostly young seminarians who just want to love with the kind of Love that they have received. That kind of Love they see modeled in the man we call the Holy Father: the shepherd for over 7 billion sheep, er, people. One of these young men was my friend Lee, who discipled me for two very formative years while I was in college. He was instrumental in my conversion, that is, my change of heart and mind, towards Jesus.
- The entire reason for me being able to go on this trip was an anomaly. My seminary drew 12 names out of a raffle last spring for men to go, and I was not one of those 12. But John Lawrence was. For those of you who don’t know, John was a seminarian of Des Moines until late this summer: he died right before this semester started. SPS wanted to have a man from Des Moines replace his spot on the trip, and I got the lucky draw. I got to go to DC and Philly because the man died, which drew me into the trip, I think, deeper than it would have had I been one of the original 12. The entire trip, I prayed in a special way for John’s soul and for the proper mourning of his family. It was a great honor to be on the trip at all, but much more so to be John’s replacement. But I also couldn’t help but think along the way, ‘What does the Lord want from me on this trip?’
So that was all the first day. Then we went up to Philadelphia for the last two days of the World Meeting of Families and the weekend papal visit. But I couldn’t shake that question…
I think in a very concrete way, the Lord wanted me on the trip so I would again see the beauty of marriage and the family. He wanted me (and all of us at the World Meeting of Families) to see the beauty of His marriage to us. Jesus married us, the world, that is to say, His Church. So He knows what it’s like to be married. [Being His body, it is the perfect marriage, even if it is made up of 7 billion imperfect members.] But He also wanted to conquer death, and in so doing, He leaves us the ministerial priesthood for His Bride, so that He could remain with Her in the Eucharist. So there is great complementarity between married life and priestly life, and it is all because of the Most Holy Trinity.
I think of the 1st Letter of St. John, 4:19: “We love, because he first loved us.” It is in these words that, as Pope Benedict XVI says in his magnificent Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”) “the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
This encounter with Jesus leads us to encounter the power of the other two persons of the Holy Trinity, and therefore, with the fullness of God’s love. It is from this that we can come to know the meaning of life: that for which we are all made. St. Thérèse of Lisieux puts it wonderfully in the account of her own life:
Charity gave me the key to my vocation…I understood that it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT LOVE WAS EVERYTHING, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES…IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL! Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love….my vocation, at last I have found it….MY VOCATION IS LOVE!” (“Story of a Soul,” p. 194)
Without love, therefore, we have nothing (1 Cor 13). Without love, therefore, we are nothing. Without love, therefore, our world evaporates into nothingness. As St. Thérèse so eloquently put it, we are called to love!
~ Ryan Welch is a Des Moines Diocese seminarian studying Theology I in Saint Paul Seminary in Minnesota this fall 2015..