Eamonn Keane
Living Miracles: A great book by Randall J. Meissen, LC
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By Eamonn Keane
July 24, 2011

In my February 27, 2011 column titled The Priesthood, I published an article by Australian theologian, Fr Peter Joseph, which provided a summary of what the Catholic Church teaches about the origin and nature of the ordained priesthood. In this column, I reproduce with the kind permission of the author the foreword and introduction to a book titled Living Miracles: The Spiritual Sons of John Paul the Great. The book is authored by Randall J. Meissen, LC and the foreword is written by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. Archbishop Chaput has recently been appointed as the new Archbishop of Philadelphia.

At the age of sixteen Meissen founded an Internet-based business for which he won a prestigious national award. He qualified from Rice University with a triple major in biology, classics and ancient Mediterranean civilizations. After this, he was accepted into medical school, but rather than set out on the high-profile career that graduation from medical school would have afforded him, he decided instead to enter the seminary in order to train for the ordained priesthood in the Catholic Church.

Meissen's decision to enter the seminary was heavily influenced by the teaching and example of Blessed Pope John Paul II. In so many ways this great pope witnessed to the greatness and holiness of the ordained priesthood in the Catholic Church. Everywhere he went he pointed to Jesus Christ as the one and only saviour of humankind. He did this as much through his loving deeds and interactions with people of all nationalities and creeds, as he did through his proclamation of the Gospel in its entirety. In all of this he taught us that in Christ we come to know and touch the God who is love.

With his charismatic gifts and extraordinary ability to communicate the love of God to others, Blessed Pope John Paul II drew many young men to seek to follow him in serving Christ and his people in the ordained priesthood in the Catholic Church. In Living Miracles, Meissen, who is now preparing for the priesthood with the Legionaries of Christ, tells the stories of how Blessed John Paul inspired him to enter the seminary. He also has other "spiritual sons" of Blessed John Paul tell their individual stories of how he inspired them to enter the priesthood.

The book is most readable. At times it is gripping in how it describes the action of grace in the human heart, and how the fidelity of one great priest and pope inspired others to "sell everything" in order to follow Christ in the priesthood.

The book was published in 2011 by Mission Network Programs USA, Inc. I paste below its Foreword and Introduction.

Enjoy.

LIVING MIRACLES

The Spiritual Sons of John Paul the Great

BY

RANDALL J. MEISSEN, LC

FOREWORD BY

ARCHBISHOP CHARLES J. CHAPUT, OFM, CAP.

FOREWORD

Simon, son of John, do you love me? John 21:17

Throughout his long pontificate, John Paul the Great urged Catholics again and again to take up the task of a "new evangelization" of the world. That work belongs to every Catholic, but especially to priests. In the words of Vatican II, ". . . since nobody can be saved who has not first believed, it is the first task of priests as coworkers of bishops to preach the Gospel of God to all [men and women]" (PO, 4).

And because no one can give what he does not have himself, the council urged priests to "immerse themselves in Scripture by constant sacred reading and diligent study" (DV, 25). Priests, like their people, need to encounter Jesus Christ through Word and sacrament — and just as God's Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, so every priest, configured to Christ through ordination, should strive to be God's Word becoming flesh in the life of his people.

Today, the Church across the United States and the developed world faces a new kind of mission territory, a vast array of pastoral challenges. We live in a time of great material success and scientific self-assurance, but where the inner life is withering, private spiritualities replace communities of real faith, and loneliness is the daily routine of millions.

Faced with these realities, the Church has no room for men who see the priesthood as a privileged caste; or an easy job; or an escape from the world; or a safe harbor for their personal confusions; or an avenue for their ambition.

Rather, God calls and the Church needs heroes: priests who love God more than themselves; who seek God's glory more than their own; who want to lead by serving others; who have a mercy and humility born of a knowledge of their own sins; who have the courage to preach the truth even in the face of contempt; who have a hunger for winning souls; priests who are faithful to the Church and her teachings; who are obedient to their vocation as Jesus Christ was obedient to his; who stand in persona Christi — modeling the person of Christ to their people.

In the years ahead, the priests we need are men who will turn away from comfort, who will listen for the voice of God, who will follow Jesus Christ into the storm, and in their failures, will turn to him.

We need a new Pentecost. We need priests who are men of prayer, men of courage, men for others, men anchored in the sacramental life of the Church. We need priests who will spark not a new clericalism, but a new friendship, equality, cooperation, and fire from every vocation and form of discipleship in the Church.

We need priests who can answer generously and honestly yes when Jesus asks them, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

God is calling these men right now — in the witness and personal testimonies of Brother Meissen's book, and in a hundred other ways every day. They are already among us. And beginning today, there is no more important task for every parent, every teacher, every friend, and every pastor to find them, support them, encourage them, and urge them forward to accept God's gift.

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Archbishop of Denver



INTRODUCTION

Now more than ever it is crucial that you be "watchers of the dawn," the lookouts who announce the light of dawn and the new springtime of the Gospel of which the buds can already be seen.

Pope John Paul II, Message for the 18th World Youth Day, April 13, 2003

Twilight Flows to dawn

"Are you praying for John Paul?"

The shouted question caught my attention, and I glanced over my shoulder, catching sight of its unlikely source. A young man, not more than nineteen, stood at the street-side newsstand, bedecked with black leather, tattoos, dyed hair, and all. He was a teenage hybrid of goth and grunge, quite a contrast to the long, winding column processing past him along the New York street.

The passing Eucharistic procession must have puzzled the young man. The scene was almost surreal, like a picture from a medieval manuscript. First came a tall wooden cross held high, and far behind, a canopy carried aloft by four poles, beneath which a priest, resplendent in ornate vestments, bore the Blessed Sacrament encased in a sunburst monstrance of shimmering gold. Between the cross and the canopy came the faithful, row after row, chanting and singing, many arrayed in religious garb: seminarians in black cassocks, friars in earthen brown and smoky grey, Mother Teresa's missionary sisters in white saris fringed with blue, and many more.

This day was April's first, but the sheer size and solemnity of the marching company dispelled any suspicion of jest. In fact, the event had been planned long in advance. The Pope himself had sent the magnificent monstrance which led the procession through the streets of New York. Yet no one in the archdiocese, not even the cardinal, could have planned the affair to take place on such a day. Providence alone knew that this April day in 2005 would be the eve before the Pontiff's passing.

Front pages on the newsstand racks already carried images of a failing pope. News anchors and commentators all agreed that his condition was grave. And it was grave, mortally grave. Nonetheless, as John Paul slipped into final sleep, he worked a miracle; for at that dingy New York newsstand along the urban street an unlikely young man's heart, beating beneath black leather, was pierced by the final witness of a saint.

The simple question, "Are you praying for John Paul?" was genuine, filled with empathy and respect. It was a question that touched me deeply. Was I praying for John Paul? I paused for an instant, standing there, myself among the cassock-clad seminarians, and responded, "Yes." Yes indeed, I prayed for John Paul II, because he had changed my life.

Twice prior, I had been the inquisitive young man standing stunned on the roadside. The first time, I stood in the dark of night along a Houston highway, staring at a smashed wreck and a dead friend. In that moment, I was the one asking questions. Why had it happened this way? Why had I been spared? Standing there, looking at my selfish life and its shattered ambitions, I knew the reason. God had given me another chance; he had given me the chance to walk where he led, if I but had the courage to respond and the courage to hope. Thus I offered Christ my life and started down his path.

The second time, I stood along a Roman road. Four months had passed since the Houston crash, and it was June of 2000's Great Jubilee. On the eve of Corpus Christi, I beheld a procession even more remarkable than the one in New York, for it was attended by scores of scarlet-robed cardinals and bishops in violet, and in its midst was John Paul II himself. With excitement, I craned my neck to see the Pope as he passed only a few meters away. Then something extraordinary happened — he looked at me.

Time and again, I have heard that experience repeated by others. Amid great crowds, at his audiences and at World Youth Days, at Masses and celebrations, John Paul II had the ability to look through the droves of people and to penetrate an individual's soul. I never would have given the account credence had I not also experienced the force of his glance. There in Rome, beyond the ancient Basilica of John Lateran, on the feast of Corpus Christi, the Pope saw through a formless crowd and with piercing gaze looked at me. In his deep eyes, filled with purity and peace, I saw the priest I wanted to be.

I saw a man who had given everything, a man so completely identified with Christ that he could rightly say, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."2 In him, I and many others saw more than an aged sage; we saw more than a famous figure or a media personality. We saw more than just John Paul II, for he was, in a sense, more than himself. He was the Lord's Vicar.

I looked into his eyes, and I saw Christ.

I saw the one who, noticing a short man struggling to catch sight of him, "looked up and spoke to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down.'"3 I saw the one who "turned and looked straight at Peter"4 evoking a tearful flood of repentance. I saw the one who looked steadily at a rich young man and "was filled with love for him, and said, 'You need to do one thing more."5

I looked into his eyes, and I saw Christ.

I was the one who needed to do one thing more.

That experience is what motivated me to write this book. I am convinced that my story is not isolated, because I have so often heard it repeated by young people, by other seminarians, and among priests. John Paul II was not a distant pope; rather, he was always spiritually and often physically close to his flock. He strove to be a paternal presence.

My generation of Catholics, and more, live in John Paul's shadow. Growing up as a Missouri farm boy, I knew no other pope. Only a month after I was born, his papal white was splashed with red by the bullet of a would-be assassin. By the time I was in middle school, the word "pope" was simply synonymous with "John Paul II." My older cousins spoke of seeing him at World Youth Day in Denver; my high school friends enthusiastically recounted their "close encounter" when he visited St. Louis in 1999 — a visit on which the Pope persuaded our governor to stop a scheduled execution. Even as far off as I was from the beaten path, way out in the boondocks of rural America, John Paul II never seemed distant.

Certainly, my experience, despite its particularities, is not wholly unique. More than an entire generation came to maturity under the reign of John Paul II. If he was an earthquake, then the youth, ever near his heart, were at its epicenter. My time studying for the priesthood has only confirmed this sentiment. John Paul II has touched my brother seminarians as deeply as he touched me. Some even cite a direct encounter with him as the moment of their priestly call. These and many others, continue to see him as a model and a spiritual father.

For us, John Paul II is an example of courage, of sacrifice, and of hope. His example is acute because he wrestled with the same call as us, the call to serve Christ in holy priesthood. We looked to John Paul for strength while discerning God's call amid a hostile culture. We looked to him when the question, "Who am I and what does God want me to be?" shook us to the core.

John Paul II never concealed the challenge that embracing a priestly vocation poses. In his final "Message to the Youth of the World" he acknowledged, "Listening to Christ and worshiping him leads us to make courageous choices, to take what are sometimes heroic decisions."6 The priestly vocation is a path which demands a heroic change of direction in the life of a young man — sometimes even a full U-turn!

Yet John Paul assured us that Christ traveled the same road of sacrifice long ago, sandal-shod, dragging a cross of timber, and he returns to travel it again at our side. For that reason, fear of suffering and the cross cannot cause those called by Christ to sell themselves short, to pass up their chance for genuine happiness. John Paul witnessed this truth with his words and his life. For my generation, his white-clad likeness is forever emblazoned upon our vision of the priesthood.

Therefore, I have come to believe that many young priests and seminarians who trace their vocation, the origin of their priestly call, to John Paul's reign of hope bear the special stamp of his influence. Among the ranks of young men who were called to Christ's service, who entered the seminary, and who were ordained to the priesthood during his reign, are found the spiritual sons of John Paul the Great. They are his lasting legacy, his living miracles.

© Eamonn Keane

 

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Eamonn Keane

Eamonn Keane is married with five children. He studied Commerce and Education at the National University of Ireland and Religious Education at the Catholic Teachers Training College in Sydney, Australia. He currently serves as Head of Social Science at Sydney's Redfield College... (more)

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