GRACE IN THE ONIONS/A Letter to the Pope
My Holy Father/my Holy Friend,
It happened recently at our market. Just as my hand reached in to grab a big juicy onion, so did hers. It was Grace, SWEET GRACE!!! Thirty-three years or so have passed since her last confession to me (she was a regular customer, when i was a priest), but it was as if that had been just yesterday. And so, like yesterday, the RIVER IMMEDIATELY BEGAN TO FLOW!!! She exploded into tears, gracing my cheeks down to my chest with love divine. Maybe it was the onions? Maybe it was our Common Passion for the Mercy of God.
Almost by routine, right there amid the onions and potatos, Gracie began to “confess” – tears now like Niagara – how she’s been away from the Church soooo long. Of course there was no mention of (what i know already) tragedy upon terrible tragedy that struck her life from every side, making it barely possible for her to practice her faith like once upon a time – as is the case of so many wounded souls in the Great Field. i stopped her from the Get-Go, “Whoa, Friend! Wait!! You know i’m not a priest anymore. i traded for a wife and six children. i have no power left to wipe away sins!!” And do you know what she said to that? She said, “YOU will always be my priest, and it will be more than enough for me to hear you say, as you always did, ‘HOW LOVED YOU ARE, DEAR GRACE! How loved we are, NO MATTER WHAT! And it’s ALL THAT MATTERS, TRULY!'”
Oh, Pope Francis! i need not tell YOU! You, above all men!! But i just love to tell you, right here from the onions, how desperately the Good People of God LONG FOR THAT LOVE and want to hear this simple message of Mercy over and over and over again. You often say, dear Teacher, that each and every man and woman needs to be brought – by Life – to that Deep Well Within, to this Gushing Gift of Tears. Or maybe an Italian lady such as my Grace would prefer to describe it as Life’s Endless Entry into the Layers of the “Great Onion” with ITS WELL of tears, the Encounter with AMAZING GRACE ITSELF, or should we
say HIMSELF/HERSELF, the Very HEART OF GOD.
No priest can ever receive a more precious gift than to have such tears, human and divine co-mingling, pour out upon his face and shoulders by a person who is meeting this God FACE-to-FACE in Mercy. Gracie bathed me so many times in the past – and WOW! Now again, reminding me as she did that we, each and every one of us shares in a Royal Priesthood, and Jesus, the Founder of this Priesthood, somehow knew how important it was, humans being flesh and blood and sweat and tears, that MERCY BE EXPERIENCED in the flesh and tears.
YOU, Holy Father, have given this FACE OF MERCY to our Old Church once again. i could never express in words how proud i am of you, how thankful, and HOW PLEASED i am that the Whole World Has Received You, has EMBRACED YOU for this reason. Today is the Feast which your predecessor, Pope Saint John Paul II, made sure to establish before he died. INDEED, Amazing As It Sounds, he passed from this life to the next ON THIS FEAST, HIS FEAST, OF DIVINE MERCY.
Three Easters ago, on your first Easter as the Pope, you put out a cry to the whole world for “All Hands On Deck,” for every man, woman, and child to join you in this all-important task of FIRST: Meeting Mercy, of Going to God in brokenness and sin, to be healed…and then SECONDLY: of Bringing that Healing Grace to what you described as “all of the wounded in the field hospitals of the earth.” The part of you of which i am the MOST PROUD is how you traded our “Old Church Definition” of APOLOGY, that of a “Defense of our Beliefs No Matter What” to the other definition of the word. It is the understanding, the definition, which most people have, this beautiful manner and practice that you have. Most Simply Put – We are all so imperfect, so hurt and broken, that we can just never tire of saying, “I’m Sorry,” and, then, after being forgiven ten thousand times, being so happy to forgive others…
We are all such a mess, “knuckleheads” i like to say, but the HOPE OF ALL THE EARTH, as both you and your Capuchin Preacher, Fr. Cantalamessa, put it last week, “THE ONLY TRUE HOPE OF THIS WORLD LIES IN MERCY.”
My dear friend, Lisa Codner-O’Flaherty, just sent to me from her “place on top of the world, St. John’s, Newfoundland,” the perfect image of Divine Mercy, that ONE THING we can be even surer of than of our sinfulness, the LOVE THAT NEVER ENDS! Amen. Alleluia! God Bless and Keep You, Holy Father. BUONA FESTA di AMORIS LAETITIA!