It was time for Communion and I was fighting back tears again. I was in RCIA, only a few short weeks from being received into the Church. For the previous year, Communion was nearly always an agonizing experience because I had to stay back while everyone else went forward to receive the Lord.
The crying was really embarrassing. I had never been one for public displays of emotion and I didn’t like it one bit. A wise woman told me that the tears were a gift from God. I silently wished the gift had come with tags so I could return it.
I won’t cry this time, I had told myself, because of the sheer excitement of the event. Instead, my heart seemed to be gearing up for a papal-sized cry: Pope John Paul II was celebrating Mass for some 100,000 faithful at Sun Devil Stadium (irony noted) in my home town of Tempe, Arizona. But I felt like an outsider at this banquet. There was a line of communicants passing both in front of and behind me, so I had to turn sideways with my knees to my chest to let them by. I put my head down and tried to make a spiritual communion, but it wasn’t very comforting. Several people patted my shoulder as they passed. Their concern was touching, but I didn’t want them to see my wet eyes, so I didn’t look up.
Then a hand rested on my shoulder and stayed put. I tried to ignore it, thinking the person would have to go away soon or create total chaos in the Communion line. But the hand was more stubborn than I was. It grew more insistent until finally, annoyed, I was compelled to look up—into the kindest eyes I had ever seen, framed by a face that seemed to have been carved by constant smiling and topped with a shock of snow white hair.
"It’s okay," he said. "Someday the Holy Father is going to give you Communion himself."
I tried to smile, and I think I said thank you. He is trying to be kind, I thought. But he might as well have told me that one day I would marry a prince and live in a castle. I was sure this was the closest I was ever going to get to a pope.
By the time Mass was concluding, I’d recovered myself, and, somewhat ashamed, I looked down the row for the man with the white hair so I could thank him properly. But he was nowhere to be seen. I thought it was strange that someone would leave a papal Mass early.
Less than two years later, I found myself a few feet from John Paul II. He was saying Mass in the courtyard of Castle Gandalfo, the papal summer residence in the hills outside Rome. "Let us pray," he said, in heavily accented English. During the long silence afterwards (he really prayed!), I remembered the man with the white hair and the kind eyes: "Someday the Holy Father is going to give you Communion himself."
Maybe he was an angel, I thought, or a prophet. Maybe he was just a man in tune with the Holy Spirit. In any case, it was my own little eucharistic miracle. Such an extravagant thing for the Lord to do to comfort one of his children! Yet how many of us have similar stories!
I looked up at the Holy Father, and I think our eyes met. Mine were filled with tears—and this time I wasn’t embarrassed.