At Mass with Saint John Paul the Great

Deal W Hudson

I never thought I would be part of a cheering, waving crowd. After all, I thought myself too old, too sophisticated. Then John Paul II walked out on the stage. It was his Wednesday public audience, and together with my family and six friends I sat only a few rows from the stage of an enormous room that holds up to eight thousand. As he walked slowly toward his chair, I had the overwhelming feeling that I was seeing Christ, and I couldn’t hold back, anything.

The next day I and my family would experience that magnetic, overpowering force in the small papal chapel.

Most people would think that an audience with the pope and thousands of other people wouldn’t be very satisfying. Only the lucky few on the prima fila, the first row, get to shake his hand afterward. But sitting there among Catholic groups from around the world, hearing them sing to the pope in over a dozen languages, offers nothing less than a revelation of the Church universal.

There, addressing itself to every sense of the body, was a living witness to why the Church has one man at its head, one man to represent the one Christ of its Body. I knew I would never again have to explain to my daughter why the pope is called the “Holy Father.”

As I watched John Paul II, I kept noticing the sheer size of his shoulders. Here was a philosopher with the shoulders of a stevedore! How heavy the burden is that he carries for all of us, I thought. His body, the way his head bends forward, almost looks crucified already. But as he prayed I could see how he was able to carry it-Christ carries it for him: “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest. . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11.28)

Very late that night the phone rang in the convent where we were staying. A sister came and knocked on the door, with an obviously urgency, and gestured that I was wanted on the phone. A voice with a heavy Italian accent told me that my family had been invited to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father the next morning.  Can I bring my friends? I asked. No, just you and your family I was told.

We came early the next morning to the appointed place where the Swiss Guards stood at the entrance to the long, seemingly endless, stairway leading to the papal apartments. We were the first to arrive and had to bow our heads to enter the chapel. Our host gestured to take the seats in the front row. Being so nervous it was only when I took my seat that I realized the Holy Father was on his knees, bent over, praying only a few feet in front of me. Yes, his shoulders were enormous, the shoulders of man bearing the greatest responsibility in the world.

The power of his prayer, his faith, his dedicated to the Sacrament was palpable.  It felt like a turbine engine sending warm throughout the room.

Afterwards, those who attended were placed in line in the reception room next door — since we had been the first to enter the chapel we became the last in the line to be greeted by Saint John Paul the Great. The entire time he was greeting the others, Holy Father had his eye on my then 11-year old daughter, she was the only child in the line, wearing his Catholic school uniforms and holding a box of gifts for him from her classmates.

He greeted by wife Theresa first, and handed her a rosary — her face shone as bright as I have seen. Then came Hannah, and it seemed as if the room had filled with pure love, seeing the way the Holy Father put his hand upon her head and took her gifts, then kissing her head and saying a short prayer.

He turned to me, definitely not as interesting to him as Hannah, but he clapped when he saw the copy of Crisis Magazine I handed him bearing his picture and the words “John Paul the Great” (December 1997) across the cover.  By his smile it was obvious he didn’t seem to mind the branding.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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