Sed Contra: Il Papa!

ZAIRE - AUGUST 01: John-Paul II in Zaire in August, 1985. (Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 1998

I never thought I would be part of a cheering, waving crowd. After all, I was 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.

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 heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11.28)

The joy abounding in that gigantic room—the trumpets, the accordions, the pope-cheers, and giant banners—refutes, in a moment, all the whining one hears in America about “chill winds from Rome.” How it must rankle his critics that a pontiff who believes so strongly in Humanae Vitae and evinces such deep Marian devotion, can elicit such love from across the spectrum of humanity.

The Mexican group in front of us kept breaking into a chant that always brought a smile to the pope’s face. “They’ve got this thing right,” I said to my wife. I thought of all the contemporary jazz-it-up programs in this country intended to ignite the kind of spiritual fire that was sweeping through this very room. Guess what: All the rows faced directly toward the stage—there wasn’t a circular line in the place! The thousands didn’t come to look at each other but to look at one man, a man whose emergent holiness is palpable. But in looking at him we somehow saw one another, and we were united by his Body, in spite of all the differences between us.

Commentators are always pointing out, correctly, the American penchant for individualism. Later on, as our Crisis group shared notes, we were all grateful to have the wave of that great love for the Holy Father, and for Christ, wash over us. Later that day, we descended into the excavations under St. Peter’s altar. A young seminarian from the North American College, a member of my own parish in Northern Virginia, led us through the layers of churches and mausoleums leading down to what experts believe are the bones of St. Peter.

At journey’s end, standing together directly below Bernini’s altar, this young deacon reminded us that this was the same Peter who had denied Christ three times, who had seen him crucified, who had been entrusted the keys to the entire Church. Talk about real presence! When we learned that John Paul II had taken a relic of St. Peter to help him recover from the bullet wound of 1981, our experience of the mysterious unity was now complete. From the first pope to this one, John Paul the Great, spanning over nearly two thousand years, God’s grace to his Body, through the mediation of his earthly Vicar, has been shed without interruption through time and space and across the world.

Yet, the undeniable principle that informs this work of grace is that it begins at the head and passes through the rest of the body. We can only pray that the millions of pilgrims that pass through the Vatican between now and the Jubilee year will reaffirm the fundamental form of Catholic Christianity, nowhere more powerfully seen than in the haggard, luminous pope from Poland.

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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