I am Catholic, born and raised. My grandmother - my mother's Mom -- lived with us for 15 years. My grandfather died at 56 when my mother was 13 years old. Anyway, my grandmother had this large oil-painted mural of Jesus Christ on the wall of her bedroom. In it, He is fully cloaked, protective, and in supreme reign against a concord of clouds filled with the faces of baby-like angels.
And His eyes. Infinitely deep and all-knowing. Eyes that follow you. No escape. But you want no escape. You want to be His. Within Him. Never without Him. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. So definitive is this painting, that to me and my family, this is Christ. It remains a face we believe in. It is a face that fronted the power of the body, and projected the omnipotent and omnipresent spirit that is only His.
Pope John Paul II was, in so many respects, the face of God to me. And let's not confuse God with Jesus Christ. I am referring now to God the Father. Unlike the face of Christ as described by the Prophets and interpreted by artists throughout the time since, the face of God remains without definition to many.
Some believe Him to be a mountainous man of magnanimous stature, facially comforting with imposing sage-like countenance and a long white beard that extends far beyond His air-lifted feet. Some Biblical paintings depict Him in such a way, though not nearly in the same population of likenesses as those of Christ. But if He did have a face, to me it could have been the face of Pope John Paul II.
Something in me always provided a quiet assurance that he would never die. How could he? Wasn't he always here? And yet, he was the Holy Father for just 26 years. But he is the pope who was present for most of my life, so to me, he was the Pope. In fact, it still feels, and will continue to feel, like he is alive.
I say that the pope, to me, was the closet being of God Himself for our world - our lives on Earth. If there was ever such a thing as having a God here on Earth in modern times, the pope was it. His is the word of one book spoken in one voice. No defining lines of religion. No barbed-wire restrictions of government. No political confinement. Just belief. Just faith. Belief in universal, global commonality and salvation. Faith in the infinite powers of God. With the pope - with Pope John Paul I I- the world responded as if under the divine rule of one God. An invisible force that can create with loving and mystifying power, and also strike with inexplicable ferocity as if by the slow ponderous sweep of one formless and mighty hand.
One thing I would have loved to experience, but never really could even if I tried, was to be physically touched by Pope John Paul II. Just a touch of four fingertips to my forehead. Upon his touch, I would have conceivably dropped down to my knees, involuntarily, as if weakened by his healing power. Weakened by healing power. Think about that. Like death before living. Dropping to my knees in a slow sagging motion with eyes fixed and frozen, afraid to turn away.
Afraid? Maybe the fear of not immersing myself in him, and deprived of drowning in the fathomless pools of his eyes, and dying at his touch only to live life again from that point on. I think about how I would have felt. I mean, to me, he is without sin in the way that we know of sin. Maybe I'm being too child-like in that belief, but I really hope not. I pray not. My body and senses would have quaked in his presence, erupting in tremors that only a God could command.
Even the Apostles of Christ symbolically embodied the sins of man, the real sins of life: The restraining doubts of St. Thomas; the cancer-like cowardice of St. Peter; the mindfully lost Judas, first of betrayal of his Lord, and then of his own life. But the pope? He was, to many, and to me, immaculate. And he could draw millions to experience the Word. The Word.
No priest, no nun, no president, no ambassador, no king, no queen, no world leader holds that power. No one. His is of a most singular sacred force. I've seen priests and nuns betray. I've seen some of our world leaders wander and lead us into the slaughter house like a Judas goat. For every table of 13, there is a symbolic Judas seated at the end. And the hostess calls: Judas Iscariot, table of 13? Table of 13 for Iscariot?
I am a religious person. I have strong faith. I do not say the Rosary every day. In fact, I can't tell you the last time I said the Rosary or went to confession. I go to Church every Sunday, and I pray every day in my own way. I am thankful for what I have, and fearful of the powers of God. I believe in Jesus Christ and Mother Mary. But I do not walk around with a Bible under my arm. Nor do I remember the many points of origin of the sacraments of my religion. But my faith ... my faith ... is strong.
It has been proven to me time and again that there is a God. But my belief in Heaven differs from the traditional vision. I believe that the peaceful and painless rest eternal is the Heaven of our life's end. Sort of what John Lennon meant by "absolute elsewhere ..."
Purists would say that if that's the case, I am not a true Catholic. Then again, most of the people I have met who would say something like that have a middle name called "hypocrisy." You know, they pray with words and live by conflicting behavior, condemning, and casting stones from rubble they carry in their pockets as if those were the beads of a Rosary.
But faith is different than religion. In my view only, you can have faith without a religion. But you cannot truly have a religion without faith. Pope John Paul II - a man whose words and actions were above all that is real - strengthened the faith of all. He was, and remains, a God, or one as God on Earth and beyond for the ages; an adult's dream of a real Santa Claus who never faded once we grew older, and when reason challenged us to unwillingly pay the toll booth from the age of innocence to experience, where such child-like beliefs are not that real at all, and the spears of truth remind us that we need to grow up.
Grow up? Sure. But the faith must stay, as do the blessings that come to us in the form of Pope John Paul II, who has cradled our hopes and sealed that faith.
n John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at jdimambro@nevada appeal.com.