Greetings dear Family of Faith from the center of our Faith here in Rome. This Sunday within the Octave of Easter, also known as "Divine Mercy Sunday," all of us have had the great joy of coming together to celebrate our Faith in the best way we have available to us: through the celebration of the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that we find our unity, our oneness, in the Real Presence of the Risen Lord in His revealed Word and in His Body and Blood given for us as our spiritual Food and Drink. As I celebrated Mass here in Rome, and as you celebrated Mass in your parish churches, we were one with each other, and with The Lord, in the celebration of our Faith. That's what makes this Sunday, and every Sunday, so special, and why each of us needs to----is obliged to----make our Sunday (Saturday evening) revolve around the privilege of coming together for Mass.
As my reflection for today, I would like to share with you the extra special blessing it was for me, and I hope that through my prayers it also became a blessing for you, the two extraordinary experiences I had celebrating Mass today.
The first Mass was such a special blessing because I, joined by Fr. Ted, Deacon Tom and Chancellor Emmons, were privileged to celebrate Mass at the Clementine Chapel, which is in the Crypt of St. Peter's Basilica, and right at the very tomb where St. Peter is buried. That is a rare privilege, and I know that each of us were thrilled to be able to have this spiritual experience. I offered this Mass "Pro Populo," that is, for All the People---the Lay Faithful, Religious and Clergy, living and deceased, of the Diocese of Kalamazoo. Our Deacon Tom McNally preached a beautiful homily for us on Divine Mercy and the power of the Resurrection to dispel doubt and strengthen faith. There is an extra special sense of awe and the reality of our Catholic Faith being so close to the earthly remains of the first Pope and Vicar of Christ.
Following Mass, the four of us got another rare privilege: we were allowed to walk through the Vatican Gardens which is a large expanse of beautiful walking paths, lined with trees which are beginning to flower and awesome scenery. Because the weather was a perfect April Spring day, moderate temperatures and a cool breeze, it seemed a lot like what it might be like to stroll the Gardens some day in Heaven.
The second Mass was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Today just happened to be the day when the Holy Father, as Bishop of the Diocese of Rome, was liturgically "taking possession of" his Cathedral Church, which as you probably know is not St. Peter's Basilica, but rather the Basilica of St. John Lateran. And so I had the great privilege of being able to sit with the other 25 bishops and 15 Cardinals who were present for this very special moment, along with the hundreds of priests from the Diocese of Rome and thousands and thousands of people who filled that gorgeous Basilica as well as overflowed into the Piazza outside.
My seat in the sanctuary could not have been more than 90 feet away from where Pope Francis was presiding over the Mass. While I did not get the opportunity to greet him personally (I hope to do so after the General Audience on Wednesday of this week), it was so overwhelming to be so close to him for this special Mass. Pope Francis has clearly captured the hearts of all the people of Rome. Everyone from taxi cab drivers to waiters/waitresses to vendors on the street "light up" and cheer for "Papa Francesco." I am so very much looking forward to greeting him and extending to him the good wishes and prayers of all the Faithful of the Diocese of Kalamazoo.
We sometimes refer to this special Sunday within the Octave of Easter as the Sunday of Peace. In the Gospel for today's Mass, the Risen Jesus greets His apostles on two separate visits to them in the Upper Room with that message of Good News: "Peace be with you!" And He tells them: "Do not be afraid!" As Pope Francis said so beautifully in his homily this evening, our God loves us so much, and is so patient with us, waiting and longing for us, as the Risen Jesus did for Thomas, to dispel our doubts and embrace Him in faith----the faith that binds us as one, the faith that we celebrate at every Mass, the faith that, with God's grace, we live and put into practice, every day of our lives.
Peace be with you! + Bishop Bradley