The Pope and the Painter

Andreas Widmer, former Swiss Guard for Saint John Paul II and author of the book “The Pope and the CEO”, recently gave a talk at Benedictine College. In his talk, there were two things that stood out to me. The first was presented around a story regarding his first night of watch as a papal guard. It was December 23rd when Andreas passed his tests to become a Swiss Guard. This being his first Christmas away from his home, he planned to make the most of it and visit many sites around the Vatican until he was to report for duty. As all bad luck would have it, Andreas ran into his Sergeant Major during the onset of his grandiose tour. Widmer’s Sergeant staunchly told him that he was to report to duty immediately and serve his first post from 8pm Dec. 24th to 8 am Dec. 25th. Andreas was devastated. His first Christmas away from home and he would be spending it on duty before he was even supposed to. After an emotional phone call to his family, Andreas reported to his post Christmas Eve as he was ordered.

Andreas’ post that night was within the papal apartment. The apartment has many doorways and inner-circles with the pope’s bedroom being in the middle. Andreas’ post that night was the last doorway between the Pope’s bedroom and the hallway to the next room. Sitting in a small, dark room, Andreas felt lonely and devastated. You would think of all places, HERE they appreciate the importance of such a night for someone such as him… Shortly before midnight, his sergeant major radioed Andreas telling him that the Pope was about to leave his apartment to celebrate midnight Mass, and Andreas was to open the door for him. Andreas did as he was told and opened the door for Pope John Paul II.  As St. JPII walked through the doorway, he took notice of Andreas and said, “I’ve never seen you before. You must be new. What is your name?” Immediately following his remark, His Holiness said, “Oh, this must be your first Christmas away from home, isn’t it? I will pray for you as I celebrate Mass tonight”….

Two things worth noting: Pope John Paul II exuded great presence when interacting with others. He took notice of individuals, like Andreas, despite their role. Andreas stood there, charged with protecting the pope, but instead was shown great care and concern by the man whom he was charged with protecting. And this was nothing out of the ordinary for this man- St. John Paul II was so in-tune with people, he saw straight to their core and knew what was bothering them without having to ask. What great presence- to see others where they are and be a source of consolation!

The second thing worth noting is that John Paul II did not choose to lecture Andreas- he didn’t ask him about his prayer life or why he had so little faith at the time. No, instead he offered to pray Mass for Andreas. The Pope...prayer Christmas Eve mass… for him! In short, Andreas saw Pope John Paul II example and wanted what he had. It doesn’t always take great preaching or dynamic authority to plant the seed of conversion in someone’s life...

The second point Andreas presented was in the form of another story- this one of his son’s love for painting. Andreas loves his son’s pictures so much that he hangs them in his office. But it’s not what his son paints or what colors he uses that makes Andreas like them so much. No, it’s the fact that when his son paints, he is painting his pictures for Andreas.

That’s something that holds true in all of our lives: God gives us a set of colors and asks us to paint for Him. However, we don’t always paint with all of the colors we have been given. If each color is a gift or strength, what gift or strength are you hiding from your masterpiece? What is stopping you from including all of your colors within your masterpiece? What is your purpose for painting? Is it for yourself? Are you more concerned with what you are painting than who you are painting for?

There will be times, like that Christmas Eve night for Andreas, where you will feel moments of desolation and despair- where all you have to paint with is black. But even in those moments, paint away! God will give you the right colors when you need them. 




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