Archive for the ‘Supernatural Phenomena’ Category

The Virgin Mary’s Wisconsin Apparition in 1859

August 4, 2016

This account is according to Sister Pauline LaPlant, to whom the visionary, Adele Brise, often told her story:

She [Adele] was going to the grist mill about four miles from here [Champion] with a sack of wheat on her head […]. As Adele came near the place, she saw a lady all in white standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock. Adele was frightened and stood still. The vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud after it. Adele continued on her errand and returned home without seeing anything more. She told her parents what had happened, and they wondered what it could be — maybe a poor soul who needed prayers?

On the following Sunday, she had to pass here again on her way to Mass at Bay Settlement, about eleven miles from her home […]. This time, she was not alone, but was accompanied by her sister Isabel and a neighbor woman [Mrs. Vander Niessen]. When they came near the trees, the same lady in white was at the place where Adele had seen her before. Adele was again frightened and said, almost in a tone of reproach, “Oh, there is that lady again.”

adelebrise

The Visionary, Adele Brise, 1831-1896

Adele had not the courage to go on. The other two did not see anything, but they could tell by Adele’s look that she was afraid. They thought, too, that it might be a poor soul that needed prayers. They waited a few minutes, and Adele told them it was gone. It had disappeared as the first time, and all she could see was a little mist or white cloud. After Mass, Adele went to confession and told her confessor how she had been frightened at the sight of a lady in white. He [Father William Verhoef] bade her not to fear, and to speak to him of this outside of the confessional. Father Verhoef told her that if it were a heavenly messenger, she would see it again, and it would not harm her, but to ask in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her. After that, Adele had more courage. She started home with her two companions, and a man who was clearing land for the Holy Cross Fathers at Bay Settlement accompanied them.

As they approached the hallowed spot, Adele could see the beautiful lady, clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist. Her dress fell to her feet in graceful folds. She had a crown of stars around her head, and her long, golden, wavy hair fell loosely around her shoulders. Such a heavenly light shone around her that Adele could hardly look back at her sweet face. Overcome by this heavenly light and the beauty of her amiable visitor, Adele fell on her knees.

In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?” asked Adele, as she had been directed.

I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”

Adele, who is it?” said one of the women. “O why can’t we see her as you do?” said another weeping.

Kneel,” said Adele, “the Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven.” Our Blessed Lady turned, looked kindly at them, and said, “Blessed are they that believe without seeing. What are you doing here in idleness…while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?

What more can I do, dear Lady?” said Adele, weeping.

Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?” replied Adele.

Teach them,” replied her radiant visitor, “their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

The manifestation of Our Lady then lifted her hands, as though beseeching a blessing for those at her feet, and slowly vanished, leaving Adele overwhelmed and prostrate on the ground.

When the news spread about Adele Brise’s vision of the Blessed Virgin, most people believed the account and were astonished. Some considered the event a  demented delusion. Adele Brise, however, considered it a commission to catechize the children and admonish the sinners of the Bay Settlement. To honor the alleged apparition, Adele’s father erected a makeshift chapel near the spot of Adele’s vision.

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Our Lady of Champion

February 12, 2016

Bishop Rickens at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, Dec 8, 2010In 2010, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help (about sixteen miles northeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin) Bishop David Ricken formally endorsed our country’s first Church-approved Marian apparition:

“I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful.”

 

This is the account of that Marian apparition according to Sr. Pauline LaPlant, to whom Adele Brise often told her story:

She was going to the grist mill about four miles from here [Champion, WI] with a sack of wheat on her head … As Adele came near the place, she saw a lady all in white standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock. Adele was frightened and stood still. The vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud after it. Adele continued on her errand and returned home without seeing anything more. She told her parents what had happened, and they wondered what it could be—maybe a poor soul who needed prayers?

On the following Sunday, she had to pass here again on her way to Mass at Bay Settlement, about eleven miles from her home … This time, she was not alone, but was accompanied by her sister Isabel and a neighbor woman. When they came near the trees, the same lady in white was at the place where Adele had seen her before. Adele was again frightened and said, almost in a tone of reproach, “Oh, there is that lady again.”

Adele had not the courage to go on. The other two did not see anything, but they could tell by Adele’s look that she was afraid. They thought, too, that it might be a poor soul that needed prayers. They waited a few minutes, and Adele told them it was gone. It had disappeared as the first time, and all she could see was a little mist or white cloud. After Mass, Adele went to confession and told her confessor how she had been frightened at the sight of a lady in white. He bade her not to fear, and to speak to him of this outside of the confessional. Father Verhoef told her that if it were a heavenly messenger, she would see it again, and it would not harm her, but to ask in God’s name who it was and what it desired of her. After that, Adele had more courage. She started home with her two companions, and a man who was clearing land for the Holy Cross Fathers at Bay Settlement accompanied them.

As they approached the hallowed spot, Adele could see the beautiful lady, clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist. Her dress fell to her feet in graceful folds. She had a crown of stars around her head, and her long, golden, wavy hair fell loosely around her shoulders. Such a heavenly light shone around her that Adele could hardly look back at her sweet face. Overcome by this heavenly light and the beauty of her amiable visitor, Adele fell on her knees. “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?” asked Adele, as she had been directed.

I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”

“Adele, who is it?” said one of the women. “O why can’t we see her as you do?” said another weeping.

“Kneel,” said Adele, “the Lady says she is the Queen of Heaven.” Our Blessed Lady turned, looked kindly at them, and said, “Blessed are they that believe without seeing. What are you doing here in idleness…while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?

“What more can I do, dear Lady?” said Adele, weeping.

Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

“But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?” replied Adele.

Teach them,” replied her radiant visitor, “their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

The manifestation of Our Lady then lifted her hands, as though beseeching a blessing for those at her feet, and slowly vanished, leaving Adele overwhelmed and prostrate on the ground.

 

Sister Adele Brise, Visionary of ChampionWhen word spread about Adele Brise’s vision of the Blessed Virgin some believed the account with astonishment, while others judged it a demented delusion. Adele, however, considered it a commission to catechize the children and admonish the sinners of the Bay Settlement. Adele’s father erected a makeshift chapel near the spot of Adele’s vision.

 

Peshtigo Fire Map

Twelve years later, on October 8th, 1871, disaster came. The Great Peshtigo Fire remains the largest and deadliest forest fire in U.S. history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives were lost in Green Bay region. Hundreds fled to the shrine for refuge, beseeching Mary’s help. They lifted a statue of Mary and carried it around the grounds. When the wind and fire threatened suffocation in one direction, they turned in another direction to pray. Hours later, rain began to extinguish the raging fire. The shrine grounds were a green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes in every direction, and all those who fled to Mary’s shrine were saved.

Our Lady of Zeitoun

January 23, 2016

On the evening of April 2, 1968, a group of Muslim mechanics and drivers working across the street from St. Mark’s Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, saw a woman atop a dome of the church. Two other men also noticed the white figure on the top of the church and the matter was reported to the police. A crowd gathered on the site and interpreted the sighting as an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After a few minutes, the event ended. According to tradition, Zeitoun is on the route that the Holy Family took when fleeing King Herod’s efforts to murder the infant Jesus.

Our Lady of Zeitoun

One week later, on April 9, 1968, the phenomenon reoccurred, again lasting for only a few minutes. After that time apparitions became more frequent, sometimes two or three times a week, for several years, ending in 1971. The woman spoke no words, but moved about the church’s mysteriously illuminated domes. She would also face the people in the streets below and gesture warmly with her head or hands. Sometimes she was accompanied by luminous, dove-shaped bodies which moved about at high speeds. She was seen to kneel down before a cross on the roof; significant, since Muslims deny Jesus’ crucifixion.

Pope (or Patriarch) Kyrillos VI, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, appointed a committee of high-ranking priests and bishops to investigate. On May 4, 1968, Kyrillos VI issued an official statement confirming and approving the apparition. These apparitions were witnessed by perhaps a million people, including President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and was captured by newspaper photographers and Egyptian television. Muslims hold Mary in very high regard even though they deem Jesus to be merely a prophet of Islam. Egyptian government officials concluded in 1968: “Official investigations have been carried out with the result that it has been considered an undeniable fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing on Zeitoun Church in a clear and bright luminous body seen by all present in front of the church, whether Christians or Moslems.”

Charles Dickens’ Otherworldly Visitor

November 17, 2015

Charles Dickens by Frith, 1859        One night in 1844, the year after he published A Christmas Carol, a 32-year-old Charles Dickens seemingly encountered a visitor from beyond while vacationing in Venice, Italy. Within this dream or vision, Dickens thought himself speaking to his dearly-beloved sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, who had died in 1837, yet he also observed that the spirit “bore no resemblance to any one I have known.” Dickens recorded this experience soon afterward in a letter to a friend:

“Let me tell you of a curious dream I had, last Monday night; and of the fragments of reality I can collect, which helped to make it up. [I] had laid awake nearly all that night…. [W]hen I fell asleep and dreamed this dream. Observe that throughout I was as real, animated, and full of passion as [the English actor William Macready] in the last scene of Macbeth.

In an indistinct place, which was quite sublime in its indistinctness I was visited by a Spirit. I could not make out the face, nor do I recollect that I desired to do so. It wore a blue drapery, as the Madonna might in a picture by Raphael; and bore no resemblance to any one I have known except in stature. I think (but I am not sure) that I recognized the voice. Anyway, I knew it was poor Mary’s spirit. I was not at all afraid, but in a great delight, so that I wept very much, and stretching out my arms to it called it “Dear.”

At this, I thought it recoiled; and I felt immediately, that not being of my gross nature, I ought not to have addressed it so familiarly. “Forgive me!” I said. “We poor living creatures are only able to express ourselves by looks and words. I have used the word most natural to our affections; and you know my heart.” It was so full of compassion and sorrow for me—which I knew spiritually, for, as I have said, I didn’t perceive its emotions by its face—that it cut me to the heart; and I said, sobbing, “Oh! give me some token that you have really visited me!

“Form a wish,” it said. I thought, reasoning with myself: ‘If I form a selfish wish, it will vanish.’ So I hastily discarded such hopes and anxieties of my own as came into my mind, and said, “Mrs. Hogarth is surrounded with great distresses (observe, I never thought of saying ‘your mother‘ as to a mortal creature) will you extricate her?” “Yes.” “And her extrication is to be a certainty to me that this has really happened?” “Yes.”

But answer me one other question!” I said, in an agony of entreaty lest it should leave me. “What is the True religion?” As it paused a moment without replying, I said—Good God in such an agony of haste, lest it should go away! “You think, as I do, that the Form of religion does not so greatly matter, if we try to do good? or,” I said, observing that it still hesitated, and was moved with the greatest compassion for me, “perhaps the Roman Catholic is the best? Perhaps it makes one think of God oftener, and believe in him more steadily?” “For you,” said the Spirit, full of such heavenly tenderness for me, that I felt as if my heart would break; “for you, it is the best!” Then I awoke, with the tears running down my face, and myself in exactly the condition of the dream. It was just dawn.

I called up [my wife] Kate, and repeated it three or four times over, that I might not unconsciously make it plainer or stronger afterwards. It was exactly this. Free from all hurry, nonsense, or confusion, whatever.”

One’s Catholic imagination wonders if this tender, compassionate, glorious “Mary” who visited Charles Dickens that night was actually the Blessed Virgin. Like Our Lady of Lourdes responded to Bernadette’s initial requests for her name with a silent smile, this visitor holds back at first to finally reveal a climactic answer. Whether this was a true vision or merely a dream we cannot say, but this visitor’s answer to his religious question does not disqualify our Blessed Mother: the glorious woman told him, “For you, [the Catholic religion] is the best!”

Would this statement imply that Catholicism would not be the best religion for some? Dickens himself held that the form of one’s religion did not greatly matter if someone tried to do good, and his strong distaste for formal religion had drawn him to Unitarianism. If our Mother Mary, who knew Charles through and through, wished to lead him into full communion with the Catholic Church, she would speak truth to him in the way which he could best receive it. Indeed, for him the Catholic faith truly would be best, but he may have balked-outright at her teaching that it is best for everyone. If his was a vision of the Blessed Virgin sent from God, the plan was to bring him into the fullness of the truth over time, as we often see God patiently doing with others.

Charles Dickens never did become a Catholic during his lifetime, but after 1847 (three years after this experience) he began attending the Anglican church near his home and prayed each morning and night. A year before his death, he wrote in his 1869 last will and testament, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ….” Today his body lies buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Ghost Stories From Sts. Augustine & Gregory

October 31, 2014

In 398 AD, St. Augustine shared the following story about a probable visitor from beyond the veil in a letter to his friend, Evodius:

“Our brother, Gennadius … told us that he doubted once … whether there was any life after death. As God would not abandon a man of his disposition and works of mercy, there appeared to him in sleep a handsome youth of dignified appearance, who said to him: ‘Follow me.’ He followed and came to a certain city, where he began to hear, on his right, singing of such exquisite sweetness that it surpassed all known and ordinary sweetness. Then, as he listened, he asked what it was and his guide said it was the hymns of the blessed and the saints. I do not clearly remember what he said he saw on his left. When he awoke, the dream vanished and he thought of it only as one does of a dream.

But, on another night, behold, the same youth appeared to him again and asked whether he recognized him; he answered that he did so fully and perfectly. Then the youth asked where he had known him. He remembered what to reply to that, too, and described the whole vision and the hymns of the saints which the other had led him there to hear, recalling them with ease as a recent experience. Thereupon, the youth asked whether he had been asleep or awake when he saw what he had described. He answered: ‘It was in a dream.’ The other said: ‘You remember well, it is true, that you saw all that in a dream, but you must know that even now you see, although you are asleep.’ When he heard that, he believed it was so and expressed it by his answer.

Then the one who was teaching him continued and said: ‘Where is your body now?’ He answered: ‘In my bedroom.’ ‘And do you know,’ said the other, ‘that in that same helpless body, your eyes are fast shut and useless, and that you see nothing with those eyes?’ Gennadius answered: ‘I know it.’ His guide went on: ‘Then, with what kind of eyes do you see me?’ He fell silent at this, finding no reply, and, as he remained in doubt, the youth made known what he was trying to teach by these questions.

He went on: ‘As those eyes of flesh are now inactive and perform no function while your body lies asleep in bed, yet you have eyes with which you behold me and a sight of which you make use, so, when you die and the eyes of your flesh see nothing, there will be in you another life by which you will live and sense by which you will perceive. See to it that henceforth you do not doubt of the life which remains after death.’ Thus this faithful man says that his doubt on this matter was removed, and what was his teacher but the providence and mercy of God?”

In 593 AD, Pope St. Gregory the Great related this story in his Dialogues:

“Bishop Felix…said that he had been told of such a case by a saintly priest who was still living two years ago in the [Italian] diocese of Centum Cellae as pastor of the Church of St. John in Tauriana [on the toe of Italy.] This priest used to bathe in the hot springs of Tauriana whenever his health required. One day, as he entered the baths, he found a stranger there who showed himself most helpful in every way possible, by unlatching his shoes, taking care of his clothes, and furnishing him towels after the hot bath.

After several experiences of this kind, the priest said the himself: ‘It would not do for me to appear ungrateful to this man who is so devoted in his kind services to me. I must reward him in some way.’ So one day he took along two crown-shaped loaves of bread to give him.

When he arrived at the place, the man was already waiting for him and rendered the same services he had before. After the bath, when the priest was again fully dressed and ready to leave, he offered the man the present of bread, asking him kindly to accept it as a blessing, for it was offered a token of charity.

But the man sighed mournfully and said, ‘Why do you give it to me, Father? That bread is holy and I cannot eat it. I who stand before you was once the owner of this place. It is because of my sins that I was sent back here as a servant. If you wish to do something for me, then offer this bread to almighty God, and so make intercession for me, a sinner. When you come back and do not find me here, you will know that your prayers have been heard.

With these words he disappeared, thus showing that he was a spirit disguised as a man. The priest spent the entire week in prayer and tearful supplications, offering Mass for him daily. When he returned to the bath, the man was no longer to be found. This incident points out the great benefits souls derive from the Sacrifice of the Mass. Because of these benefits the dead ask us, the living, to have Masses offered for them, and even show us by signs that it was through the Mass that they were pardoned.”

Our Lady’s Wisconsin Message: The Meaning of the Two Trees

September 25, 2014

In the Garden of Eden, there were many fruit-bearing trees, but Genesis mentions only two by name: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the Tree of Life the human race could keep living forever, but the Lord warned that to eat from the other tree would mean our certain death. On October 9th, 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared near Green Bay to a 28 year-old Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise while she was walking eleven miles home from Sunday Mass. Interestingly, Our Lady chose to appear to Adele not in a church, or a thousand other places, but between two trees: a Maple and a Hemlock.

Maple LeavesYou’re familiar with the beauty and goodness of the Maple. In the fall, its leaves turn the most striking colors, and in the spring its sap yields sweet syrup. But do you know about the Hemlock tree? The poison that the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink came from this plant. Ingesting just six or eight fresh Hemlock leaves can kill a healthy adult. The Maple is a tree of life while the Hemlock is a tree of death. Mary, the New Eve, stood between the two.

Three Conium Maculatum (or Poison Hemlock), Cedar Bog, Champaign CoMary told Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” Our Lady’s message between the two trees is akin the words of Moses, who told the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land….

Peshtigo Fire MapApparently, Our Lady’s warnings were not sufficiently heeded. In October of 1871, exactly twelve years later, disaster came. Both in terms of size and number of lives lost, the Peshtigo Fire remains the worst recorded forest fire in U.S. history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives ended in that firestorm which saw, according to an eyewitness, “large wooden houses torn from their foundations and caught up like straws by two opposing currents of air which raised them till they came in contact with the stream of fire.” This seems to be the punishment due to sin that Mary spoke of, yet this does not mean that everyone who perished in that fire was condemned. We should remember that at harvest time, the wheat and the weeds are pulled up together in a moment, but their future fates are not the same. Once uprooted, the good are gathered and kept in the barn, while the bad are thrown away forever.

The firestorm came and surrounded the shrine of Our Lady, where hundreds had come for refuge with their families and herds, beseeching her intercession before God. As many as fled to her there were saved. The shrine’s consecrated earth was an emerald-green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes as far as eyes could see.

Mary, the Queen of Heaven, prays for the conversion of sinners and she wishes you to do the same. You receive Holy Communion, and that is well. But you must do more. Begin by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, because it is powerful for growing in holiness. The sinner whose conversion you are most responsible for is your own.

Parallelism & Padre Pio — Monday, 25th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

September 23, 2014

Readings: Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13; Psalm 119:1, 27, 30, 34-35, 44

We see within today’s readings a literary structure often found in the Bible: parallelism. A verse states an idea and is immediately followed by a line reexpressing that same truth (or contrasting it.) For example, in our psalm we read:

The way of truth I have chosen;
I have set your ordinances before me.

And in Proverbs:

The soul of the wicked man desires evil;
his neighbor finds no pity in his eyes.

When the arrogant man is punished, the simple are the wiser; when the wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.

Parallelism is a providential gift to translators and readers of the Bible because it helps them to understand Scripture’s meaning better than they would through a singular statement alone.

St. Padre Pio PortraitSt. Padre Pio (or Pius of Pietrelcina) is among the most famous saints of the past century. Like Jesus, large crowds were drawn to him and religious authorities were cautiously wary of him, but he always remained obedient. Like Jesus, Padre Pio possessed the mystical ability to read peoples’ souls — to know strangers’ stories, sins, and struggles. He spent long hours in the confessional, being firm with the hardened and gentle with the weak, just like Jesus was with the Pharisees and the woman at the well. Also, by God’s gift, Padre Pio bore the stigma, the wounds of Christ, in his hands, feet, and side.

God uses parallelism to help us to fathom His Word better. In both Sacred Scripture and in the saints of Jesus Christ, parallelism helps us to understand the Lord better.

Refusing Signs — Monday, 6th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

February 17, 2014

Readings: James 1:1-11, Mark 8:11-13

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.

Yet, soon before this scene in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus took seven loaves and a few fish and miraculously fed about 4,000 people with them. That is a sign as surely as his resurrection will be, so how can Jesus say “no sign will be given to this generation”? Perhaps because there was no sign that his critics would accept.

The Pharisees sought “a sign from heaven.” If Jesus had performed some meteorological sign for them they may well have judged him as more evil than they had thought, in union with the demons of the air, just as they had condemned his manifest power to cast out demons. (Mark 3:21-30) They asked for proof but refused to accept evidence in his favor–they were of people of two minds, like St. James describes in the first reading:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.

Let us pray for those who do not believe; for the sincere, that they may be given sufficient evidence to change their minds, and for the obstinate, that their hardened hearts may be opened. And let us who believe in God (as even the Pharisees did) not cause Jesus to “[sigh] from the depth of his spirit.” Let us be trusting and docile in following him.

“Miracles Happen,” or “Atheism Can be a Dogmatic Faith”

January 23, 2014

A neat article by National Catholic Register’s Mark Shea recounts how the miracles of Lourdes can bestow faith to an atheist or reveal his hardened heart.

The Desert Problem—Thursday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 21, 2011

This morning I would like to talk with you about something I call “the Desert Problem.” We see it with the children of Israel during the Exodus. They had seen the ten plagues that were afflicted on their Egyptian oppressors. They had seen the Red Sea split before them. They heard God speak so powerfully and intensely with Moses at the mountain that they trembled. They accepted God’s covenant. They saw, they heard, but then they forgot. The Israelites seem to always be sinning in the desert and we can feel annoyance at them. However, we should not judge them harshly, for their story is our own. We also struggle with the desert problem.

We come to dry and difficult places in our own lives, too. When we face difficulties we too often forget what we have seen and heard and give in to depression, despair, and sin. The solution to the desert problem is the refreshing water of memory. When you are in a desert you need water, but you don’t need to dig a new well every time you need refreshment; you can go back to an old and reliable well. Before you come to your next desert, think of times in the past when you knew God was close, perhaps an intense consolation experienced in prayer, or a providential miracle you’ve witnessed in life. And when you enter your next desert (or if you find yourself in one now) recall these memories to mind and be refreshed in faith. ‘Blessed are your eyes, because they have seen, and your ears, because they have heard,’ but to remain faithful to God in the desert you must remember the great things of God you have seen and heard.

Seek As To Find — Monday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 18, 2011

When I was a kid, I was neither hot nor cold. I was a cradle-Catholic and wouldn’t renounce Christ, but I wasn’t much of a disciple of Christ either. I would have pseudo-philosophical religious conversations with friends, asking questions like, “How do we know that God is real? How do we know the Bible is really true? Couldn’t the Apostles have been hallucinating on Easter? Doesn’t science contradict religion?” And other objections of that type.

One day, when I was about 12-13 years old, I imagined myself  standing before the judgement seat of God after my death. He looked disappointed and annoyed like I had promised to meet Him somewhere and never showed up. He asked, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it?” (At the time I thought, “Whether this idea is coming by God or just from my own imagination, I have to honestly address this question. What would I say in this situation?”) “God,” I said, “I wasn’t even sure that you were really real. How could I commit my one life to you while I was still uncertain? Who would stand out on a cliff-ledge unless they knew that it could bear their weight?”  He promptly replied, “Well, did you ever really try to find out [if I was real?] I mean, did you even read my book?” When I heard this, I had two reactions. I laughed (because it was funny) and I said, “Oh crud,” (though I didn’t say “crud.”) God had called me out. If I had really been searching for the truth, I would’ve been searching differently. Instead of just asking questions I’d be looking for answers. After that, I began praying more, reading the Bible, and exploring my Catholicism more deeply. Because of this, I stand here today.

Jesus refused to give the Pharisees a sign because they weren’t really looking for the truth but excuses.  If you meet someone who doubts God and says they would believe in Him if He gave them a sign, perhaps ask them if they are really searching for the truth or just raising doubts about God in order to be free from the demands of the Gospel. Whoever truly seeks, finds. As a corrolary for our own lives, for we who believe in God, don’t expect the Lord to explicitly reveal His will for you, unless you are willing to accept His will.

Broadcasting Our Faith — Thursday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 14, 2011

At Easter time, my sister, Laura, and I used to watch documentaries about Christianity on TV. On the one hand, it was cool to see Jesus Christ talked about on channels like CNN and the History Channel. On the other hand, they couldn’t seem to present on the Christian faith without giving at least equal airtime to doubt. Laura and I enjoyed mocking their seemingly unrelenting skepticism:

“Jesus of Nazareth died nailed to a cross… or did He?”
“Every Easter, Christians around the world celebrate their belief that Jesus rose from the dead… or do they?”
“We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors… or will we?”

Last night, ABC’s Nightline had an episode about the Virgin Mary and various apparition sites.  As I expected, the show both pleased me and annoyed me. I was pleased they had almost seven minutes about the shrine of Our Lady of Champion, near Green Bay—the first Church-approved Marian apparition site in our country. This was great, because the better the shrine is known the more good it shall do. On the other hand, I was annoyed by the show in various ways; for starters, by the Nightline episode’s title: “Beyond Belief.”  I was also annoyed by some of the things they included people saying.

I know that being interviewed isn’t easy. Expressing yourself like you want to can be hard, and video editing can take your words out of context, but here are some things they had people saying.  The doctor of a boy who was found to be free of leukemia the day after they visited the Green Bay shrine, was asked whether it was a miracle. He said, “The medicine did its job.… No matter what, God can’t work in the care of this child unless he works through somebody.” The narrator then referred to this metaphysical assertion, regarding what God can and can’t do, as “science.”

Later, the opinions of two, so-called experts were given. The first had written a book entitled From Jesus to Christ. (The book title was itself a red flag because it implies that the real historical Jesus of Nazareth got mythologized into the Christ of faith by later Christians. The Jesus of history and the Christ of our faith are one in the same.) She said, “When I think of the historical Mary, I think, first of all, of a very tired mom. Jesus could have been her fourth or fifth child for all we know. There’s absolutely no data in the New Testament itself to even tell us that.” (Actually, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke describe Mary as a virgin and Jesus as her firstborn Son.) A second expert said, “I’m not really big on the virgin birth as being scientifically viable.” (I wonder if he considers Jesus’ Resurrection, or any other miracle, to be scientifically viable.)

Then the show’s host, who seemed to me more ill-informed than malicious, went on to say, “After her death, early Christians hungry for information on the mother of their Messiah, began filling in Mary’s biography, with more stories like this; that she too was Immaculately Conceived, that her body was assumed to heaven like her Son’s, but the truth is that there’s no evidence to support any of these traditions.” First, he conflates the miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth with Mary’s Immaculate Conception. That’s a common error. Second, it’s just not true that there’s no evidence of Mary’s Assumption. For instance, the mere fact that Christians claim to have bones from all of the Holy Apostles, while no one at anytime anywhere has claimed to have hers, points to something. That’s not an incontrovertible proof for Mary’s Assumption, but it is some evidence for what all Christians were convinced about from the earliest times. The fact that people keep seeing her in compelling apparitions is some evidence too.

On the whole, I thought the show was a net plus; it did more good than harm, but it goes to show that we can’t rely upon the secular media to proclaim the Gospel for us. A person whose only source is secular television is not likely to come to faith. We need to step up as individuals and give witness to others about who God is and what He has done for us. As the psalmist says:

“Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;
make known among the nations his deeds.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought,
his signs, and the judgments he has uttered.”

Moses hesitated to speak to others about God. He said, “When I go to the children of Israel… what am I to tell them?” The Lord said, ‘Tell them, ‘I am who am.’ You shall tell them that I-Am-Who-Am sent you to them.’ Likewise, the one true God is asking you to witness to Him before others. Ask the Holy Spirit for the grace and you will soon receive the opportunity to witness to Jesus Christ and the good things He has done.

Our Lady of Good Help Pilgrimage Homily

June 14, 2011

In the Garden of Eden, there were many fruit-bearing trees but Genesis mentions two by name: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the Tree of Life, the human race could keep living forever, but the Lord warned that to eat from the other tree would mean our certain death.

On October 9th, 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared here, to 28 year-old Belgian emigrant, named Adele Brise, as she was walking 11 miles home from Sunday Mass. Interestingly, Our Lady chose to appear to Adele not in a church setting such as this, but between two trees: a Maple tree and a Hemlock tree.

You’re all familiar with the beauty and goodness of the Maple. In the fall, its leaves turn the most striking colors; and in the spring, its sap yields sweet syrup. But do you know what distinguishes the Hemlock tree? The poison that Socrates was condemned to drink came from this plant. Ingesting just six or eight fresh Hemlock leaves can kill a healthy adult. The Maple is a tree of life, while the Hemlock is a tree of death. Mary, the New Eve, stands between the two.

She tells Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”

Our Lady’s message by the trees recalls the counsel of Moses, who told the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land….”

Apparently, Our Lady’s warnings were not sufficiently heeded. In October of 1871, The Great Peshtigo Fire erupted. In terms of both size and loss of human life, The Great Peshtigo Fire remains the worst recorded forest fire in North American history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives ended in that firestorm which saw, according to an eyewitness, “large wooden houses torn from their foundations and caught up like straws by two opposing currents of air which raised them till they came in contact with the stream of fire.” This seems to be the punishment due to sin that Mary spoke of, but this does not mean that everyone who perished in that fire was condemned. We should remember that at harvest time, the good wheat and the bad weeds are pulled up together in a moment, but their future fates are not the same. Once uprooted from the earth, the good are gathered and kept in the barn, while the bad are thrown away forever.

The Peshtigo firestorm came and surrounded this shrine, where hundreds had come with their families and herds, to beseech the intercession of Mary before God. As many as fled to her were saved. The morning of October 9th, 1871, twelve years to the day after Our Lady’s appearance, saw them delivered.  This consecrated earth was an emerald-green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes as far as eyes could see.

After witnessing this miraculous deliverance, and seeing the lifelong dedication and fruitfulness in Adele Brise’s efforts, many began to believe that she had indeed seen and heard Our Lady. Just last year, the Church formally agreed, approving the apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 as worthy of belief by the Christian faithful. Some people will think that this official recognition closes the book on the story of Our Lady of Champion. Some will come here like tourists, excited see where Mary once appeared and go home contented. They won’t think to imagine that Mary’s message was not only meant for Adele in the past, but directed toward us today

In 1859, Mary prayed for and sought the conversion of sinners. Have we gotten less sinful since then? In 1859, Mary lamented how the young did not know the faith. How much better do we live it now? In 1859, Mary warned that if people did not convert and do penance, her Son will be obliged to punish them.” Do we need to convert and do penance? Would you be surprised if a great natural or man-made disaster befell us? How spiritually well prepared do you think people would be to face that?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the message of Our Lady of Champion is arising to new prominence in our day. Today we heard talks about Our Lady’s Fatima apparitions, which date from 1917. At that time, Mary asked for Russia to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart to bring about its conversion and a period of peace in the world. On March 25th, 1984, Blessed John Paul the Great consecrated Russia and the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was on the feast of the Annunciation. On Christmas, seven years later, the miracle arrived. On the evening of December 25th, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. This was not a coincidence. Politics, economics, and the threat of nuclear war did no bring the Soviet Union to a stunning and peaceful end; it was the work of Jesus and Mary.

What moved Blessed John Paul the Great to consecrate Russia, so many years later after the apparitions, precisely when he did? What moved Bishop David Ricken to approve this apparition, so many years later, as our country’s first Marian apparition site, here and now in our day? In both cases, I suspect that there is more behind these events than the personal whims of men. I suspect that both acts are orchestrated for their role in God’s plan.

I don’t think that Mary’s message was meant for Adele alone, such that their relevance passed away with her death. I think Mary is asking similar things from us. But what exactly? Mary’s message focused upon interceding for sinners and teaching the faith.

Mary the Queen of Heaven, prays for the conversion of sinners, and she wishes you to do the same. You receive Holy Communion, and that is well. But you must do more. First, regularly receive the sacrament of reconciliation, for the sinner whose conversion you are most responsible for is you. I suggest going once a month, for it is effective for growing in holiness.

Next, in this state of grace, offer holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. At every Mass, the priest has an intention for which he is offering the sacrifice. This is a person or group that he asks to be graced, or a problem or need he asks to be helped, by this offering of Jesus’ sacrifice. At every Mass that you attend, you can also offer an intention of your own. Offer some of your holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. And, like the children of Fatima, you can offer your daily sacrifices, burdens borne or pleasures foregone to help those far from God. In doing this, you follow Jesus, who suffered what He endured in order to save others.

Mary also told Adele: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” Anyone who faith is immature is still a child in the faith. You can help teach them. Mary told Adele to ‘teach children their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments.’ For children you will do one way, for adults, another, but you have something to offer them all; your children and relatives, your coworkers and acquaintances. As Mary said, “Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

And finally, if and when a new firestorm afflicts our land, or when personal firestorms erupt in the lives of those we love, lead them to take refuge in Jesus through Mary. Confession and holiness of life, holy offerings and penances for sinners, teaching the faith to all, and leading them all to Jesus with Mary—this was Adele’s mission, and it is our mission too.

Multiplying Our Gifts — Tuesday After Epiphany

January 5, 2011

When the crowd gets hungry, Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish that his disciples offer to Him and uses these to feed everybody. Now if Jesus had wanted to, He could have used just one loaf and one fish. Or, He could have transformed a single piece of bread into more loaves, more fish, or whatever He chose. In fact, Jesus could have forgone the bread and fish business entirely and created a meal from absolutely nothing (ex nihilo) if He had wished. Yet, Jesus takes everything that the disciples offer to Him, blesses it, and uses it to a greater effect than any of them could imagine. Let us remember this when we consider offering our gifts to God.

Our Lady, Our Champion

December 8, 2010

What do Lourdes, France; Fatima, Portugal; and Champion, Wisconsin all have in common? As of today, they are all Church approved Marian apparition sites!

As his Excellency, David Ricken, bishop of Green Bay, pronounced today:  “I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful.” St. Mary told this young Belgian immigrant, “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners… Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation… Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you.” The 151-year old Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin is now the first and only Church approved Marian apparition site in the United States.