Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

True Witnesses to the Resurrection

April 23, 2019

“[S]ome of the [tomb] guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.” And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day.”

—The Gospel according to St. Matthew 28:11-15

When I was a grade-schooler, a classmate told me, “Did you know, if you dream that you’re falling and you hit the ground in your dream, you’ll die in real life?” I was astounded and the idea stuck with me. But upon later reflection, I realized the suggestion was nonsense. If someone had died in their sleep because they fell to the ground in a dream, how would anyone find out what they had been dreaming about? The tomb guards’ cover story likewise makes no sense. If they had been sound asleep, how could they identify who (if anyone) had stolen the body?

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose Jesus’ disciples stole his dead body from the tomb. Then the Apostles would know for a fact that the stories they told of interacting with the resurrected Jesus were lies. Church history reports that ten out of the eleven faithful Apostles would go on to die bloody, martyrs’ deaths. Now someone might die for what they mistakenly believe to be true, but who would knowingly die for a lie?

So let’s suppose instead – again for the sake of argument – that the early Christians lied about the Apostles. But if the Gospel writers had been liars they would have spun their tales differently. The Apostles, the founding father-leaders of this new Christian Church, are not presented flatteringly but with their warts and all. They repeatedly misunderstand Jesus’ teachings, squabble for place and prestige, fall asleep in the garden and then desert their Lord when trouble arrives, and even after the Resurrection they are slow to accept it. A liar would neither invent nor include the story of St. Peter repeatedly denying Christ, but all four Gospel writers did. And who is presented as the first eyewitnesses to Easter morning’s miracle? Various women — in an era where neither Roman nor Jewish courts accepted the testimony of females. Liars would have fabricated more culturally acceptable witnesses, but the Gospels record the story of the Resurrection this way because that is how it really happened.

The Apostles were willing to boldly preach across an empire that had murdered their master, for no notable earthly benefit, until they got killed for it. We might have expected them to lay low, leave town, and go back to full-time fishing, yet these self-admittedly imperfect men were transformed after Easter. They became unafraid of death because they had truly witnessed, seen and touched, Jesus Christ alive from the dead. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! And this eyewitness testimony has circulated among the nations to this present day.

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A Testing By Fire

April 17, 2019

Jesus teaches, “There will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. … I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” I suspect the world’s heartbroken reaction to seeing Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral ablaze resembles how the angels in Heaven mourn the loss of one soul.

On the day of the fire, many feared that this 12th century church honoring “Our Lady,” which took 182 years to build, was no more. But thankfully, the destruction appears limited to its massive oak beam roof. Its tall limestone walls and celebrated stained-glass windows reportedly survived with minor damage. The great cathedral will be resurrected, yet this event should be a wake-up call, a reminder that the most precious of things can be neglected and lost forever.

It is right and good that buildings for the worship of God should be strikingly beautiful. John’s Gospel recalls how less than a week before Jesus’ Passion, Judas Iscariot criticized Mary of Bethany for wasting wealth; using an expensive, fragrant ointment to adore Jesus rather than help the poor. But Christians are called to both – with our worship inspiring and guiding our charity – and no time in history has been wealthier to do both than ours. Notre Dame Cathedral, even now amid ashes and debris, draws souls to closer God. In this is its true value.

In itself, though great in age or size, a church is a less precious thing than its visitors. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” The famous author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe adds, “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.” Our own choices help lead ourselves in one direction or the other, too.

Many will come to church for Easter this Sunday and that is well, but we must do more. Our faith in Jesus Christ must be our life’s foundation and, as St. Paul says, “each one must be careful how he builds upon it… If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day [of Judgment] will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.” As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “our God is a consuming fire.” A trial by fire came to France’s great cathedral and, by the grace of God worthy of our praise, it survived. “In just the same way,” Jesus says of souls, “it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” So let us carefully consider what is truly precious and what we value, what we have been choosing and what we will choose now beyond this Easter morning.

Lessons from the Sins of Simon Peter & Judas

April 9, 2019

After arresting [Jesus] they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. … About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.

– Luke 22:54-55,59-62

This threefold denial by Simon Peter was perhaps the most regretted moment of his life. He denied even knowing Jesus Christ, his teacher, friend, Lord, and God. How humble Peter was to share this story with the Early Church and how wonderful that the Holy Spirit inspired its inclusion in the Gospels! He shows us the fallen can get back up, wanderers can return, sinners can be forgiven, and even those who gravely sin can go on to become the greatest saints.

Jesus would go on to rehabilitate Peter after the Resurrection, alongside another charcoal fire by the Sea of Galilee. Mirroring the three denials, Jesus asks three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” and Jesus reinstates him as shepherd of his sheep and lambs. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) is likewise a personal encounter with Jesus Christ where we re-profess our love for God and receive his restoring forgiveness through the ministry of his ordained priest.

Though Simon Peter’s sins were forgiven they were not without loss and opportunities squandered. During the Passion, as they led Jesus away, “they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.” If Simon Peter had not sinned in denying Christ the night before he could have been there, ready and willing to get behind his Lord, pick up Jesus’ cross and follow him. How beautiful that would have been! But this opportunity fell to another Simon.

Thanks be to God, St. Peter went on to repent. He did not give up to despair like Judas Iscariot. When Judas saw Jesus condemned and on his way to execution he deeply regretted what he had done. (One theory for why Judas had sold Jesus out is he wanted to trigger a confrontation with the leaders of Israel which would force Jesus to wield his mighty powers and take the throne.) Judas tried to return the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They answered, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, Judas departed and went off and hanged himself.

What if instead, on Good Friday afternoon, Judas had immediately ran to Calvary Hill? What if he had thrown himself down before Christ hanging on the Cross and begged his forgiveness? What would Jesus have said? What would Jesus have done? I think we already know the answer, or could pretty closely guess. Jesus would have forgiven Judas.

So come to Jesus in sacramental Confession. Come sooner rather than later and more than just once or twice a year. And, once wonderfully absolved, resolve and strive to sin no more. Though sins can be forgiven, we see that every sin or delayed conversion entails some loss, an opportunity missed.

When Was Easter?

March 30, 2019

Easter Sunday is April 21st this year, but other years it can fall anywhere between March 21st and April 25th. The date of Easter moves around the calendar because we celebrate it on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, on or after our first day of spring. In this, the Church echoes how the ancient, Jewish feast day of Passover was determined. Which raises a question: what’s the historical date of the very first Easter?

By pairing the four Gospels with other historical records we can narrow down the first Easter’s exact date. Jesus began his ministry after John the Baptist’s, which Luke reports began “in the fifteenth year of the reign of [the Roman Emperor] Tiberius Caesar,” or 29 AD. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus to death ruled Judea from 26 to 36 AD. We also know Jesus was crucified on a Friday the day before a Passover. There were only two such dates between 29 and 36 AD (namely, in 30 and 33 AD.) Finally, John’s Gospel notes three distinct Passovers (a timespan of at least two years) during the ministry of Jesus, which rules out 30 AD as too early to be Easter. Therefore, we can precisely pinpoint several of Christianity’s most important historic dates:

  • Holy Thursday – April 2nd, 33 AD – The Last Supper & beginning of the Passion
  • Good Friday – April 3rd, 33 AD – Jesus Passion, Crucifixion at noon, & Death at 3 p.m.
  • Easter Sunday – April 5th, 33 AD – Jesus’ Resurrection in early morning
  • Pentecost Sunday – May 24th, 33 AD – Descent of the Holy Spirit at 9 a.m.

Our Catholic Faith, our Christian religion, cannot be dismissed as a misty myth from “once upon a time.” Jesus of Nazareth was born of the Virgin Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and died, was buried and rose in actual history. As Pope Benedict XVI famously wrote in his first encyclical, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Jesus Christ is a real person who once lived and still lives today.

Mary in History: Our Lady of Lourdes

March 25, 2019

March 25, 1858 – Lourdes, France

This was now the sixteenth time St. Bernadette Soubirous had encountered the Lady at the grotto. Bernadette had reported seeing “a young girl, sixteen, or seventeen years old. She wore a white dress drawn in at the waist by a blue ribbon whose ends hung down. On her head she wore a long white veil so as almost to cover her hair. Her feet were bare but nearly covered by the folds of her dress, except at the tip where a yellow rose shone on each. On her right arm she carried a Rosary of white beads on a golden chain, shining like the roses on her feet.” The local pastor, Fr. Dominique Peyramale, had prudently and persistently urged Bernadette to ask and discover the name of this strange visitor.

“She was there,” Bernadette recounts. “I asked her to forgive me for coming late. Always kind and gracious, she made a sign to me with her head to tell me that I need not make excuses. Then I spoke to her of all my love, all my reverence and the happiness I had in seeing her again. After having poured out my heart to her, I took up my Rosary. While I was praying, the thought of asking her name came before my mind with such persistence that I could think of nothing else. I feared to be presumptuous in repeating a question she had always refused to answer and yet something compelled me to speak.”

“At last, under an irresistible impulse, the words fell from my mouth, and I begged the Lady to tell me who she was. The Lady did as she had always done before; she bowed her head and smiled but she did not reply. I cannot say why, but I felt bolder and asked her again to be so kind as to tell me her name; however, she only bowed and smiled as before, still keeping silence. Then once more, for the third time, clasping my hands and acknowledging myself unworthy of the favor I was seeking of her, I again made my request.”

“The Lady was standing above the rosebush, in a position very similar to that shown in the Miraculous Medal. At my third request, her face became very serious and she seemed to bow down in an attitude of humility. Then she joined her hands and raised them to her breast… She looked up to Heaven… then slowly opening her hands and leaning forward towards me, she said to me in a voice vibrating with emotion, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.'”

Bernadette, the simple and uneducated girl, did not understand what the Lady’s words meant but she repeated them over and over to herself (lest she forget them) as she walked to inform her parish priest. Only once the statement’s meaning was explained to her did St. Bernadette realize that her “Lady” was indeed the Blessed Virgin Mary. The apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes represents a heavenly confirmation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception which Pope Pius IX had solemnly and infallibly proclaimed and affirmed a few years before in 1854.

Mary in History: A Mystical Marriage

March 9, 2019

March 9, 1368 – Siena, Italy

Catherine Benincasa was born the youngest of twenty-five children in Siena, Italy. She was so joyful as a child that they nicknamed her “Eu-phro-sy-ne,” from the Greek word for “merriment.” At age six, while walking home with her brother, she stopped in her tracks. When she did not respond to his calls, he walked back to her and shook her, as from a dream. She burst into tears, having beheld in the sky a vision of Jesus seated in glory with the Apostles Peter, Paul, and John. A year later, she made a secret vow to give her whole life to God.

In her teenage years, Catherine’s parents began pressuring her to enter marriage, but she voiced with her intention not to. When her parents persisted, she cut short her beautiful golden-brown hair. As punishment, they made her do menial work in the household and, knowing she craved prayerful solitude, never allowed her to be alone. She bore all this with patient sweetness, later writing that God showed her how to build within her soul a private chamber where no tribulation could enter.

On Fat (or Shrove) Tuesday, while the people of Siena were celebrating carnival, the 21-year-old Catherine was praying in her room. A vision of Jesus appeared, with by Mary and the heavenly angels. Our Lady took Catherine’s hand and held it up to Christ, who placed a ring upon it and mystically married her to himself. Though invisible to others, this ring of St. Catherine of Siena was always visible to her.

Some misunderstand the meaning and purpose of celibacy in the Church. Jesus Christ, St. Paul, St. Catherine, and others have encouraged and lived this way of life not because human connection or natural marriage are bad, but because celibacy allows for a higher and broader intimacy. Every person is called to marriage, be it natural or spiritual; and everyone one is called to have children, be they biological or spiritual.

Mary in History: A Healing Spring

February 24, 2019

February 25, 1858 – Lourdes, France

By the time of this, the ninth appearance of the beautiful Lady to the fourteen-year-old St. Bernadette Soubirous, word had spread about these apparitions and the visionary. On this date, about 300 people accompanied Bernadette to the grotto near the Gave River outside Lourdes. No one except Bernadette could see the Lady nor hear her speaking aloud in their local French dialect.

On this occasion, the Lady told Bernadette, “Go and wash and drink in the spring.” But Bernadette became confused because there was no spring to be seen. At first she thought she meant the river, but the Lady directed her to the back of the grotto cave. Bernadette walked there, kneeled down, and dug at the earth with her hands. Water began seeping into the hole, turning the soil to mud. Bernadette drank it and washed her face with it. She also, at the lady’s command, ate some of the grass there. Understandably, the crowd was dismayed and thought her crazy. Bernadette answered, “It is for sinners.”

There had been no spring there before, but by the next day the spot was producing a thin stream trickling down to the river. Later, Louis Bourriette, a blinded stonecutter, bathed his eyes in its water and regained his sight. In another famous case, a desperate mom prayerfully plunged her weak and dying infant into the cold spring waters and he became healthy and strong for the first time, amazing the doctors. (This child, Justin Bouhort, who would go on to attend the canonization of St. Bernadette seventy-five years later, on December 8th, 1933.) Though there is nothing scientifically unique about the chemical makeup of this water, more than 7,000 miraculous healings have been counted at Lourdes, of which 67 have been officially recognized as “medically inexplicable” by the International Medical Association of Lourdes. As we see in the spring at Lourdes, St. Bernadette, and Our Lady, the Lord exults the lowly, leading all future generations to call them blessed.

Sound Interpretations

February 17, 2019

Last year, the internet hotly debated whether a particular sound clip was saying Yanny” or “Laurel.” While most people can only hear one name or the other, some people can make out each. In fact, both of the names are sounding in the clip together but at higher and lower pitches. In another online curiosity, a short video shows a small figurine glowing and emitting a sound, either “Brainstorm” or “Green Needle.” The amazing thing is that if you listen to this clip with either phrase in mind then that is the phrase you’ll hear. You can even alternate back and forth between the two. In each of these examples, the messages are indeed there to be heard if one has the ears to hear them.

These phenomena suggest how people in the Bible may have been present to the same auditory events but heard things quite differently. On one occasion recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus prayed aloud, “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from Heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” John notes, “The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.‘” Later, at Pentecost in The Acts of the Apostles, the disciples “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” At the sound of it others in Jerusalem from many nations gathered in a large crowd “but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. … They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others said, scoffing, ‘They have had too much new wine.’” Sometimes people can hear more than one thing in the same divine message, or dismiss it all as nonsense.

Does each passage of the Bible have only one true interpretation? Some reject that Isaiah 7:14 (“The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”) could foretell the virgin birth of Jesus, arguing “the author was referring only to the political situation of his day, not to an event centuries later he couldn’t possibly have known.” But this view forgets or denies that human beings are not the sole authors of Scripture. They are co-authors inspired by the Holy Spirit. God is all-knowing and alive outside of time. He can inspire prophesies with both near and distant fulfillments. And God can invest passages with multiple true and divinely-intended meanings. For example, in the Book of Revelation, John beholds in the sky, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” She gives birth to a son, the Christ, and then she is protected by God from a red dragon, the Devil. Does this represent God’s people of the Old and the New Covenants, or does it symbolize Mary the Mother of God? Yes. The answer is both.

Sacred Scripture, like other things of God, may be compared to a magic pool. It is a pool in which a small toddler may safely play and a great whale may deeply swim. Let us not remain shallow in our understandings, but explore the true depths of God’s Word.

Mary in History: A Surprising Lady

February 11, 2019

February 11, 1858 – Lourdes, France

On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (which is called “Fat” or “Shrove” Tuesday,) Bernadette Soubirous, her sister, and a friend were gathering firewood in the cold outside their small French town. They were near a river and a grotto (a shallow cave) where the locals would dump their garbage. Then fourteen-year-old Bernadette heard the sound of a sudden swish of wind. As Bernadette would later recall:

“I had just begun to take off my first stocking [intending to cross the shallow river barefooted as my companions had done] when suddenly I heard a great noise like the sound of a storm. I looked to the right, to the left, under the trees of the river, but nothing moved; I thought I was mistaken. I went on taking off my shoes and stockings, when I heard a fresh noise like the first. Then I was frightened and stood straight up. I lost all power of speech and thought, when, turning my head toward the grotto, I saw at one of the openings of the rock a [rose] bush, one only, moving as if it were very windy. Almost at the same time there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden colored cloud, and soon after a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen, came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening above the bush. She looked at me immediately, smiled at me and signed me to advance, as if she had been my mother. All fear had left me, but I seemed to know no longer where I was. I rubbed my eyes, I shut them, I opened them; but the Lady was still there continuing to smile at me and making me understand that I was not mistaken. Without thinking of what I was doing, I took my Rosary in my hands and fell on my knees. The Lady made a sign of approval with her head and took into her hands a rosary which hung on her right arm. When I attempted to begin the Rosary and tried to lift my hand to my forehead, my arm remained paralyzed, and it was only after the Lady had signed herself that I could do the same. The Lady left me to pray all alone; she passed the beads of her Rosary between her fingers but she said nothing; only at the end of each decade did she say the ‘Glory Be’ with me.”

St. Bernadette Soubirous then returned to her family’s poor home, but this would be just the first of eighteen apparitions to her by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, over the five months to follow.

Mary in History: The Conversion of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne

January 20, 2019

January 20, 1842 – Italy

Alphonse, a French, upper-class, secular Jew, was no fan of religion. He particularly opposed Catholicism after his brother converted and became a priest. Yet providential circumstances brought Alphonse to Rome where Baron Theodore de Bussières, a family friend and fervent Catholic, challenged the 27-year-old skeptic to wear the Miraculous Medal and say the Memorare prayer each day. Alphonse obliged and, on the morning of January 20th, he felt drawn to walk into a church.

I was scarcely in the church when a total confusion came over me,” he later wrote. “When I looked up, it seemed to me that the entire church had been swallowed up in shadow, except one chapel. It was as though all the light was concentrated in that single place. I looked over towards this chapel whence so much light shone, and above the altar was a living figure, tall, majestic, beautiful and full of mercy. It was the most holy Virgin Mary, resembling her figure on the Miraculous Medal. At this sight I fell on my knees right where I stood. Unable to look up because of the blinding light, I fixed my glance on her hands, and in them I could read the expression of mercy and pardon. In the presence of the Most Blessed Virgin, even though she did not speak a word to me, I understood the frightful situation I was in, my sins and the beauty of the Catholic Faith.

That day, he went to meet a Catholic priest. Eleven days after, Alphonse was baptized, confirmed, received Holy Communion, and added “Marie” (that is, “Mary”) to his name. That same year a formal Vatican investigation into his instant conversion judged it a divine miracle operated through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Marie-Alphonse was ordained a priest five years later and alongside his priest-brother labored twenty-nine years establishing religious houses and evangelizing Jews in Palestine, or present-day Israel. At the first Pentecost, 3,000 people in Jerusalem were converted to Christ through the Apostles. The Lord Jesus would have us also use our personal testimonies, invitations, and prayers to win souls for him today.

Christ Calls in Ordinary Time

January 16, 2019

As [Jesus] passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they left their nets and followed him.

— Mark 1:16-18

A remarkable thing about this calling of Simon Peter and Andrew is its ordinariness. The pair are not called through a vision or by angels. Mark mentions no miracles performed there on the shore. We know from John’s Gospel that they have met this rabbi before. Jesus simply tells them to follow him.

This call does not happen on a Jewish holy day, in the Temple, or in a palace, nor at Jerusalem or Rome. (The region of Galilee was an unesteemed place for the Jews and doubly so for the Romans.) Simon and Andrew are not clergy nor scholars, neither governors nor generals. They’re fishermen who work nights doing manual labor. They’re not on spiritual retreat or pilgrimage, they haven’t journeyed for days to a holy mountain of God. Yet Christ walks up to them and calls these two brothers during an ordinary day at their place of work.

Jesus Christ the God-Man does extraordinary things through the ordinary. He makes use of water for his baptism, bread for his Eucharist, and human pairing to reveal his loving union with the Church. He uses our human words to communicate God’s Word in the most published book on earth. He dwells (and waits) for us in every Catholic tabernacle. He makes himself so accessible that, if we are unattentive to him, we can disregard his presence and graces amidst familiar things.

Ordinary Time has returned in the Church. Though not a “special” season like Advent, Lent, Christmas, or Easter, its name does not derive from a lack of value but from the ordinal numbers which count its weeks (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) The color of this time is green because it is a season for our ongoing growth. So let us follow the Christ who greets and calls us like Simon Peter and Andrew even in Ordinary Time.

Mary in History: Help of Christians

January 12, 2019

January 12-13, 1866 – Czech Republic

For more than a decade, Magdalena Kade suffered from very poor health. At age 30, her condition took a turn for the worse such that her two physicians thought she would soon die and her priest gave her the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick with Last Rites. One Friday night, while Magdalena lay in bed attended to by Veronika Kindermannová, her friend from next door, “All of a sudden the room became luminous, full of more light than daytime.” As Magdalena would later testify in the bishop’s investigation, “I was frightened. I elbowed Veronika, saying to her: ‘Veronika, wake up, do you not see this glow?’ Veronika said: ‘But I do not see anything.’ In front of my bed was a figure that emanated a very white light, with a golden crown on its head. I quickly thought it was the Mother of God. I united my hands in prayer and began to pray: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit exults in God, my Savior.‘ [Mary spoke these words at the Visitation.] Having said this, I heard a voice – but an unusual voice, different from that of people: ‘My child, from this moment on you will be healed.’ And in that moment the person disappeared and I no longer felt any pain.

That night, Magdalena rose from her bed to the great joy of her family and on Saturday morning she walked to the local bakery to buy bread. When the townspeople of Filipov saw her and asked how she was well, she replied, “Last night I saw the Virgin Mary and she told me I would be healed. And I am healed. Nothing more and nothing less happened.” Magdalena would go on to retell her story many times to inquirers and the room where she was healed became a place of pilgrimage. After her bishop’s investigation affirmed the supernatural character of Magdalena’s cure, a church was built on the site. In 1885, Pope Leo XIII elevated it to a minor basilica and officially consecrated and dedicated it to “Mary, Help of Christians.” Like Mary before her, Magdalena could rejoice that “the Almighty has done great things for me” and, by plainly sharing her firsthand experience, she led others to deeper faith in Christ. Let us likewise share the stories our own miraculous, God-touched moments with family, friends, and neighbors as well.

Mary in History: Our Lady of Prompt Succor

January 8, 2019

January 8, 1815 – Louisiana

Mary as Our Lady of Prompt Succor (which means, “rapid aid”) has been celebrated in New Orleans, Louisiana on this date for more than 200 years since a famous military victory. The Ursuline Sisters in New Orleans had honored a statue of Mary by this title for several years in their chapel, but when the British army threatened to capture their city during the War of 1812 these nuns and many townsfolk spent the night beseeching her help. The convent’s prioress made a vow to have a Mass of Thanksgiving sung annually should the American forces prevail. During Mass the next morning, as Holy Communion was being distributed, a messenger rushed into the chapel with the news that the British had been defeated.

Though the British army had outnumbered the American troops (about 8,000 to 5,700) the invaders were repulsed and swiftly defeated in just over a half hour of fighting. The commanding general of the American side, the future president Andrew Jackson, went to nuns’ convent afterwards to thank them for their prayers: “By the blessing of heaven, directing the valor of the troops under my command, one of the most brilliant victories in the annals of war was obtained.” For each American soldier lost or wounded in that battle, the British had experienced roughly thirty casualties. This victory was commemorated by Johnny Horton’s 1959 #1 hit song “The Battle of New Orleans.” Since 1928, Our Lady of Prompt Succor has been honored as the principal patroness of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana.

Mary in History: Our Lady of the Flowers

December 29, 2018

December 29, 1336 – Italy

Egidia Mathis, a pregnant, young wife, was walking alone at the edge of nightfall near Bra, Italy. Near a pillar bearing a coarsely painted image of the Virgin Mary with Child, she crossed paths with two foreign soldiers-for-hire (that is, mercenaries) whom she sensed wished to do her harm. Incapable of defense or escape, Egidia flung herself towards the pillar, begging Mary’s help. A great light came forth from the image. Mary scared off the wicked men with a commanding gesture and smiled at Egidia with maternal empathy. The stress of the moment caused Egidia to go into labor and she delivered her baby there. As she held her newborn closely in the winter cold, the blackthorn thicket surrounding the pillar was now in full bloom with thousands of white flowers. Upon reaching home, she told her husband of the whole episode and he with their relatives and neighbors all beheld the miraculous, out-of season flowering.

Some might dismiss this tale as merely pious legend. But virtually every winter since 1336, this blackthorn thicket, contrary to its species and scientific explanation, has flowered between December 25th and January 15th. Two rare exceptions were 1914 and 1939, the years the two World Wars began. Furthermore, on three occasions, this winter flowering has extended for months, corresponding each time with rare public expositions of the Shroud of Turin (the possible burial cloth of Christ) housed twenty-seven miles away.

Mary in History: Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 11, 2018

December 12, 1531 – Mexico

The Blessed Virgin had previously appeared to St. Juan Diego, a Native American, Catholic convert, twice sending him to the local bishop to ask that a church be built near Tepeyac Hill in what is today Mexico City, Mexico. The bishop was not persuaded by the native’s story but asked him for some kind of sign from Mary. On this date, Mary directed Juan to pick some non-native roses miraculously in bloom out of season on that hill and to bring them to the bishop. Juan gathered these in the front of his poncho-like garment (called a tilma) and set off.

When Juan opened the front of his tilma before the bishop to reveal the roses, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image was found on the humble fabric of his garment. Her appearance was that of an Aztec princess, clothed in the Sun with the Moon under her feet, bearing a Divine Child in her womb. The image’s rich symbolism spoke compellingly to the native people and Mexico was converted to Christ.

That tilma, made of rough cactus fibers, should have deteriorated centuries ago, but this garment and its brushstroke-less image remain on display in Mexico’s greatest shrine to this day. Like many things, it’s a miracle existing in plain sight. Our diocese also has a beautiful shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, located just south of La Crosse. If you’ve never visited, it’s worth the pilgrimage.