Archive for the ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’ Category

Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant

September 4, 2017

Did you ever see Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark? You may recall seeing the movie’s replica of the Ark of the Covenant featured as the McGuffin artifact everyone was seeking out. This movie has been very helpful to preachers in providing a visual aid to everyone of what the Ark of the Covenant looked like.

Like Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant was a box constructed according to God’s design and command. It served as a portable throne bearing the presence of God on earth. The Ark held inside of it three important things: the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the wooden staff of Moses’ brother Aaron the High Priest, and a gold jar containing some of the Manna God provided his people to eat in the desert. The reason I mention these things today is because the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament foreshadows the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Testament.

The old Ark held the Ten Commandments, the word of God in stone; the Virgin Mary bears the Word of God in flesh. The old Ark held the priestly staff which on one occasion miraculously blossomed despite being dead; Mary conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit despite her perfect virginity. The old Ark contained Manna bread in a golden vessel; Mary’s holy womb contains the true Bread from Heaven, provided to us for our journey to Promised Land — Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

At God’s command, the old Ark was made of natural wood overlaid with pure gold inside and out. Mary is a human woman who is made “full of grace.” King David once joyfully leaped and danced before the Ark of the Lord. At the Visitation, when Mary visits Elizabeth her relative, John the Baptist likewise leaps with joy within his mother’s womb. David once asked, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth likewise asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” On one occasion, the old covenant ark was kept for three months in the house of a man named Obed-edom outside Jerusalem, and Scripture records that God blessed his whole household. Mary likewise dwelt three months in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth near Jerusalem and was surely a blessing to them.

No man was to touch the Old Covenant Ark, lest they be struck down dead. (God instructed his ministers to move that holy Ark only by means of two gilded poles which slid through rings on the sides of the Ark.) Joseph of Nazareth held a similar reverence towards Mary, his ever-virgin wife. In the Old Testament, the Lord was to be found wherever the old Ark dwelt, from the Sinai wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament, “on entering the house, [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother,” and, “standing by the cross of Jesus [was] his mother.”

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Nazis were looking for the “lost” Ark because Scripture reports that the Old Covenant Ark was hidden soon before the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and placed it in a secret cave. Unlike in the 1981 movie, the Lost Ark has never been recovered. Yet, in his revelations recorded at the end of the New Testament, John the Apostle sees the new Ark revealed. John writes: “God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” The next thing John describes is a glorious woman pregnant with the Christ child, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, whom at the end of her time on earth God lifted up body and soul into Heaven.

The old Ark was of central, though secondary, importance in the Old Covenant. Drawing physically nearer to it brought one closer to the presence of God on earth. Likewise, God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Ark, a central role in his New Covenant. If you draw closer in your relationship with her, you will surely draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

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God Raises Up the Lowly

June 1, 2017

She was a teenage virgin when she received a word from Heaven — she was to be God’s instrument in an incredible way. She asked how this could be, since she was merely an uneducated peasant girl. The messenger answered that God would deliver his people through her and she consented to her part in God’s plan. Despite her utter lack of military training, St. Joan of Arc (1412—1431 AD) would go on to lead French troops to swift victories against the English armies occupying her  homeland, paving the way for her people’s liberation.

Every year, St. Joan’s of Arc’s feast (May 30th) comes the day before the Feast of the Visitation, which celebrates the meeting of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth when they were pregnant with St. John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. I think it is fitting and providential that these two celebrations are paired together on the liturgical calendar. These three, wondrous women display God’s preferred means of intervening and triumphing throughout human history: by manifesting his mighty power through the weak and the lowly.

Of course, God can work through the high-ranking and the powerful to accomplish his purposes as well. For example, in 312 AD the pagan emperor Constantine, on the eve of a great battle in a civil war for control of the Western Roman Empire, reportedly had a vision of the Chi-Rho (☧), a Greek symbol for “Christ.” He then heard these words:  “In this sign you will conquer.” Constantine had this symbol painted on his soldiers’ shields and  prevailed in that decisive Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine became the first Christian emperor and promptly legalized the previously persecuted Christian religion throughout the empire in 313 AD.

And yet, the Virgin Mother Mary rejoices that God prefers to show the strength of his arm by lifting up the lowly and casting down the mighty from their thrones. St. Paul once redirected the attention of self-inflated Christians in Corinth, Greece to this truth:

Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. … “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

In the Old Testament, God chose sheepherders, like Moses the Prophet and later King David, to lead and deliver his oppressed people. He chose working-class fishermen as some of the Church’s first bishops. At the Visitation, the four most important people in the entire world met together in one place: two women and their unborn babies. And through one condemned man, whose three-year rabbinical career seemed to end in failure and death, God redeemed the world. Such is the divine approach, lest we look to merely our own human plans and efforts as the source for our salvation.

The Virgin Mary was a Martyr

September 15, 2016

 St.

The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of our Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: “He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted.” He went on to say to Mary: “And your own heart will be pierced by a sword.”

the-swoon-of-the-virginTruly, O blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart. For only by passing through your heart could the sword enter the flesh of your Son. Indeed, after your Jesus – who belongs to everyone, but is especially yours – gave up his life, the cruel spear, which was not withheld from his lifeless body, tore open his side. Clearly it did not touch his soul and could not harm him, but it did pierce your heart. For surely his soul was no longer there, but yours could not be torn away. Thus the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly call you more than martyr, since the effect of compassion in you has gone beyond the endurance of physical suffering.

Or were those words, “Woman, behold your Son,” not more than a word to you, truly piercing your heart, cutting through to the division between soul and spirit? What an exchange! John is given to you in place of Jesus, the servant in place of the Lord, the disciple in place of the master; the son of Zebedee replaces the Son of God, a mere man replaces God himself. How could these words not pierce your most loving heart, when the mere remembrance of them breaks ours, hearts of iron and stone though they are!

Do not be surprised, brothers, that Mary is said to be a martyr in spirit. Let him be surprised who does not remember the words of Paul, that one of the greatest crimes of the Gentiles was that they were without love. That was far from the heart of Mary; let it be far from her servants.

Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.

Mary, the World’s First Love

August 19, 2016

The Blessed Virgin Mary at Prayer    “When Whistler painted the picture of his mother, did he not have the image of her in his mind before he ever gathered his colors on his palette? If you could have preexisted your mother (not artistically, but really), would you not have made her the most perfect woman that ever lived—one so beautiful she would have been the sweet envy of all women, and one so gentle and so merciful that all other mothers would have sought to imitate her virtues? Why, then, should we think that God would do otherwise? When Whistler was complimented on the portrait of his mother, he said, “You know how it is; one tries to make one’s Mummy just as nice as he can.” When God became Man, He too, I believe, would make His Mother as nice as He could—and that would make her a perfect Mother.

She existed in the Divine Mind as an Eternal Thought before there were any mothers. She is the Mother of mothers — she is the world’s first love.”

—Venerable Fulton Sheen (1895–1979 A.D.)
in The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God

The Old Covenant’s (Surprising) Last Seven Prophets

May 6, 2016

A prophet is someone enlightened by God to reveal his message. Each Sunday, we familiarly proclaim that the Holy Spirit has “spoken through the prophets,” but the identities of the seven last Old Covenant prophets (as seen in the Bible) may well surprise you.

#7 :  The Author of 2nd Maccabees

Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament, yet the Bible’s books do not always appear in chronological order. Our separated Protestant brethren would identify Malachi as the last prophetic book in the Old Testament, but the Church’s Bible includes seven books which they exclude. The last of these is 2nd Maccabees, written during the 1st century BC.

The author of 2nd Maccabees, who chronicles the Jews’ successful rebellion against their Greek persecutors, does not seem to know he writes by divine inspiration. In his closing remarks he adds, “If [this story] is well written and to the point, that is what I wanted; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that is the best I could do.” (15:38) However, neither does St. Paul appear to grasp that his letters to the churches would be revered on the level of Genesis, Joshua, or Daniel. This shows that God can use us in amazing ways, in perfect accord with his will, even if we fail to recognize it at the time.

#6 & #5 :  St. Zachariah & St. Elizabeth

The Visitation by BlocZachariah and his wife, Elizabeth, are old and childless. But the Archangel Gabriel appears to Zachariah in the Temple and says that they shall have a son. Although he knows that God has blessed with children elderly and barren couples of old, Zachariah disbelieves the message. In response, he is put on a forty-week silent retreat. Zachariah becomes mute and apparently deaf as well (since his neighbors and relatives will later resort to making gestures to ask him the name of his newborn son.) Though he cannot tell his pregnant wife of their unborn son’s great mission, Elizabeth receives insights from the Holy Spirit.

When she hears the greeting of her visiting relative, Elizabeth is “filled with the holy Spirit” and cries out in a loud voice, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The Blessed Virgin’s belly has not yet begun to grow, but Elizabeth prophesies and confirms to Mary that she is indeed pregnant with a boy who is “the Lord.” (Luke 1)

The Holy Spirit also seems to reveal to Elizabeth the name of her child: “John,” a name unfamiliar to her family. At the naming ceremony, Zechariah regains his voice, confirms her word, and “filled with the holy Spirit, prophesie[s]” through the canticle which bears his name. This holy, prophetic couple would ready their son for the great mission prepared for him by God.

#4 :  The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Philadelphia, 1898.The Archangel Gabriel declared unto Mary that she would conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. But is Mary a prophetess? Unlike Elizabeth and Zachariah, Luke’s Gospel does not say Mary, “filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied,” or “filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice.” However, as Fr. Raymond Brown observed, the Annunciation to Mary shares the biblical form of a prophetic calling (like those of Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel before her):

(1) An Encounter with God or His Angel
(2) An Introductory Word
(3) A Call or Commission
(4) Objection(s) to the Message
(5) Reassurance by God or His Angel
(6) A Sign is Given

In her later canticle, Blessed Mary speaks a prophesy which remains fulfilled in our midst: “Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Mary is a prophetess, filled with the Holy Spirit, who bears God’s Word.

Simeon Holding the Baby Jesus in the Temple as His Parents Look On#3 & #2 :  St. Simeon & St. Anna

When the baby Jesus’ parents brought him to the Temple for the first time, they were met by Simeon and Anna; she was “a prophetess” and  “[t]he holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon “came in the Spirit into the temple,” took Jesus in his arms, and declared him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Anna likewise came forward at that very time and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2)

Simeon may have been advanced in years, but “it had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.” Anna, for her part, was an eighty-four-year-old widow who “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” Anna and Simeon show us how the old can bless the young through sharing the word of the Lord they have personally come to know.

#1 :  St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist PreachingWe do not know exactly how many Old Covenant prophets God inspired after the author of 2nd Maccabees. (A case might be made for the Bethlehem shepherds and the Magi as well.)  But we do know that John the Baptist represents the last Old Covenant prophet, the forerunner to the New Covenant Christ. He is “more than a prophet,” Jesus says. “All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. … Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11)

At baptism, each Christian is entrusted with a prophetic mission. As those enlightened with God’s ultimate revelation, we are to share this Word. As great as it is to proclaim Christ’s coming, to proclaim his triumph is still greater.

He Proved Faithful — Good Friday Homily

March 25, 2016

Few proved faithful to Jesus on Good Friday, but on Good Friday Jesus proved himself faithful to us.

The political leaders were supposed to serve justice, but Pilate and Herod failed to protect Jesus as an innocent man. Jesus protected us when we were guilty.

The religious leaders were supposed to serve holiness, but the High Priests and the Sanhedrin failed to accept Jesus as their Messiah. Jesus accepted us so that we might become holy.

The disciples were supposed to serve their teacher and lord, but Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, and the others abandoned him. By enduring his suffering and death, Jesus proved himself faithful to us.

Jesus’ mother Mary was faithful. She stood with him at the foot of the cross. It was a consolation for Jesus to have her there. Two of his beloved disciples were also there: Mary Magdalene and the apostle John. Jesus was grateful to have them close by.

Today, on this Good Friday, by the grace of God, we are at the foot of the cross. Let us pray for mercy, for ourselves and for others. Despite our past unfaithfulness, let us honor his faithfulness to us. Jesus is pleased that we are here with him, and he is grateful for our gratitude.

View From the Cross by Tissot

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.”

The Temptations of the First Christmas

December 22, 2015

If I were a demon prowling about the world for the discouragement, confusion, and ruin of souls, how might I have tried to tempt God’s beloved ones in the year leading up to the first Christmas?

If I were a demon, I would say to St. Elizabeth, “Did people imagine that Zechariah had a vision while he was serving in the temple? He simply had a stroke and he will never speak again. You’re feeling sick every day and your abdomen is expanding. You clearly have a cancer. You will soon be dead. There is no hope.

If I were a demon, I would say to St. Mary, “You think you saw an angel? That’s crazy! You’re imagining things. Who are you to be the mother of God’s son? Who do you think you are! Don’t even bother going to visit Elizabeth. You’ll feel foolish when you arrive and see that nothing has changed. None of your family, friends, or neighbors will believe you. Joseph will divorce you and you will be all alone.

And if I were a demon, I would say to St. Joseph, “Do you really believe Mary conceived by God’s Spirit? She’s obviously lying. Even if it’s true, who are you to be a father to the Messiah? Either way, it is best for you to just get a divorce. Whatever you imagined when you married her, now you can see that you were so very wrong.

Mary & Joseph

Even with the coming of Christmas, my diabolical efforts would not cease. I would advise Bethlehem’s shepherds to steer safely-clear of the holy child and to keep to watching their flocks. I would urge the Magi to dismiss the starry signs as meaningless coincidences and not to risk a long journey. I would encourage Joseph to ignore the warning dream to take his family into Egypt and I would encourage Mary not to trust in her loving husband’s lead: “Surely, God would have told you this before telling Joseph.” Thankfully for us, none of them were prevented from doing God’s will through being tripped-up by such traps.

Some people think of temptation strictly as a prompting toward pleasurable, immoral action. But temptation can come in other forms. It can also pull us toward inaction and negative experiences like fear, doubt, sadness, and despair.

Some people assume that the saints do not know temptation like the rest of us. But did Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth live oblivious to the thoughts and unassailed by the feelings realistically described above? In truth, the saints come to understand temptation well as they discern and persevere through the trials of life.

Some people believe that God loves and watches over a few favored saints while having less concern for the rest of us. But this is also a temptation. Even if our life takes a shocking turn and we don’t know what to do, even if we have a stroke, or cancer, or our mind begins to fail, even if we seem betrayed or abandoned by everyone, each and all of us are his dearly beloved ones. (And we shouldn’t listen to anyone telling us otherwise, even if they speak to us in our own voice.)

The Two (Old & New) Arks of God

December 17, 2015

Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark? The Ark that Indiana Jones and the Nazis were pursued in that entertaining film was the most precious object in the entire Old Testament. But what is lost on many is how that holy artifact is related to the most important woman in the New Testament and its New Covenant.

The Old Testament Ark of the Covenant was a box built in the days of Moses according to God’s instructions at Mount Sinai. It was made of wood overlaid with pure gold, inside and out. No man was allowed to touch God’s Holy Ark—lest they die—so it was designed to be carried about using a pair of poles. The Ark was the throne for God’s presence on earth. The wings of two, golden Cherubim angel statues atop the Ark’s lid served as his “mercy-seat.” The Ark itself contained within several interesting items from the time of the Exodus: the two stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, the wooden staff of Aaron (which miraculously blossomed to confirm his divinely-ordained priesthood), and a gold container holding some of the Manna from heaven which God provided to feed his people on their desert pilgrimage.

Ark

About 450 years after its construction, around 1000 BC, King David reigned over all of Israel. He tried to bring the Ark up to his royal city, Jerusalem, until one of the priests (who should have known better) touched the Ark and fell down dead. David exclaimed, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” He arranged for it to be kept at the house of Obed-edom in the Judean countryside. The Ark remained there for three months and manifestly blessed the whole household. When it was reported to the king how richly Obed-edom was being graced, King David decided to try transporting the Ark into Jerusalem once more. David himself led that procession, dancing and leaping before the Lord with joyful abandon.

The Ark would eventually reside in the Jerusalem Temple built by David’s son, King Solomon. It is written that before that Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC, Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and hid it in a secret cave, saying, “No one must know about this place until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy.”Unlike in the 1981 film, the Lost Ark has never been found, but a new Ark of God did appear.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant because she bears Jesus Christ, God’s fullest presence on earth. By God’s design, the first Ark was made of wood and covered with gold; Mary is a human being full with grace. The former Ark carried the word of God in stone; Mary’s womb carries the Word become flesh. Aaron’s dead staff miraculously flowered; Mary’s virgin womb blossomed with a bud from the stump of Jesse. The Ark held Manna from heaven; Mary bore the true bread from heaven. Mary’s womb holds Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

The Visitation by Albertinelli, 1503.As the Gospel of Luke tells us, after she was visited by St. Gabriel the Archangel at the Annunciation, “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” And Mary would bless them with her help and companionship, staying at their house in the Judean hill country about three months.

Like King David, St. Elizabeth questions and St. John the Baptist leaps for joy before the Ark of the Lord. St. Joseph, regarding the inviolable sanctity of his wife with reverent fear, never touched her virginity. Mary would also go on to literally serve as God’s throne, his mercy-seat; “On entering the house [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother.”

In the Book of Revelation, St. John’s vision of heaven includes a sighting of the Lost Ark: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of his Covenant could be seen in the temple.” Then 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.” We soon discover that this  glorious woman is pregnant with “a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations….” This is the Christ, and she is his Holy Ark.

Now the Lord’s Ark is not meant to be worshiped. (Though among God’s most holy creations, an Ark of God is not divine.) Yet, as one draws nearer to the Holy Ark, one inevitably draws nearer to God’s presence. Just as the old Ark of the Covenant was of central (though secondary) importance in the Old Covenant, so God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary an essential role in his New Covenant. All who come to her are drawn nearer to her Son.

Imagine daring to enter the old Jewish Temple’s the Holy of Holies where the Ark of God was kept. What awe and reverence would you feel before the all-holy presence of God? Now consider drawing near to the even greater Ark, Mary the Mother of all Christians, who reaches out to each of us with love and takes away our fear. And now reflect upon the great privilege we have in approaching and even touching the Christmas Gift of God she bore, Jesus Christ himself. Mary is blessed among women and blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. But blessed are we who would believe in all that the Lord has revealed to us.

Consoling Words

December 4, 2015

Our Lady of Guadalupe Tilma“Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing. Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. Do not fear this sickness of your uncle or any other sickness, nor anything that is sharp or hurtful. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you. Do not let your uncle’s illness worry you, because he will not die now. You may be certain that he is already well.”

Words of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, to St. Juan Diego in 1531

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.

A Chalice Reflection

October 13, 2015

Virgin Mary by the Host by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854.     How could we possibly celebrate the Holy Mass without the chalice? Without the chalice, how would we adore the Precious Blood? The chalice holds the Lord and it gives form to his presence. He is not lifted up in sacrifice without its close collaboration. Perhaps our Lord could have chosen another means but this is the one He chose. The chalice at Mass is not divine, but when our Lord is adored it shares in His glory.

The chalice at Mass is an icon of a person. The chalice of Jesus Christ is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She held the Lord within her and from her He received his human form. He was not lifted up in sacrifice without her close collaboration. Perhaps our Lord could have chosen another means, but she is the one He chose. Mary is not divine, but when our Lord is adored she shares in His glory.

Mysteries of the Holy Family

December 26, 2014
  • Mary with Jesus in Swaddling ClothesThe Holy Family’s first Christmas was both stressful and joyful.
  • Jesus the Bread of Life was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.”
  • Jesus was born and laid to rest in caves. His body was wrapped, in birth and death.
  • Joseph taught carpentry to Him through whom all things were made.
  • Mary taught prayers to God.
  • St. Joseph, protector of the Holy Family, is now universal patron of the Church.
  • St. Mary, the bearer of one child, is now mother of all Christians.

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.