As I was writing this blog post, I heard the shocking news that Notre Dame Basilica in Paris was burning. News reports rightly spoke of the tragic loss of historical treasures, not least the Basilica herself. But even more tragic is the loss of faith in that part of the world. God is calling, louder and louder it seems, and it is always the same call: “Come back to me, my children. Are you weary? Let me sustain you with a word…”
Isaiah 50:4 The Lord
God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the
weary with a word.
Jesus, the Word, knows well our weariness, the weariness
that today oppresses us and threatens to crush our spirit.
Think of his weariness in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the
weight of the sins of billions of souls crushed him to the point of sweating
blood, the word that sustained Jesus
in the garden was the one he spoke to the Father in his agony, “Not my will but
yours be done.” The word was fiat. At that moment angels came and waited on him to sustain him, for it
was not the end of his suffering. That fiat
called down the graces he would need to complete his mission.
Indeed, Jesus is a Redeemer who knows our weariness—but infinitely magnified. In his weariness, or perhaps because of it, he went on to embrace the cross and resolutely climb the hill to Calvary bearing in mind the glory that would be his—and ours—if only he would complete his mission. Fiat. His weariness of body and spirit ended with death, but his rising from the dead gave new life and glorious hope to all. He took his weariness to the tomb and left it imprinted on his burial shroud for all to see.
Mary, the Blessed Mother, whom Jesus bequeathed to us, and us to her from the cross, also endured unimaginable sorrow and crushing weariness. When they met face-to-face on the Via Dolorosa, what pain must have been in their eyes. Yet, what love and trust. Wordlessly their hearts beat as one, fiat, fiat, fiat… Here as in every moment of her existence, her will remained chained to the Throne of God.
There is astonishing power in that little word, fiat. It can sustain us in our weariness as it did for Jesus and Mary, but more than that it can propel us forward with new strength, fortitude, courage, and hope. Like a cosmic explosion, it is a word which, united to the divine fiat, dramatically transforms people and changes the trajectory of world events.
The cosmic importance of this little word is expanded upon in great detail in the Lord’s teachings on the Divine Will in the writings of Luisa Piccarreta. In the Easter Vigil Mass we recall how God’s fiat, “Let there be…” set all creation in motion. On Good Friday we hear Jesus re-echo his fiat of redemption in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Word he initially uttered in heaven when the plan of redemption was conceived, first in the Divine Will and then after her fiat, in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
It is almost inconceivable that our salvation hinged on one little word uttered by a humble Hebrew Maiden. Throughout her existence, that word was as constant in her as the beating of her heart, even in the unimaginable agony of her own Calvary.
She is a model of abject trust in the glorious power of God.
At our Parish Lenten Mission the priest reminded us that none of the prophecies
made at the Presentation of Jesus had been fulfilled by the time he was
crucified. No salvation, no light for the Gentiles, no glory for God’s people
Israel. Yet, even in the face of that, she trusted. Her heart never ceased to
beat out the rhythm, fiat, fiat, fiat…
At the Annunciation, just before she proclaimed the fiat that changed everything, the Angel
Gabriel called greeted by her title, “Full of Grace”. Let us then beg her, by virtue
of her continuous fiat to obtain from
her Son every grace we need in our weariness, that we may navigate in trust the
thick darkness that surrounds us, as we wait in joyful hope for the glorious
dawn which has been promised.
Jesus is himself the Word who sustains us in our weariness, and the word he gives us is a word that we can utter in any circumstance: “Fiat.”Sometimes it is the only word that makes sense. I think of the few Christian souls remaining in the Holy Land, Bethlehem in particular. When the security perimeter (now a wall) went up in 2002, they were crushed in spirit for a time. But today, even though their situation is still dire, and they remain weary, they are not crushed. Their hope is alive because Jesus Christ is alive.
God is on the march dear friends. It may not look promising
at this point, but neither did the crucifixion. He will not lose the battle
that now rages for souls, and in the end his triumph will be more glorious than
we can imagine.
We have now entered the Garden with Jesus. The passion is
upon us. Let us not flee for fear of the wolves. Whatever our weariness, even
if we feel crushed in spirit, if we but link ourselves to Christ in his passion,
we may anticipate with great joy and hope a glorious day of triumph. Let our fiat be one with his and his Mother’s as
we place our unshakable trust in God’s Holy Will, as they did.
Our Lady of Fatima: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will
Heavenly Father, may Your kingdom come, and Your will be
done on earth as in heaven.
A very powerful prayer for Holy Week is the 24 Hours of the Passion, as given to Luisa Piccarreta, which has an imprimatur. Praying it in its entirety is ideal, but if that is not possible, consider meditating on part of it on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. God will touch you, guaranteed.
“Now as (Saul) was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light
from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying
to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts
Bethlehem haunts me
past March, I was blessed to be part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I had
heard about the pilgrimage from a friend last fall. At the time I was just
getting ready to leave for Medjugorje and was not thinking about another
pilgrimage so soon. Still, I felt drawn to it, even though I only knew one
person on the pilgrimage and the point of departure was on the other side of
the country. I decided to wait until after Christmas to see if there were still
spots available. There were. I prayed for a confirmation that I was to go, and
I received three. In faith I booked my ticket.
It turned out to have been
just the pilgrimage God wanted for me, focused on prayer and Scripture, but
also with an emphasis on the “living stones” of the Holy Land, particularly on
the current situation of the Christians who live there, both in Israel and
As our group of 37 pilgrims,
including two priests, followed with awe the hallowed footsteps of Jesus
through Nazareth, Galilee, Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and points in
between, we prayerfully pondered the Scripture passages that were set in the
places we visited, Nazareth, the River Jordan, Cana, the Sea of Galilee,
Capernaum where Jesus called the fishermen, Mount Tabor, the mount of the
Transfiguration, Tabgha where the loaves and fishes were multiplied and where
Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me,” and many other places. Halfway
through the pilgrimage we “set our faces toward Jerusalem”. We celebrated daily
Mass in stunning surroundings and were often brought to tears. The rosary came
alive in our hands, and since returning, there is a new dimension to the Mass
readings. I hope to expand on this in future, but first I feel compelled to
tell you why, since coming home, Bethlehem haunts me.
As we traveled, our tour guide informed us of some of the extreme challenges faced by Christians and other Palestinians in the Holy Land. The States of Israel and Palestine have a population of some 10 million people of which the Christian population has dropped to less than 2%, some 180,000 souls. It is a delicate, extremely complex and utterly confusing arrangement, this tenuous co-habitation of the three main Abrahamic religions, along with various other people from around the world, including migrant workers. I am not qualified to explain or make sense of any of it, but I can tell you what I saw with my own eyes and why Bethlehem still haunts me.
The Shock of arriving in Bethlehem
The last five nights of our
pilgrimage we stayed in Bethlehem, the holy city where Jesus was born. It is
just a few miles from Jerusalem and would be our home base. Along with the
other pilgrims on our trip, I was shocked and devastated to learn that Bethlehem
is a walled city. It is completely enclosed by a security wall 25
feet high, equipped with security cameras and with watchtowers manned by
Israeli armed guards. Everyone, including pilgrims, enters and leaves Bethlehem
through manned checkpoints.
With the initial shock still fresh in our minds, we spent our first day in Bethlehem, visiting holy sites, and celebrating a stunning “Christmas” Mass in a shepherd’s cave. Even though the liturgical calendar told us it was Lent, every day in Bethlehem is Christmas we were told. But as a pilgrim to modern-day Bethlehem I could not help but be deeply disturbed at the current situation of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, who live there.
Most of us pilgrims had not
been aware that Bethlehem has had a security perimeter since 2002. On Easter
Monday of 2002, the Israelis invaded and occupied all the cities of the West
Bank, including Bethlehem. Not long afterwards, a security fence went up around
Bethlehem, which later became a wall encircling the entire city of over 14,000
Palestinian residents, mostly Muslim and Christian. (Other walled cities
include Jericho and Ramallah and of course Gaza, but my story is about
Bethlehem where we spent five nights.)
The checkpoints through which one passes to get in and out of Bethlehem are heavily manned. Israelis are forbidden to enter by law, and Palestinians need special permission to leave, permission which is rarely granted to anyone whose birthplace is listed as Bethlehem. The walled enclosure has been called an open-air prison, and that is not an exaggeration. I suppose that Jesus himself would not be allowed to leave had he been born in June 2002 or later.
The official unemployment
rate in Bethlehem is 29%, the highest rate in Palestine. But that figure likely
does not include those no longer looking for work because it’s pointless, or
those who are underemployed which is pretty much everyone. The jobs in that
city are few, mostly tourism-based, and never full-time. The unofficial
estimate is 80% unemployment within the walls of Bethlehem. Those “fortunate”
few who are given permission to work outside of Bethlehem are strip-searched at
the checkpoint leaving and returning. It can take an hour for them to get
through the checkpoint at each end of the day.
I have since read that
Bethlehem was originally built on an aquifer that is still one of the main
sources of water in Israel. It is deeply ironic that since the Israeli
occupation, citizens of Bethlehem are forbidden to dig deeper than 4 feet down,
and are forced to truck in water at high prices. Not only are they not provided
with water, but neither with electricity. Our tour guide told us that you can
tell Palestinian housing all over the Holy Land by the solar panels and water
tanks on the roofs. By contrast, Israelis have all the water and electricity
It is the people, the living
stones of the Holy Land that haunt me, that cry out for justice. We visited an
orphanage, a secondary school, and talked to many local people who asked for
prayers and implored us also to “tell people” about their dire situation. We
found everyone in Bethlehem to be very friendly and open, even though their situation
is tragic. The Israeli narrative is that they are dangerous, and it is
dangerous to stay in Bethlehem. We found the opposite to be true.
Palestinian Muslims and
Christians do live outside the walled cities, but even they are not supplied
with water or electricity and must have cisterns and solar panels installed on
their houses if they are lucky enough to be able to afford it. High-paying jobs
are routinely denied to Palestinians, and they are never allowed a supervisory
role over Israeli workers.
In addition, Israeli
settlements encroach daily farther into Palestinian territory. Israeli
settlements are communities of apartment units inhabited by Israeli citizens
(often from other countries), built predominantly on Palestinian land. There
are roughly 100,000 settlers living in the units that surround Bethlehem alone.
The Shepherd’s Field itself, having existed on the outskirts of Bethlehem for
the past 2000 years, is now being swallowed up by Israeli settlements. It is as
if a big hungry giant is devouring Palestinian land and there is nothing they
can do about it. Often Palestinians are evicted from their homes and even
schools to make way for the settlements. Everything in the giant’s path is
Israelis believe they have an ancestral right to the lands they are occupying in the Palestinian territory. As we all know, the situation is enormously complex, but even if you believe this to be true, does that allow for denying entire populations access to water, electricity and freedom of movement? Does that allow for evicting Palestinian people from their homes so that settlements can be built?
For my part, I am haunted by
the persecution being endured by the living stones of the Holy Land. The
hallowed memory of my pilgrimage is overshadowed by it and every time I open my
mouth to tell people about my pilgrimage, what comes out is the story of how
Jesus is still being persecuted today in the people of Bethlehem and other
areas of the Holy Land. Our pilgrimage guide deliberately included contact with
the living stones of the Holy Land, particularly in Bethlehem, and provided
opportunities speak to them and offer what little moral and material support we
could. This included staying in Bethlehem for five nights at the splendid Jacir
Palace Hotel, which has had to shut down several times over the years for lack
of pilgrim traffic. We became aware of what it meant to them to have us there.
They were so gracious and kind. It was very humbling.
Our first contact with the living stones was as we traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem. Our tour guide had arranged for us to meet with a group of Muslim Bedouins whose nomadic lifestyle is no longer possible as their territory has been overtaken by Israeli settlements. They now live with their animals in small communities of tin shacks eking out whatever existence they can with their small herds, selling trinkets where possible. They live in extreme poverty. We brought them lightly used shoes and clothing and were humbled by their ardent gratitude. Shoes are very important to nomads, and they wear out quickly in the rocky hills. I thought of the shoes in my closet that are never worn because of a pinch here or there. Those people would be happy for them.
Our next contact with living
stones was a visit to a Catholic secondary school in Bethlehem. The school
welcomes all Palestinian students, no matter their faith background. The
Catholic school provides a quality education for the children who live within
the walls. They work towards peace, harmony and respect for all. Unfortunately,
the Palestinian children are unlikely to be able to fulfill their career dreams
as they may never be allowed to exit the walls of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem does have an
excellent university, however (https://www.bethlehem.edu). One person we encountered attended the university
and got permission to finish her college education in Jerusalem. However, once
she obtained her degree, she was not given permission to find work outside of
Bethlehem, and has been unemployed ever since. Her husband is fortunate to have
a job, but many educated people live there in poverty or are seriously
We arrived at the school on
a Friday, a traditional day off for the students and staff as it is a holy day
of worship for Muslims. Sunday is also a day off as it is a Christian holy day,
but Saturday is not a day off, so the weekend is split. No matter, since they
are not allowed to go away for the weekend but must remain inside the walls
even then. The students and staff were joyful and came in on their day off to
talk to us. The young student I spoke to had aspirations of becoming an
electrical engineer like his father and starting his own business. I did not
ask if his father was currently working. He spoke with pride and I prayed for
his dreams to be fulfilled. He also talked about the possibility of going to Europe
on exchange, which he may indeed get permission to do. The danger is that
students who get a taste of the outside world often make plans to leave
permanently. I couldn’t help but think that might be the reason they get
permission to go, so they won’t come back.
The school staff then
offered us refreshments, and the students (including some girls) played a game
of basketball in the outdoor courtyard for our enjoyment. I was impressed by
the students’ resilience and joy, but I am haunted by them. I am free. They are
Later that day, we had a
visit from the priest who is with the Secretariat for Christian Educational Institutions
for all of Israel and Palestine. He spoke about how they are working for love
and peace in the Holy Land by welcoming and serving others in their schools and
in their lives, that they do not just coexist as Christians and Muslims, but
that they live together as community, as neighbours, and as friends. He asked
us to go home and be witnesses, to encourage people to come here to see for
themselves. He thanked us for coming to see the living stones of Bethlehem.
In his work, he travels all
over the region to the schools, including in Gaza, which is the poorest area of
Palestine. There is a great deal of damage from Israeli artillery there, but
the Israelis do not allow building materials in and no outside food. It is a
desperate situation and they are little able to help themselves. In other
walled off areas of Palestine, they have access to outside food and building
materials, but they are very expensive. When the priest was asked about their
needs, he asked for prayer, donations if possible, and that we would make known
the situation among those we can reach.
Since coming home, whenever
I have spoken to people about my pilgrimage and the situation in Bethlehem, I
am met with shock. How is it that this has been their situation since 2002 and
we have not heard about it? I am haunted by that as well.
The tiniest living stones we
met were the children at an orphanage in Bethlehem run by an order of Sisters.
We brought gently-used clothing, supplies, candy—and bubbles! We spent an hour
visiting with the children and blowing bubbles. The Sisters were grateful, the
children were happy, and we were deeply moved by the experience. Some of the
children had been left there by parents who could not afford to keep them.
Again, the injustice of it haunted me.
While hope for the future is
hardly possible for any of them, the spirit of the people is not crushed. They hope
for and rely on pilgrim traffic to sustain them. We purchased what we could
from vendors in Bethlehem, knowing it was likely their only source of income.
In one shop, one of the young brothers who ran it asked one of our group
members to keep an eye on the place while he went to get his older brother for
a price check! Within the walls there is a high degree of trust. Not the
narrative you get from the other side of the wall.
One ray of hope, dare I say a moment of pride as a lay Franciscan, was when I learned of the importance of the Franciscans in the Holy Land.
Franciscans have been there
since 1217, the time of St. Francis, when they created in the order the “Province
of the Holy Land”. They have been in the Holy Land in one form or another since
then. Since 1342 they have been known under the title “Custody of the Holy
Land”. They currently occupy Saint Savior Monastery in Jerusalem. Their primary
responsibility is safeguarding Christian holy places and making sure the
spiritual value of these places is preserved. They welcome pilgrims and
maintain the shrines, basilicas, and churches in the Holy Land.
We had a presentation from
one of the Franciscans in Jerusalem and he told us what a delicate diplomatic
balancing act it is to have so many religions and even various Christian sects
as actors in the preservation of the holy places. Very often at meetings,
nothing gets decided, so nothing gets done. Changes come slowly if at all. He
mentioned that in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre a ladder is brought out each
Lent and placed where it was once used to light candles—right in the path of
pilgrims entering and leaving the building. It is no longer needed because
electricity was installed a long time ago. However, the ladder comes out every
Ash Wednesday anyway and must be gone around by the thousands entering and
leaving. Apparently, there are more important things to talk about at meetings
than useless ladders!
Given the Franciscans’ long
service, and their knowledge of the inner workings of the Holy Land machinery,
we owe them a great debt of gratitude, and an abundance of prayers for their
continued presence. God is working miracles through them that we will never
What can be done?
I grieve for Bethlehem. I
have had difficulty writing and talking about my pilgrimage to the Holy Land
because when I open my mouth to speak, my words are haunted by the living
stones. They are crying out for justice and I feel called to give them a voice.
I have also been haunted by the words addressed to
Saul of Tarsus in the Acts excerpt at the beginning of this article: “Why do
you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
May God intercede with the same blinding miracle of conversion for those who
are persecuting the living stones of the Holy Land.
If you too are haunted by
the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, there are ways to help.
First of all, pray and offer sacrifices and especially the Mass for them. The
Holy Land is bleeding Christians, now down to 2% of the population. If the
situation does not change, what will keep the few remaining Christians there?
Would you stay if you were in their situation? Please pray for those who are
sacrificing so much to keep the Christian presence alive in the Holy Land.
Second, educate yourself and
others, and write to your federal representative urging them to ensure that the
basic human rights of Palestinian citizens are respected and protected.
Third, donate to the Good
Friday collection in support of the Holy Land, either through the parish or at https://www.custodia.org/en. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association www.cnewa.org also has
projects that include support for foreign workers in Israel and the poor in
Palestine. You can also support students directly through the University of
Above all, if you can, pay a
visit to the living stones of the Holy Land to support and encourage them, to
let them know they are not forgotten in the world. Join or arrange a church
pilgrimage, but try to use Christian agencies. And don’t be afraid to stay in
Bethlehem. The birthplace of Jesus is full of beautiful souls. They will do
everything in their power to serve you joyfully. Their hospitality is limited
only by the limitations they are under. Dare to enter into their passion as
Simon of Cyrene did for Jesus.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we
pray for the Holy Land, for peace that comes from hearts filled with love, for justice
that flows from the heart of God, and for strength and courage for those who
are bearing the cross of injustice.
St. Paul, pray with us, that
the peace of Christ, beyond all understanding will fill the hearts of all.
Last Fall I made a special pilgrimage to Medjugorje, having promised Our Lady I would go if my house sold. Our Lady kept her end of the bargain, and, as promised, I went. What a blessing it was.
I had not left yet for the pilgrimage when I heard about a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There are many such pilgrimages on offer at any given time. I put it to prayer and decided that if there were still spaces available after Christmas I would consider it. There were, so I prayed some more and was given three strong confirmations. Fiat!
As it turned out, it was just the right pilgrimage for me; the tour leader was excellent and I was warmly welcomed by the other pilgrims, almost all of whom I had never met before. God had many graces for us, many of which have yet to be revealed!
I have had a difficult time knowing how to write about my pilgrimage. A spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land cannot be unpacked in one sitting. I have come to understand that it will likely unfold over the next liturgical year, but probably much longer. Already I have found that the rosary beads have come to life in my hands as I meditate on the mysteries, remembering the holy places I have visited. As I am beginning to write this on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, it seems right to let Our Lady reveal the lessons of this pilgrimage—to you and to me.
[Two notes: First, my reflections will not be arranged by
the chronology of our pilgrimage, but will unfold as the Spirit leads. Second is
to apologize for the quality of some of my photos. As it was a spiritual
pilgrimage, we were not encouraged to take numerous photos but to respect the
holy places and remain prayerful. As pilgrims we tried to find that balance,
but it was not always easy, and there was no chance to go back for re-takes!]
First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation
We were blessed to spend one night in Nazareth where we
visited the Basilica of the Annunciation. There, pilgrims file past the ancient
grotto where it is believed Mary received the message that she had been chosen
to be the Mother of Jesus. A stunning statue of Mary depicts the wonder on her
face the moment she received the greeting by St. Gabriel. The crowds were
fairly thin that day, so we were able to spend a bit of time in contemplation.
The feast day of the Annunciation is the celebration of the
“Fiat” that changed everything, the moment the New Eve tied her human will to
the Throne of the Almighty. Her, “Let it be done to me…” echoed in every moment
of her life and through all eternity.
Dear Mother, thank you for your FIAT! Teach me how to let my “fiat” echo in each moment of my life. With your help and guidance I pray that God’s will alone might be done in me and through me all the days of my life.
The Basilica of the Annunciation and the Sisters of Nazareth convent are in very close proximity. A short walk away, beneath the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, is what is believed to have been the Holy Family’s home at Nazareth near the “Tomb of the Just One”, one of the titles by which St. Joseph is known. Our first Mass in the Holy Land was celebrated in the convent chapel above the tomb of St. Joseph. Glorious!
We felt honoured to be led down to the ancient site by one of the sisters. The site is unspoiled and it was easy to imagine the Holy Family entering and leaving their home countless times over the hidden years of Jesus’ life. We can only wonder what spiritual gifts were bestowed on the world through those myriad daily comings and goings.
As I was pondering this writing, it happened that our parish Lenten mission was scheduled. The topic the first night was the spirituality of Mary. Our mission leader, Fr. Irudaya, spoke about the deep spirituality of the silent years of Nazareth and explained that what Mary was accomplishing during those years of silence, was to prepare the Lamb of God for sacrifice. She was teaching her Son the spirituality of work, service, obedience, and faith. Their hidden years were the epitome of lives lived in pure love of God and neighbour, a daily dying to self which left everybody a winner. Fr. Irudaya called it a “spirituality of weakness”, the “power of powerlessness”. It was a spirituality of complete self-renunciation, of embracing the crosses of daily life, of encountering the other and pouring sacred balm into their woundedness.
Pondering that spirituality of weakness gave new meaning to the places I had visited, and having visited those places gave greater depth to the teachings I was hearing. Glory to God!
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may the silence of Nazareth teach us what we need to learn about the spirituality of our own powerlessness, and the sanctity of daily life lived in uniformity with the Will of God. Show us new ways to die to self so that we may imitate you in love and service for love of God and neighbor.
St. Joseph, guardian of the unborn Jesus and the Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us!
Blessings all. I have recently returned from the Holy Land and hope to have something up for you soon. In the meantime, this has come to me from the Flame of Love US group and I thought it was worth sharing.
It is good to remind ourselves especially in times of darkness that the glory of the Lord is eternally present and praised in heaven. Here on earth, however, we are continually reminded of the need for prayers for the Church and the world. Indeed, God is counting on our daily prayers for the Church, and for all those in leadership. I realize I am preaching to the choir, but it doesn’t hurt to highlight this critical duty of ours to pray daily for the Church. The more society descends into darkness, the more it will hate the light of Christ.
The recent abominable, murderous law
passed in New York allowing for abortion up to birth and potentially beyond is
just one example. The UN itself has factions that threaten to make Church
teachings “crimes against humanity” using terms like, “forced pregnancy” to
justify abortion on demand at any stage. That is just to mention one issue.
There are many, of course. A great persecution is certainly here and coming.
A few days ago,
I woke up suddenly at 5:00 am having had a disturbing dream. I was in a school
building, alone in a classroom, having stopped for a drink of water before
re-joining the rest of the group. A woman came into the room, smartly dressed
in black and white. I knew her as a government official. She was accompanied by
a boy, around 10 or 11 years old, and he was carrying a baseball bat. She said
to me, in a matter-of-fact tone, “Hold out your hand.” I knew three things,
that the child was going to smash my hand with the bat as an example to the
others, that the woman’s power was absolute and no one could help me, and that
her choosing me for punishment was arbitrary. I was no better or worse than
anyone else in the school, I was just available. Just being affiliated with
that school was all that was required to warrant arbitrary punishment. The boy
seemed ambivalent about it all. He would do what was expected.
I woke with a
start and felt that this represented the next phase of the persecution coming
upon the Western Church (it is already happening elsewhere). During my morning
prayers that same day, two passages from the Liturgy of the Hours seemed to
confirm what I felt the dream had meant.
The prayer after
one of the psalms read:
“Lord Jesus, you foretold that we would share in the persecutions that brought you to a violent death. The Church formed at the cost of your precious blood is even now conformed to your Passion; may it be transformed, now and eternally, but the power of your resurrection.”
(Thursday Week IV, Office of Readings, prayer after Psalm III)
The second confirmation came on the same day in the Office of Readings:
From the Catechesis by St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Even in time of persecution let the Cross be your joy
The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. But of what importance is this, when there are so many blind people in the world? Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of those countless numbers who have died because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to those all over the world who were starved by ignorance. After eighteen years a woman was freed from the bondage of Satan; but are we not all shackled by the chains of our own sins?
For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. It has brought light to those blinded by ignorance. It has released those enslaved by sin. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of mankind!
Do not, then, be ashamed of the cross of Christ; rather, glory in it. Although it is a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, the message of the cross is our salvation. Of course it is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it was not a mere man who died for us, but the Son of God, God made man.
In the Mosaic law a sacrificial lamb banished the destroyer. But now it is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Will he not free us from our sins even more? The blood of an animal, a sheep, brought salvation. Will not the blood of the only-begotten Son bring us greater salvation?
He was not killed by violence, he was not forced to give up his life: his was a willing sacrifice. Listen to his own words: I have the power to lay down my life and take it up again. Yes, he willingly submitted to his own passion. He took joy in his achievement; in his crown of victory he was glad and in the salvation of man he rejoiced. He did not blush at the cross, for by it he was to save the world. No, it was not a lowly man who suffered, but God incarnate. He entered the contest for the reward he would win by his patient endurance.
Certainly in times of tranquility the cross should give you joy. But maintain the same faith in times of persecution. Otherwise you will be a friend of Jesus in times of peace and his enemy during war. Now you receive the forgiveness of your sins and the generous gift of grace from your king. When war comes, fight courageously for him.
Jesus never sinned; yet he was crucified for you. Will you refuse to be crucified for him, who for your sake was nailed to the cross? You are not the one who gives the favour; you have received one first. For your sake he was crucified on Golgotha. Now you are returning his favour: you are fulfilling your debt to him.
(Thursday Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Office of Readings, Second Reading)
This is indeed a
powerful reading. Let us pray for grace and strength for ourselves and for the
Church. God has not left us orphaned. He has given us many powerful graces to
defeat the enemy. After I woke from the dream, I spent half an hour praying the
Flame of Love prayer: “Holy Mary, Mother of God spread the effect of grace of
Thy Flame of Love over all of humanity now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
This month, there will be an “anti-abuse” meeting at the Vatican from Feb. 21-24. We should consider how we can support this meeting with our prayers and sacrifices. In addition, Pope Francis is endeavoring to reshape the Roman Curia and the College of Cardinals. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide him! Again, let us turn up the spiritual heat to support him with our ever more fervent daily prayers. We can always do more as St. Francis of Assisi said often towards the end of his life: “Let us begin again, brothers, for up until now, we have done little or nothing.”
While it is a good practice to
regularly evaluate how we spend the precious gift of time especially to see if
more time could be spent in prayer, sometimes it may be that we just need to
pray better, doing the things we already do with the firm intention of uniting
our paltry efforts with Jesus on the Cross in the Divine Will.
One of the little prayers we pray so
often that we may be in danger of taking it for granted, is the Glory Be. I
listened to one of Fr. Robert Young’s talks on the life and writings of Luisa
Piccarreta recently (found at https://divinewilllife.org). She once had a
vision of the whole heavenly court as they praised God, continuously intoning
the first part of that prayer: “Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to
the Holy Spirit…” She then felt a strong call to respond: “…as it was in the
beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Jesus then
explained to her that by participating in the Divine Will with the angels and
saints in the ongoing praise of God in heaven, she was able to connect heaven
to earth and earth to heaven in the eternal act of praise that all creatures
owe to their Creator-God.
This is certainly worth pondering.
Since hearing that, I have found it brings new life and an ever-more glorious
mission to this little, eternally powerful, often-repeated prayer! This little
prayer in the Divine Will, is a bridge of praise connecting the Church Militant
to the Church Triumphant for the glory of God and serves to hasten the coming
of His kingdom.
Praise of the Lord poisons the air
for demons. Let us pray this little but mighty prayer with renewed fervor, in
concert with the Church Triumphant, that evil may be defeated in the Church and
in our broken world.
May His Holy will be done; may His kingdom come and come quickly; may His holy Name be glorified now and forever!
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has
appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and
worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are
self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the
manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is
who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify
for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Grace. God’s gratuitous gift to humanity. Ever undeserved, often
un-requested, sometimes unappreciated, but always worth pondering. The
Catechism tells us:
“Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father,” in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.
“This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature.
(CCC #1997, 1998)
I write this reflection on the feast day of Mary, Mother of God, whom the
angel Gabriel hailed as “Full of Grace”. We know that every word spoken by an
angel comes directly from God, and each word has weight of its own. “Full of
Grace”. These three simple words, applied to this simple peasant girl,
enraptured all of heaven.
little invisible word, “of”, defined as expressing the relationship between a
scale or measure and a value. What was the measure? Full. What was the value?
is full? When something is full, there is no room in it for anything else. Mary
had emptied herself of all that was not God, and so made room in her humble
heart for all that God wanted to give her, which was everything, including his
own Beloved Son. How empty must she have been to make room for the infinite God
to dwell in her. What humility! No spec of a space left where her own will
reigned, but her Fiat! was
unconditional and unlimited. Therefore, the grace she received was
unconditional and unlimited. Full measure given, full value received. What can
we learn from this as penitents in the world?
salvation history could not proceed without the cooperation of a humble soul—Mary—so
too are we called in our own time to cooperate with grace for the salvation of
souls. If we take this seriously—and we must—our own wills must be tied, like
hers, to the foot of the cross. Our fiat
like hers must be unconditional and unlimited. For us this is impossible, but
for God all things are possible.
As members of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Rule we follow is itself a great grace that helps us to die to self, one desire at a time. The longer we live the rule, the more we empty ourselves, and the more we desire to. This too is grace. Our Lord would not call us to this self-emptying if the world were not in such dire need of the grace that he wishes to pour on it through us, whether we see it or not.
the principle grace, as St. Paul tells us in the above scripture passage, is
Our Lord, Jesus Christ himself, “who
gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for
himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”
the time of new beginnings. The world calls them resolutions, but I like the
way St. Francis put it. St. Bonaventure tells us that towards the end of his
life St. Francis would tell the other friars: “Let us begin again, brothers,
for up until now, we have done little or nothing.”
too, begin anew to empty ourselves, that we may be conduits of as much grace as
God desires to pour into the world through us.
New Year to you and yours in Our Lord, Jesus Christ and his most Immaculate
Mother. St. Francis and St. Clare, pray for us!
(Friends, I first wrote this in 2006 and have re-posted it a few times now. I find it helps me in preparing for Christmas to meditate on this at Advent.)
(John the Baptist) went throughout (the) whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’ (Luke 3:3-6)
For some reason I have found myself doing a lot of apologizing lately. So much so, that I have felt compelled to reflect on the phenomena. Two possibilities emerge: either I have been acting more rashly than usual lately, or else the Lord is giving me some new illumination on the effects my words and actions are having on others. If it is the latter, then comes the horrifying thought that I have habitually acted in ways that are arbitrarily hurtful to others. Mercy!
“Every mountain and hill shall be made low.” As I read the above gospel reading, I begin to realize that these humiliations may be meant to form part of my “fast of St. Martin”**. The mountains of my pride and the hills of my arrogance are being laid low, one at a time. Gee, I wonder how many there are?
As painful and humiliating as the process is, I must be grateful to God for the grace of it. The more the rough ways of my selfishness are made smooth, the more comfortable a resting-place will my heart be for the Prince of Peace when he comes. I suppose it is Mary’s doing. As I prepare to renew my consecration to her on December 12, I can imagine her making ready the poor and lowly manger of my heart to receive the Infant King. Her loving care for my miserable soul dazzles like the star of Bethlehem. Who can fathom her love for us and for all she does to make us ready to receive her Son?
I am reminded of an Advent experience a few years ago. It was a time of great personal trial for me. Our business was failing and the future seemed far from certain. It was at this very low point of my life, during Advent, that God withdrew from me any smidgen of evidence that he was there. I had no comfort. Prayer was a chore. I felt heavy. It was a feeling that went beyond the circumstances of my life. Spiritually speaking, it was a dark night.
There was one prayer I prayed over and over, but even that I prayed without feeling. It was from Psalm 116, vs 10: “I trusted, even when I said, ‘I am sorely afflicted.’” It was a prayer of the will, not the heart. But it was all I could muster, and I clung to it.
It was a long, dry Advent for me. I could not look forward to Christmas in any way. When I went to confession, even though I had not told the priest about my darkness, he made this comment out of the blue, “I see a baby. Why don’t you invite the Infant Jesus into your heart this Christmas.”
I did not give his words much thought. They were far too simplistic for what I was going through. Then, the BSP newsletter came out. In Bruce’s column, lo! and behold, he also encouraged us to invite the Infant Jesus into our hearts at Christmas.
Okay,okay, I’ll do it, I thought. Something simple can always be tried, I suppose. But, like Naaman*, I didn’t hold out much hope.
I dragged myself to Christmas Eve mass even though I had no heart for it. After communion I decided to try the “simple thing”. I invited the Infant Jesus into my heart. At that very moment, the darkness lifted. The Light was back! I could not believe or understand it, but there it was! My life circumstances had not changed, but my Jesus was back in my heart! With unprecedented joy my heart sang, “Glory to God in the highest! And peace to his people on earth!” My prayer of trust had been answered most spectacularly in my very own Christmas miracle!
If I were to draw a single lesson for penitents from these Advent experiences it would be to encourage all of us to remain docile to whatever the Lord or his Mother ask of us during Advent. As penitents we have a special role to play in making straight the way of the Lord. Let us not begrudge Our Lord and Our Lady anything they ask, but offer it all up for the forgiveness of sins and for the conversion of sinners.
May our Advent sacrifices make straight the way of the Lord, so that all flesh may see the salvation of God this Christmas. May the Infant Jesus dwell in every heart.
Some people returning from Medjugorje see the sun miracle at home. Others have other mystical happenings as a result of their pilgrimage. Last week something happened to me.
According to the visionaries Our Lady has request that people pray the rosary daily. In the beginning she led them gently into it, but eventually she made it clear that she was asking them to pray the full (at that time) 15-decade rosary daily. She rightly pointed out that we spend a lot of time on far less worthy or worthwhile things and that we should make a sincere effort to so this. Many people have responded.
For my part, I have prayed the five-decade rosary daily for over 30 years now. I also have a structured prayer life as a member of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance and, probably like most of you, also pray the Divine Mercy chaplet daily and some other favorite prayers. While this is not usually a burden for me, I was not looking to add more to the list! However, after visiting Medjugorje, I thought I’d add a second set of five decades daily.
Always when trying to form a new habit, the transition is rough. Last week, about six weeks after returning, I thought perhaps it was more than I could manage. As I was walking into the church for adoration last Thursday, I had the thought that I would go back to just five decades a day. Our Lady had other plans.
During our one-hour Thursday adoration, we pray the rosary and take turns leading. I pulled out one of the rosaries I had bought in Medjugorje. All the rosaries I bought there were blessed by Our Lady at an apparition and by the priests at the end of a Mass, as is the custom there. I had bought quite a few rosaries with the idea to give them away to family and friends. Upon returning, I had laid them out several times so folks could choose the one they wanted. I had two the same, made of local stones, with the large medal having a little bubble filled with soil from there. These two had not been picked yet. I have been using one of them to pray at church.
As in most churches where the rosary is prayed in public, we take turns leading a decade. That night the first two decades were led by other people. As the first person ended her decade, I still had a bead left. That doesn’t happen often, but it could have been her mistake or mine. I did not think much of it. When the same thing happened after the second decade, I looked at the beads. Something looked off, so I counted them. Oddly, the first two decades now had 11 beads each! I counted them again. And again. I counted the other beads. The others had the standard 10 beads each. I counted them again after the rosary was finished. Two extra beads, no question.
Now, I have been known to be unobservant at times, but I have always appreciated the symmetry of the rosary when it is laid out, where the Our Father beads line up on both sides. I would have noticed any misalignment when I laid out those rosaries for display. Nothing ever looked off and I never before had extra beads with that rosary when someone else was leading. I really feel it was a miracle, and that Our Lady was asking me, with those TWO beads, to continue praying my TWO rosaries daily! Fiat, Mama!
When discerning a miracle, we should always look first to the natural. Was the rosary flawed from the beginning? Perhaps, but being flawed in the same way on two separate decades is very much against the odds. Even if it was flawed in the shop when I picked it up, the odds of me choosing that particular rosary out of the many, many, thousands of rosaries for sale in Medjugorje, are very remote. And even if that happened randomly, the odds of me noticing the extra beads 20 minutes after I had decided to stop praying the extra rosary, were equally remote. One can only stretch coincidence so far and I think in this case, the word “miracle” is not unwarranted.
Now, if Our Lady is asking for increased prayer—and she absolutely is—we can be sure there is a critical reason. So, we should not take lightly her call to pray more, and especially when it comes to the rosary. We have a novena of days left in which to offer her our best efforts before the Infant King comes to the lowly manger of our hearts. Let the prayer of our hearts sing: Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!
I took many prayer requests to Medjugorje with me, some for my intentions, and some for others. All BSP members and blog readers and their intentions were included in my list. In addition to prayers for conversions, my list also included prayers for the repose of the souls of my husband and my dad. It was providential that we would be in Medjugorje for the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls and for the octave of indulgences the Church makes available for the souls in purgatory from November 1-8. With my family members in mind, I gave all my prayers to Mary to distribute in the best way possible. One of conditions for the indulgence is to visit a cemetery each day you wish to gain it. I was able for seven of those eight days to visit the cemetery near St. James Church, where Fr. Slavko is buried. He was the priest who, initially a skeptic, became a believer and supporter of the visionaries and the message of Medjugorje.
The “Five Stones”
There have been countless messages attributed to Our Lady of Medjugorje, Queen of Peace. She has given the world through these visionaries a peace plan in what have come to be known as the “five stones”, the weapons that will defeat the evil one. Thesis in reference to the five stones David used to slay Goliath. They are: 1) Prayer with the heart, especially the rosary; 2) Eucharist/Mass/Adoration; 3) Scripture reading; 4) Fasting; 5) Monthly confession (at least). I was amazed to see how the locals have embraced the messages. The rosary is prayed in the church every evening and the evening Mass was overflowing the whole time we were there.
Adoration, we were told repeatedly, is the heart of Medjugorje for both locals and pilgrims. Mary is there, pointing to her Son as she always does. The adoration chapel is open every afternoon, and evening adoration is held a couple of times per week. On the Saturday night we were there, Adoration was held from 9:00 to 10:00 pm. We estimated that there were 5- 6,000 people there from all over the world—just another Saturday night in Medjugorje!
The villagers also embrace fasting, which Our Lady has asked to be done on Wednesdays and Fridays. She has said that the best fast is on bread and water. The local bakery gives away free bread on those days, and the restaurants too. Confession is also important to the villagers. In fact there is a “Croatian only” set of confessionals reserved for the local residents so that they don’t have to wait in line with the pilgrims. It is a small concession, given the unimaginable sacrifice involved in being a popular pilgrimage destination.
In the early days Our Lady chastised the residents for not taking seriously the messages. She needed them to take them to heart so that they could minister to the many pilgrims who would be coming. For the most part they heeded her request. Although there may be people who are taking advantage of certain opportunities, I saw many generous souls serving Our Lady in many ways.
It was so edifying to see, every day, numerous priests concelebrating the various Masses. These are priest who are living Our Lady’s messages, tending their flocks, and hastening the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart. In Mirjana Soldo’s new autobiography, called, “My Heart Will Triumph”, she says:
I wish I could divulge more about what will happen in the future, but I can say one thing about how the priesthood relates to the secrets. We have this time that we are living in now, and we have the time of the triumph of Our Lady’s heart. Between these two times we have a bridge, and that bridge is our priests. Our Lady continually asks us to pray for our shepherds, as she calls them, because the bridge needs to be strong enough for all of us to cross it to the time of the triumph. In her message of October 2, 2010, she said, “Only alongside our shepherds will my heart triumph.”
Soldo,Mirjana My Heart Will Triumph CatholicShop Publishing 2016 p. 325
Yet another urgent reason to pray for our shepherds!
One of the priests we had the privilege to hear was Fr. Leon Pereira, originally of Sri Lanka, but now chaplain of the English-speaking pilgrims and priests at Medjugorje. He is a gifted speaker and has a true calling to that holy place. In his talk, he said that Our Lady once showed him how much she loves us; it is as if each person in the world is her only child, echoing what Our Lady has told the visionaries: “If you knew how much I love you, you’d cry for joy.” His powerful testimony is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUwVvuPr87Q&t=34s.
Another dramatic testimony is the conversion story of Patrick Latta, who was once a very wealthy car dealership owner in Vancouver. He was wealthy, but his life was a mess—until Mary intervened. After his amazing conversion, Patrick and his wife Nancy eventually sold everything in order to serve Our Lady. They built a castle in Medjugorje from which they serve the local poor and provide food and lodging to priests, seminarians and other pilgrims. Patrick’s compelling testimony is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOSpKcttFhA .
The fruit of hope
For my part, one thing I found to be very deeply moving was to pray and worship with so many pilgrims and priests from around the world, each one praying in their own language. Truly, the language of the Spirit was reversing the division of Babel. It was encouraging to see so many priests there, as well as countless young people, all responding to Mary’s call. It gave me great hope for the future of the Church.
In Medjugorje, I felt a foreshadowing of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. A true reflection of Advent, Our Lady is giving us a time of grace heralding the day when Jesus will be born into the lowly manger of our hearts in a new way so that the great longing of God’s heart will be fulfilled at last. Then, we shall be his people and he shall be our God*. Maranatha! Amen.
(*To read a collection of bible verses that tell of God’s great longing click here.)
In the prayer garden behind St. James Church is a tall bronze statue of the Risen Jesus which began to “weep” liquid in 2001, most often from the knee. Sometimes the weeping is more, sometimes less, sometimes not at all. People collect the liquid on small cloths that are sold for that purpose. It can take a while for a drop to form so there is usually a lineup of pilgrims waiting. The first time we went there, it did not seem to be weeping, so we only stopped and prayed.
However, when I was at the top of Apparition Hill, I had felt a call to visit the statue that night. One of my fellow pilgrims had said she saw it weeping that day, but up higher, from the navel area. That evening, a few of us went. Sure enough when we got there we could see a small drip had trickled down to the edge of the loin cloth. But no one could reach it so we sat down to pray. As I prayed, the word, “hyssop stick” popped into my mind. I immediately thought of the sponge of sour wine on a hyssop stick that was offered to our Lord on the cross. I looked around for a stick. I couldn’t see one, but then remembered I had brought a walking stick at the last minute and thought that would work to reach higher up and catch the drip. My friend had a hair tie that we used to attach the little square of cloth. I reached up to dab where the drip was and when I looked at the cloth there was a glisten! I gave my other friend the stick and she got a drop too. That seemed to exhaust the flow. My fellow pilgrims and I marveled at the way it all came about with the reference to the “hyssop stick”. I prayed that more people would be blessed in this way. The day before we left,it was weeping quite a bit on the back side and we were able to moisten quite a few more cloths. May God grant that his graces be given to many through these miraculous sacramentals.
It was a great grace to be in Medjugorje at the time of Mirjana’s second of the month apparition, which happened to be on All Souls Day. Even though it was the end of the pilgrim season, thousands were in the village for the Feast Day and it seemed they all showed up at the base of Apparition Hill for the apparition. Some of our group had gotten there early enough to be quite near to the apparition site, but we were only close enough to see Mirjana’s head going by flanked by her security team, there to prevent people from taking souvenirs of hair or clothing!Lord have mercy! As we waited, the rosary and hymns were prayed and sung indifferent languages. It was a moving experience and seeing the huge, diverse crowd, young and old, from many different countries, and was very encouraging.It felt such a privilege to be there.
At 8:40 am,the word “Silencio!” was proclaimed and the crowd fell completely silent as Our Lady appeared to Mirjana. They spoke for about 10 minutes, then a rough copy of the message was read in Croatian, English, and other languages. The official translation is as follows:
Dear children, My motherly heart suffers as I am looking at my children who do not love the truth, those who are hiding it – as I look at my children who do not pray with their feelings and actions. I am sad as I am saying to my Son that many of my children no longer have faith, that they do not know Him – my Son. That is why I call you,apostles of my love: you strive to look to the very depth in human hearts and there you are certain to find the little hidden treasure. To look in this way is mercy from the Heavenly Father. To seek the good even where there is the greatest evil – to strive to comprehend each other and not to judge – that is what my Son is asking of you. And I, as a mother, am calling you to listen to Him. My children, the spirit is mightier than the flesh, and, carried by love and actions, it overcomes all obstacles. Do not forget: my Son has loved you and loves you. His love is with you and in you when you are one with Him. He is the light of the world and no one and nothing will be able to stop Him in the final glory. Therefore, apostles of my love, do not be afraid to witness the truth. Witness it with enthusiasm, with works, with love, with your sacrifice,and, above all, in humility. Witness the truth to all those who have not come to know my Son. I will be alongside you. I will encourage you. Witness the love which never ends because it comes from the Heavenly Father who is eternal and who offers eternity to all of my children. The spirit of my Son will be alongside you. Anew I am calling you, my children: pray for your shepherds,pray that the love of my Son may lead them. Thank you.
Mirjana relayed that during the apparition, Our Lady was sad.
This is a very dense message, with much to ponder. I hope that our efforts to live the call to be Apostles of Love will serve to console Our Lady’s sorrowful heart. May her Immaculate Heart triumph!