Tears for Bethlehem…

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 9:3-5)

Bethlehem haunts me

This 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 Palestine.

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.

Bethlehem wall & security tower

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.)

Warning to Israeli citizens entering Bethlehem

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 they need.

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 destroyed.

Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land

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.

A community of displaced Bedouins

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 underemployed.

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 not.

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.

Franciscan connection

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.

The main part of the Jerusalem Cross is made of four (Franciscan) tau crosses joined together. The four small crosses represent the Gospels and the five together represent the five wounds of Jesus.

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 know about.

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 Bethlehem https://www.bethlehem.edu/.

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.

Shalom.

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Pray for the Church…

Isaiah 6:1-3 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’

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!

A Penitent in Medjugorje, Part III…

Prayers and indulgences    

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The grave of Fr. Slavko Barbaric

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”

Our Lady of Medjugorje. Her veil blows in the breeze in the way the children first saw her. The Rosary beads are made of local stone.

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.

Priests

We attended English Mass daily at 10:00 am.

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!

Two witnesses

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.

“The Castle” of Patrick and Nancy Latta

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.)

Visions of the Children…

Blessings dear friends. Since the 1980s, when I first learned about the alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje, I have felt drawn to make a pilgrimage there. It has taken over 30 years, but this autumn I am going! Our Lady seems to have had a hand in the arrangements as it all came together quite quickly and easily. There is even a pilgrimage group leaving from the city I just moved to, so what can I say but thank you Mama! Fiat!

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A call to arms…

Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

In the army, everyone has a duty to fulfill. Some are strategists, some are foot-soldiers, some are mechanics, some are medics, some are support staff. All are important. All are needed. This is the time to discern carefully where we are called to serve in the spiritual battle that is escalating all around us. We don’t have to do it all, but we are, each of us, made for these times and entrusted with a unique mission and the grace needed to fulfill it.

Certainly in this battle against “principalities and powers” penance is needed more than ever. Our Lady has told us so herself in every modern apparition, how urgently it is needed. As a reader of this blog, it is safe to assume that you too feel called in some way to answer Our Lady’s call to do spiritual battle through penance.

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Longing…

Isaiah 60:2-3 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

In the visions of Ann Catherine Emmerich, detailed in her book The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she described scenes where the ancestors of Mary, as well as St. Joseph, and Mary herself, devoutly, fervently, and unceasingly prayed for the coming of the Messiah. Their desire for the Messiah was never out of their hearts. In fact, those of Mary’s ancestors who longed so fervently for the Messiah, played a role in entreating God to bring forth the Immaculate Conception. The desire of their hearts was a magnet calling the Mother of the Messiah to earth. In turn, the longing of Mary and Joseph was an irresistible call that drew Jesus to earth.

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Flame of Love…

Acts 1:6-8 So when they had come together, (the disciples) asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

It is important to read the signs of the times, to watch and pray. Something is definitely afoot in our day. Anyone who follows the Church-approved apparitions of Our Lady beginning with those to Catherine Labouré in 1830 through to the present day, will comprehend that Our Lady is the new John the Baptist calling us all to repentance. She is warning us of the consequences of our sins and exhorting us to do penance for the salvation of souls. And we must not forget what Jesus told St. Faustina: we are living in the days of mercy that precede the Day of Judgment.

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Epic Battle…

For this reason (Christ) is mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15) 

There is a lot of confusion in the Church today. It is popular to say that one is “spiritual” but not “religious”. So often we focus on ex-ternals, when we should be focusing on e-ternals. Too many are choosing to leave the Church without ever having delved into its depths. There is a deplorable lack of catechesis in the adult faithful. It is as if many are content to swim in a shallow pool and just lap up the dried flakes cast onto the surface by an unknown hand. The Church has so much more to offer! The Church is not incidental to the life of the Christian—it is absolutely necessary!

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