A Penitent in Medjugorje, Part I…

By their fruits…

While the Church has not yet officially ruled on the Medjugorje apparitions that have been allegedly taking place since 1981, it has recognized the fruits of increased faith, conversion, confession and vocations that flow from it. In February this year, Pope Francis appointed Henryk Hoser, retired Archbishop of Warsaw-Praga, as pastoral envoy to Medjugorje. Archbishop Hoser has told Poland’s KAI Catholic news agency that “from a pastoral point of view, there is a very positive result. […] My mission was not to make a judgement on Medjugorje, but to evaluate whether the pastoral ministry was proper and consistent with the doctrine and teaching of the Church, and effective and well-organized. I concluded that this is the case.” He has also said that the biggest phenomenon in Medjugorge is confession. The commission established by Pope Benedict XVI to study the alleged apparitions of Mary at Medjugorje, reportedly voted overwhelmingly to recognise as supernatural the first seven appearances of Mary in 1981. As the alleged apparitions are ongoing, the Vatican cannot make a definitive ruling on them. With that in mind, I wish to share with you some of the blessings and fruits of my pilgrimage there this past fall. To avoid being cumbersome, I have not used the word “alleged” in the following article.

My Pilgrimage

In “the world”, penitents are a rare commodity. In Medjugorje, you can’t trip over a rock without falling on one. So, I felt right at home when I was recently a pilgrim there from October 29 to November 8. I had felt called to go there for over 30 years, ever since first hearing about it. If Our Lady is coming all the way from heaven, I thought, the least I can do is meet her partway! But life circumstances seemed never to allow it and I sometimes wondered if I would ever get there. The decades passed, and beyond all hopes and expectations, Our Lady continued to grace the world with her presence in that holy place. I continued to hope and pray that I might get there before the apparitions ceased altogether. Continue reading

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Making up for what is lacking…

Hebrews 7:26-27 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.

Colossians 1:24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

The two scripture passages above—both written by St. Paul—on the surface seem contradictory. Most protestant denominations gloss over the second and don’t really have a theology of suffering. But the Catholic understanding of almost everything in the deposit of faith is not that these two passages are contradictory, but rather that both are true and must be understood together.

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Love vs. sentiment…

(Note to those who are new to the Joy of Penance blog…I started this blog in 2014 as a place to post past newsletter articles I wrote for the Franciscan lay association I belong to, The Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis. As providence would have it, I am nearly caught up on past articles with just a few more to go. I’m not sure what form this blog will take in future, only it will be as God wills. I will continue in the same vein until things change. Fiat!)

Luke 9:59-60 To another (Jesus) said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

Sentiment. The world is bursting with sentiment. Social media especially thrives on it. When a cause du jour goes viral and you examine the outcome of all the social media “activism”, what is really accomplished? Very little usually. That is because sentiment, in the romantic or nostalgic sense, is a fraud, a flimsy counterfeit of the agape love taught and lived by Jesus Christ. One is a marshmallow, the other is a rare and tender cut of steak. I say rare because with agape love, there is a cost, and often the cost is blood.

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Harmony…

“And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5)

By the grace of God, I am involved in music ministry in our parish. I have no voice training, so I am always amazed at people who can harmonize, seemingly without effort. It occurred to me recently that these people, by singing “wrong” are vastly enhancing the beauty of the piece. There is a lesson here for all of us, who even on our best days have only weakness to offer God.

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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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Pray with confidence…

By faith Sarah herself, though barren, received power to conceive, even when she was too old, because she considered him faithful who had promised. (Hebrews 11:11)

It seems to me we are too easily discouraged in prayer. When God does not answer in the way or the time we would prefer, our faith is weakened. We start to wonder if God is really listening. Does he really answer prayers? Then why doesn’t he answer mine?

Let us take the example of Abraham. When Abraham was 75 years old, God promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. But Isaac and Sarah had to wait another 25 years before Isaac was born! Their faith was certainly tested!

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Audacity and other graces…

John 21:17 [Jesus] said to [Peter] the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”

What a Lent! What an Easter! We mourn with the world the death of Mother Angelica, and at the same time we rejoice in the glorious sign of her passing on the Day of Resurrection. All glory and praise to our risen Lord!

I felt this Lent and Easter were significant in ways we cannot understand. I was given some little hints to that effect, which I would like to share here.

First of all, Lent was a time of severe trial for so many—in the world, in the Church, and likely in each of our circles of acquaintance, including mine. One of my sisters has a saying when one of us has a trial during Lent, as often happens: “Aahh…Lent!” Faithful Christians in general, and penitents in particular, must not shy away from the cross during Lent. Our time on the cross with Christ is a treasure whose value we will only appreciate in the next life. When you hang with Jesus, you hang on the cross. Just ask Mother Angelica.

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Rapid Succession…

“But [the widow] said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’” (1 Kings 17:12)

These days, there seems to be a crisis around every corner—everywhere. Persecutions, perversions, inversions of truth, untimely deaths—in a word—chaos. I can’t help but think of something that happened a few years ago. Once, during the night I felt the Lord’s presence and saw an image. It was like multi-colored pieces shifting and overlapping. The image seemed to have no order to it. It was very chaotic and hard to figure out. These words came to me: “Things will happen in rapid succession.” In the image it seemed like things were happening all over the place that were seemingly unconnected, but really, they were all connected in the big picture. Still, I could not make sense of it. Kind of like a living, moving, “crazy quilt”. I felt a strong urge to tell people to prepare, both practically with emergency kits and contact plans, as well as spiritually with prayer and fasting.

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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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The Elder Faithful…

“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5)

As is my custom when time allows, I arrived about half an hour early for mass one Sunday. It wasn’t my usual parish as I was away from home, but I found a pew close to the tabernacle and knelt to pray. After a little while, two mature women, well past retirement age approached the votive stand near the tabernacle to light candles for their loved ones. I was noticing the shade of their hair—pure snowy-white—when I heard these words interiorly: “All the snow is at the summit.”

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