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!
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.
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.
This year brought a deluge of changes for me. I tell people that God did not just turn a page, He closed a book. As you may recall my husband passed away in May and my father in August. Amid those changes I moved to a new city to be near family and to finally be a “close-by grandma”. In addition, there were other changes and challenges as well. After my husband passed, since I really needed to be near family, I rented a place in my new city before my existing house was sold. The housing market was very low, but in my heart I knew I had to go and that I had to trust. I told Our Lady that if my house sold I would try to go to Medjugorje in the fall. Our Lady works fast! The day the movers came to get my belongings was the day I got an offer on my house that led to a sale. The timing was undeniably Our Lady’s. Once that hurdle was passed, going to Medjugorje finally seemed within reach. Our Lady even arranged that a group was leaving from my new city on October 29. Praise God!
There was one complication—due to some foot and hip problems, I could barely walk on level ground in the weeks leading up to the trip. I wondered how I going to make it through the airports, let alone climb Apparition Hill or Cross Mountain. I told my friends and family, Our Lady has made the other arrangements so I’m going! If she wants me to climb Apparition Hill, she’s going to have to carry me. If not, my penance will be to stand at the bottom and pray while watching the others go up. Fiat!
The day of the trip arrived and I set out in the wee hours for the airport. To my surprise, I made it through all the airports without assistance, albeit with persistent pain in my foot and hip. Fiat! After about 24 hours of travel time, our group of 19 Canadian pilgrims arrived at our “pansion” or inn, in Medjugorje. My first hint that Our Lady was not going to go easy on me was that my room was on the third floor, 36 stairs up. Fiat! The innkeeper himself grabbed my bags, hauled them up effortlessly, then disappeared. Thank you, Mama, for that grace!
The rooms were simple, comfortable but not luxurious, perfect for a pilgrim-penitent. Mine had a great view of the chickens and sheep in the yard below, and at night I could see the lighted cross on the top of Cross Mountain. Praise God!
Our first full day there, I was kind of hoping for a day of subdued activity, but at breakfast our pilgrimage leaders informed us that since the weather was going to be favorable, we were going to climb Apparition Hill that afternoon. Apparition Hill is, I learned, the “easier” of the two climbs, as Cross Mountain is three times higher. Fiat! The able-bodied group members would hike to the hill, but those of us who needed to conserve our strength and pseudo-agility would take a cab to the base of the hill. We would all meet and pray the joyful mysteries together on the way up at the stations provided, with reflections by Fr. Joseph Jacobson, who was our spiritual guide for the pilgrimage. Coming down would be at each our own speed, and hopefully in a controlled manner as the climb was very rocky.
I was shocked at the terrain when I first laid eyes on it! It was as if God had dumped from on high a huge load of boulders with just enough mud to hold them in place. Many of the rocks were sharp, and flat bits were scarce. The climb, I found, was a metaphor for the struggles of life—you can never plan past the next step, and if you think about how hard the journey is going to be, you will give up before you even begin. Sometimes, even what you thought was the right step turns out all wrong. Just. Keep. Going. After all, how did Christ make it up the hill to Calvary? One step at a time.
Our Lady chose to appear in this place, first of all because of the steadfast faith of the villagers, which had held firm through centuries of persecution. As for the terrain, besides the penitential component, Our Lady has told the visionaries she wants pilgrims to see the stones as representing the stony hearts of those who need our prayers and sacrifices.
Our Lady has said that the veil between heaven and earth is very thin at Medjugorje and I believe it! With my physical limitations in mind, you will understand when I say that it was no small thing to find myself, an hour and a half after starting, at the goal of our climb, the statue of Mary which marks the spot where she first appeared to the visionaries in 1981. The Queen of Peace, rewarded my efforts with gifts of hope, comfort, and peace. I was overcome with emotion in that holy place, and still am when I think of it. Our Lady carried me up for sure! It was so humbling to be up there, and I am so grateful!
After that beautiful mountain-top experience I, of course, still had to get down, and the down is even harder than the up! My previously underused muscles were already protesting the uphill climb. Now, a further hour and half down? I picked up my trusty walking stick and started out. Our Lady had further pity on me and sent two angels to help me. A couple of gentlemen from our pilgrim group walked with me to keep me safe, scouting the best path, and guiding each step, extending their hands when I needed it. Truly they were the embodiment of our guardian angels, who also are there as scouts, guides, and a hand to hold, whether we feel it or not.
Despite their efforts, near the end, one of my feet got wedged in a rock with the other foot wedged behind it. I was going down! Because of my walking stick it was a slow fall sideways. I landed—where else—on a rock, next to a thorny bush, which also left its mark. Without my angels I would have had a very hard time getting out of that predicament. I must have landed on my real angel because aside from a 7-inch bruise on my thigh, and a small thorn prick, I suffered no real injuries. When I mentioned my bruise to one of the locals she said, “In Medjugorje, we call those ‘kisses from heaven’.” Upon reflection I can see that Our Lady gave me a very small taste of Calvary—one fall and a small thorn. Yes, it was indeed a kiss from heaven! Fiat! Thank you, Mama!
There is much to ponder in such a climb. I’m sure everyone comes back with their own message or messages. I felt Our Lady was telling me (and all of us) to persevere in our prayers and sacrifices. The evil one wants to discourage us, but our Mother wants us to know that our prayers and sacrifices are bearing abundant fruit. She is always with us as our Mother, strengthening all her dear children for the mission entrusted to us—which often feels like a gruelling climb we are not in shape for. With her at our side, we have nothing to fear. Then what is left for us but to say, Fiat! as we put one foot in front of the other until she calls us home.
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.
(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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.