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

Me in front of St. James Church

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!

Apparition Hill

Not as easy as it looks!

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.

(To be continued…)

Me at the top of Apparition Hill!
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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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All Souls Day…

Wisdom 3: 1-5

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.

ALL SOULS DAY is just around the corner. I admit, I feel its approach more keenly this year having lost both my husband and my father in the last few months. It is a great blessing that my trip to Medjugorje happens to include that feast day. I can’t wait to offer prayers there for all the souls Mary wants me to pray for but especially for my husband and my father.

Here is an article from the National Catholic Register about the indulgences available at this time of year.

Here’s How You Can Help the Holy Souls in Purgatory
We have access to several keys to help rescue the holy souls in purgatory and get them to heaven.

 

I will try to put up one more post before leaving on Monday. I take you all with me in my heart and will pray for your intentions while there.

Dreams as calls to prayer…

2 Timothy 2:20-21 “In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.”

As you may remember from my May 12 post, my beloved husband of 42 years passed away on May 11 this year. There were many graces around the time of his death and since then, some of which I have mentioned on this blog. Two of those graces came in the form of dreams.

In the last few months I have had a several of dreams that I feel came with a message. I learned long ago to view dreams primarily as calls to prayer. Perhaps that is why I keep receiving them. Dreams and their interpretation can be risky. However, if we view dreams as calls to prayer, it is less likely that we will be misled, so I caution you not to see more in the dreams I will share in the next few blog posts. I ask you to see them only as calls to prayer.

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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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The gift of vexation…

2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (The trials of St. Paul) Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.

One only has to read the trials of St. Paul to put their own trials into perspective. It seems that lately I am beset, not so much by trials, although there have been some of those, but it is the day-to-day vexations that are getting under my skin. For instance, our house is for sale* and the market is rather stagnant here, so there is the elation/disappointment roller-coaster I ride every time we have a showing. There are the vexations of waiting for a showing, of waiting to move, and waiting for someone else to move.

And there is the vexation that comes in my dealings with others, when I fail to act as I should or when my expectations fail to materialize. I once heard about a person complaining to another about someone who was always pushing their buttons. The wise reply was, “Well, what are you doing with buttons?” Touché. As someone who is trying to live in God’s will, sometimes all I can see is how far I am from it.

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The good Lord gives even as he takes away…

Thank you all for your prayers, kind words, and good wishes since I my husband passed. The Lord has given me super-abundant consolations, both temporal and spiritual. I feel the strength of your love and prayers. It has been a bit of a wild ride lately. Since the death of my husband barely a month ago, I have moved to a new city to be nearer to family and have helped my sister to move my 92 year old father to an extended care facility. God has been with me and mine every step of the way.

After a great deal of prayer and consultation with others (including my spiritual director and my realtor who both said, “Go!”) I felt I had the green light to move BEFORE my house was sold. I was going to be renting anyway. Finances would be a bit tight but it was doable. I felt the Lord wished me to trust him on this. So I went forward in faith.

The movers were still loading the truck when my realtor called and said he had an offer on my house! It was a decent offer with only one easily surmountable condition. I am confident the deal will go through. That was yesterday. I am still pinching myself. It feels like a dream.

The the good Lord gives, even as he takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord, now and forever!

Providence…

Dear friends, as providence would have it, less than a week after my blog post on praying for those who may die suddenly or unprepared, Jim, my own dear husband of 42 years passed away after a chronic illness. The fingerprints of God, his graces and blessings, are all over this event. I am so grateful for those graces, most especially, the following…

+ That I had time to pray a Divine Mercy chaplet in his presence at the hospital unaware that he would not be coming home the next day.

+ That even thought he was not Catholic, in the months leading up to his death, we prayed almost daily together the prayer to St. Joseph and anointed our foreheads with St. Joseph oil from Montreal.

+ That I woke early that morning and, as I often do when I wake early, repeated this prayer several times: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, spread the effect of grace of Thy Flame of Love over Jim and over all of humanity, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” As it turned out I was praying this prayer in the final hour of his life. Blessed Mother! Oh Mama! What a gift and sign!

+ Not least of the graces was the grace of those of you who prayed for the souls who would die suddenly or unprepared. You helped my husband in the hour of his death. God bless you!

God is with us, little children! Let us place all our trust in him. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, we love you. Save souls!

For those who will die unprepared…

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20)

Being “fishers of people” can take many forms. One does not have to be a vowed religious to be a fisher of people. We are all called to be evangelizers. We can evangelize with our words, our actions, and our prayers. We can evangelize the living, but we can also work for the salvation of those who have already passed, the holy souls in purgatory, or for those who will die suddenly and unprepared, and it seems the numbers of those increase daily.

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