Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Rosary: An Effective Weapon Against the Evils of Society

A black and white photo of Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII who reigned as Pope from
February 20, 1878 until his death on July 20, 1903
With October being the "Month of the Rosary," I thought it fitting to share another papal document from my reading list, Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, Supremi Apostolatus Officio, on devotion to the Rosary and its efficaciousness as a remedy for the many evils of society.

Written in 1883, Pope Leo XIII not only encouraged devotion to the Rosary, but spotlighted how important it has been in the history of the Catholic Church when faced with several threats; namely, the violence of heresy, intolerable moral corruption, and aggressive Islamic attacks by the Ottoman Turks.

This document is not only an intriguing read, but a historical lesson that has not lost its relevance for the many evils of today's society. As I read it, I couldn't help but think of Winston Churchill's 1948 speech to the House of Commons, in which he paraphrased George Santayana (The Life of Reason, 1905), "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

Pope Leo XIII was keenly aware of the threats of his time, and the necessity to implore the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troublous times to fly for refuge to Mary, and to seek for peace in her maternal goodness; showing that the Catholic Church has always, and with justice, put all her hope and trust in the Mother of God." (2) 

So great was the need for divine intervention during Pope Leo XIII's time, that he compared it to the troubling times of St. Dominic's life and the Albigensian heresy, that itself was remedied by the Rosary, which the Blessed Virgin Mary introduced to the Church through Her chosen vessel, St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers.

Like in Pope Leo XIII's time, one that he referred to as, an "age of error," we too are in great need of divine intervention for the many evils that threaten Christianity today, and society as a whole: Islam (violent conflicts, terrorism and aggressive "immigration"); New Age and occult practices; left-wing political parties; secularism and consumerism; the contamination of political correctness and liberal ideas in universities, moral disorder being cultivated in professional associations; elements of the Culture of Death permitted at law such as abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, contraception, in vitro-fertilization, human embryo research, and other threats to the value and inviolability of human life; attacks on the conscience rights for medical professionals; the LGBTQ agenda; the many negative ramifications of the global sexual revolution and gender mainstreaming. 

We need help from heaven, the sole means of effecting anything

With so many evils running rampant in society and the much needed restoration to a Culture of Life, it seems so daunting for anyone to even think about, let alone seriously consider, how to affect such a change, but nothing is impossible with God. As Catholics, we have the privileged opportunity to call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary for Her intercession, to draw upon us God's mercy and Divine intervention. This is precisely what Pope Leo XIII stressed in the first section of Supremi Apostolatus OfficioIn it Pope Leo XIII states:
...We constantly seek for help from Heaven - the sole means of effecting anything - that our labours and our care may obtain their wished for object. We deem that there could be no surer and more efficacious means to this end than by religion and piety to obtain the favour of the great Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the guardian of our peace and the minister to us of heavenly grace... (1)
Pope Leo XIII goes on to encourage those to whom this encyclical is addressed, the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Church, to spread the Rosary Devotion with the greatest earnestness, that by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus will, "...[B]e appeased and softened in the evils which afflict us." (1)  

The Rosary is a powerful weapon against heresy, moral corruption and the Church's enemies

The brilliance of the Rosary Devotion has shown itself in a greater way when the Church Militant implored Our Lady's intercession when endangered by the violence of heresy, moral corruption or attacks of powerful enemies. History has shown that not only was the Mother of God pleased to come to the assistance of the Church, and obtain peace and tranquility, but in her honour, she was given titles of helper, consoler, mighty in war, victorious, and peace-giver.

Amongst all the historical references to the Rosary as a powerful weapon, Pope Leo XIII made special note of two events in particular: the first, the efficaciousness of Rosary Devotion against the Albigensian heresy that began in Southern France during St. Dominic's life (born in 1170, at Calaruega, Burgos, Old Castile and died on August 6,1221, at Bologna, Italy); and the second, the victory achieved through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571).

The Albigensian heretics sprung from the sect of the later Manicheans, who sought to fill Southern France and other parts of the Latin world, with pernicious errors, and who by the terror of their arms, strove to rule by massacre and ruin. Here is what Pope Leo XIII wrote on how God responded to Albigensian heretics:
Our merciful God, as you know, raised up against these most direful enemies a most holy man, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order. Great in the integrity of his doctrine, in his example of virtue, and by his apostolic labours, he proceeded undauntedly to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by force of arms; but trusting wholly to that devotion which he was the first to institute under the name of the Holy Rosary, which was disseminated through the length and breadth of the earth by him and his pupils. Guided, in fact, by divine inspiration and grace, he foresaw that this devotion, like a most powerful warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety. Such was indeed its result. Thanks to this new method of prayer-when adopted and properly carried out as instituted by the Holy Father St. Dominic-piety, faith, and union began to return, and the projects and devices of the heretics to fall to pieces. Many wanderers also returned to the way of salvation, and the wrath of the impious was restrained by the arms of those Catholics who had determined to repel their violence. (3)
The victory of Christian forces over the Ottoman naval fleet during the Battle of Lepanto

Pope Leo XIII dedicated section four to the victory of the Christian forces against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of LepantoHe described this historical event as one in which, "The efficacy and power of this devotion was also wondrously exhibited in the sixteenth century, when the vast forces of the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism." (4)

The Pope at the time, Pope St. Pius V (a Dominican who became Pope in 1566 until his death in 1572) had united all Christian princes, striving for a common defence against the Ottoman naval fleet, but sought above all, with the greatest zeal, to obtain victory from Our Lady's intercession.

A map of the Battle of Lepanto showing the Christian and Ottoman naval forces
Map of the Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571

He goes on to note that as Christ's faithful warriors prepared for battle, those who were unable to take part, formed a "...[P]ious band of supplicants, who called on Mary, and unitedly saluted her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to grant victory to their companions engaged in battle." (4)

The united Christian naval force was granted victory over the Ottoman Turks on October 7, 1571. Pope Leo XIII described the victory as follows, "Our Sovereign Lady did grant her aid; for in the naval battle by the Echinades Islands, the Christian fleet gained a magnificent victory, with no great loss to itself, in which the enemy were routed with great slaughter." (4)

To celebrate the anniversary of so memorable a struggle and honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Pius V desired to have a feast established which became known as, Our Lady of Victories. Under his successor, Pope Gregory XIII (Pope from 1572 until his death in 1585) this feast was renamed, Our Lady of the Rosary, which remains to this day.

Although he did not get into the details of other battles, Pope Leo XIII did include two other similar successful victories against the Ottoman Turks: the battles at Temeswar in Pannonia (modern day Timișoara, Romania) and Corfu, Greece. Both battles coincided with feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and concluded with public devotions of the Rosary.

Promotion of the Rosary Devotion

The Rosary, being a prayer that is particularly pleasing to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and suitable as a means of defence for the Church and all Christians, it is noteworthy that in addition to Pope Leo XIII, many of his predecessors also did their part to promote the Rosary Devotion: 
...Urban IV, testified that "every day the Rosary obtained fresh boon for Christianity." Sixtus IV declared that this method of prayer "redounded to the honour of God and the Blessed Virgin, and was well suited to obviate impending dangers;" Leo X that "it was instituted to oppose pernicious heresiarchs and heresies;" while Julius III called it "the glory of the Church." So also St. Pius V., that "with the spread of this devotion the meditations of the faithful have begun to be more inflamed, their prayers more fervent, and they have suddenly become different men; the darkness of heresy has been dissipated, and the light of Catholic faith has broken forth again." Lastly Gregory XIII in his turn pronounced that "the Rosary had been instituted by St. Dominic to appease the anger of God and to implore the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary." (5)
Pope Leo XIII made another reference to St. Dominic, who divinely enlightened, perceived that no remedy would be more adaptable to the evils of his time; that through its recitation men would return to Christ and seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom it was given to destroy all heresies.

As a further encouragement to the Church, Pope Leo XIII not only exhorted all Catholics to the pious recitation of the Rosary, publicly or privately, individually and within a group setting, but desired that the whole month of October should be consecrated to the "Holy Queen of the Rosary." In addition, he decreed and ordered that, "...[T]he whole Catholic world, during this year, the devotion of the Rosary shall be solemnly celebrated by special and splendid services." (8)

This included making every chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, accessible for the recitation of five decades of the Rosary and the Litany of Loreto. Add to this his desire that Mass shall be celebrated or the Blessed Sacrament shall be exposed, and Benediction given. 

Pope Leo XIII also encouraged for the Confraternities of the Most Holy Rosary to go, in procession, throughout towns as a public demonstration of their devotion.

To reward the faithful for their piety, he granted indulgences for all those who took part in public recital of the Rosary and the Litanies, and prayed for His intentions. For those who were "hindered by a lawful cause," from joining in the public prayers, he granted indulgences to them as well, so long as they have "...[P]racticed those devotions in private and shall have prayed to God for Our intention." (9) Further, a plenary indulgence was granted to those who, "...[E]ither on the feast of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary or within its octave, after having similarly purified their souls by a salutary confession, shall have approached the table of Christ and prayed in some church according to Our intention to God and the Blessed Virgin for the necessities of the Church." (9)

Pope Leo XIII further encouraged the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Church, to a more diligent effort to nourish piety amongst the people toward the Blessed Virgin Mary, that there may be an increased confidence in her intercession.


Every October I make an effort to improve upon my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and strengthen my understanding of the Rosary. Reading Supremi Apostolatus Officio has certainly helped in that regard.

In addition, it has also encouraged me to a more fervent recitation of the Rosary, and reinforced how important the Rosary is in the fight against the evils of today's society.

If you are somewhat new to papal documents—which can be found at the Vatican's Holy Father dedicated page of documents from the papacies of Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI—and you are interested in learning more about the Rosary, Supremi Apostolatus Officio (only five pages in total and a relatively easy read), is the perfect document to begin with during the "Month of the Rosary." 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Lives of The Brethren: The Origins of The Order of Preachers and The Legend of St. Dominic

A photo of the front courtyard at the Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy
Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy with the
bronze statue of St. Dominic's blessing (1623)
The Vitae Fratrum, or Lives of The Brethren, a book on the origins and growth of the Order of Preachers (O.P.), the Dominicans, is not only a historical account of how the Order came into being, but a "collection of legends" on the life of Saint Dominic, its founder, and of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, considered to be its second founder, and many other Dominican brothers, detailed in the three hundred sixty-nine pages.

At its core, it is an edifying read of the many first-hand accounts and stories compiled about the lives of the brethren from 1206-1259, that is sure to stir the reader: to live a more virtuous life; to frequent reception of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation; to greater penance; to renewed fervent prayer; to seek a closer relationship with God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary; and to confidently invoke the intercession of St. Dominic, Bl. Jordan, and other Dominican brothers when petitioning God, that by their merits, all may be granted, if it be God's will.

The spiritual life, in addition to prayer and the sacraments, is nourished by a well developed reading list that includes: meditations, biographies of the saints, the history of the Catholic Church, documents from the Vatican, Catholic blogs and web sites, the Catechism of The Catholic Church, and the Bible. As a historical document, Lives of The Brethren, is an invaluable read that chronicles the origins and growth of the Dominican Order in the early 1200s; without which we would not have the details of the early difficulties, the providential care of the brethren, and Our Lady's love for the Order. Those seeking to benefit from variety in the spiritual life, would do well to add Lives of The Brethren to their reading lists.

Although it does not compare with meditations such as the Imitation of Christ, Divine Intimacy or My Daily Bread, Lives of The Brethren, proved to be more than just a read; it helped to quiet down all the "noise" of the day, and ushered me into the spirit of prayer.

The process of gathering the information for what we now know to be the, Lives of The Brethren, began in 1256 in Paris during the ordination of the General Chapter of the Friars Preachers, during which it was requested, " 'Let every Prior who has heard or known of any miracle or edifying occurrence happening in the Order, or concerning it, write diligently to the Master so that the memory of it may be preserved.' " (9) In response to this, many brethren sent their individual contributions, the bulk of which was gathered and compiled, verified, corrected, and ready for publication within four years. It is generally accepted that the book was written somewhere between 1256 and 1259, in Limoges, France. 

The book, available for reading in portable document format (pdf), was translated by the Very Rev. F. Placid Conway, O.P., and edited with notes and introduction by Bede Jarrett, O.P. It was published in 1955 in London, England, by Blackfriars Publications. Written in a straight forward and simple manner—many times requiring reference to a dictionary for English words seldom used anymore, at least on this side of the pond—reading it proved to take longer than anticipated.

Throughout I could not help but marvel at God's love, mercy, and forgiveness revealed in the many blessings and gifts bestowed upon the brethren. Add to this the motherly affection of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the brethren, her powerful intercessory role in their lives, and her protection from the Evil One and his demons; reading this document was truly a faith strengthening and peaceful time that never lost its intrigue.

Lives of The Brethren is segmented into six parts: Part I The Foundation of The Order of Preachers; Parts II and III The Legend of St. Dominic; Part IV The Legend of Blessed Jordan of Saxony; Part V Progress of The Order; and Part VI Departure of The Brethren From Out This World.

To do justice to Lives of The Brethren, and the wonderful gift of the Dominicans to the Church, would entail at the very minimum, a summary of all six parts; something that I am prayerfully considering, especially to honour Blessed Jordan of Saxony. As for today's post, and for the sake of brevity, I decided to focus on the Part I The Foundation of the Order of Preachers, and selected chapters from Parts II and IIIThe Legend of St. Dominic.

I also quoted a substantial amount of the original text, when it was abundantly clear that any attempt to have summarized the same text, just wouldn't have sufficed.

The Foundation of The Order of Preachers

In Part I The Foundation of The Order of Preachers, Chapter I The Order Was The Fruit of The Blessed Virgin Mary's Prayers, attributes the Order's beginnings to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

It states in the very beginning that from a clear and careful reading of holy scripture, the Blessed Virgin Mary is a compassionate advocate and powerful helper of mankind. It goes on to state that, "By her prayers the fire of God's wrath kindled against sinners is tempered lest they perish, and countless blessings are showered down upon the world...One of the examples of this is the fact, revealed to many of God's servants, that this great Order was raised up by Almighty God's mercy for the salvation of souls, through her all prevailing intercession." (18)

Our Lady's intercession for the establishment of the Order of Preachers was revealed through a monk, who for three days and nights was wrapped up in ecstasy. Some years later, when the Dominicans had been well established, and were tasked to go about preaching, two brothers arrived at this monk's location. Not having ever seen their habit before, he enquired as to their name and manner of life. Realizing that the Dominicans were the Order, he stated the following:
'I feel, brethren, that the hour is come for me to reveal the secrets which the Lord was pleased in his goodness to unfold to me and about which I have hitherto been silent, for I now see that they have come to pass. During the time that I was caught up in rapture I saw our Lady, Mary the Mother of God, during those three days and nights, upon bended knees and with clasped hands, pleading with her Son on behalf of mankind, and beseeching him to forbear yet a while that the world might repent. But although during all that time he spoke never a word, at length upon the third day he yielded and made answer: "My own Mother, what can I, or what ought I to do further for the race of men? I sent them patriarchs for their salvation, and for a brief space of time they gave ear unto them; I sent them prophets, and for a while they did penance. After that I myself went unto them, and I gave them apostles, but me they crucified and them they killed. I have since sent them martyrs, confessors, and doctors, and many more, yet despite their toil the world has not amended; nevertheless, at thy prayer -- for it is not beseeming that I deny thee aught -- I will send unto them preachers and men of truth, through whom the world shall be enlightened and reclaimed. If it so prove, it is well; but if not, there remains no further remedy, but I will myself come in judgement and be avenged upon them."' (19)
Mary's intercession for the creation of the Order, is also well documented in the shared vision that both St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi had, of Jesus who was going to send a punishment to mankind, but stopped at the pleading of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In that vision, both saints saw Our Lady pleading with Jesus to be merciful, and accept her plan which included two of her faithful servants, St. Dominic and St. Francis, whom she presented to Jesus. Upon seeing both men, Jesus accepted Our Lady's plan. This was revealed to the Dominicans by a friar-minor, who had long been the companion of Saint Francis. Here is the account of the shared vision:
A friar-minor, who had long been the companion of St Francis, told some of our brethren -- one of whom in turn related it to Brother Jordan, then Master of the Order that when St Dominic our Father was in Rome, during the sitting of the Lateran Council, pressing his suit before God and the Pope for the confirmation of his Order, as he was praying one night -- according to his custom -- in the church, he beheld our Lord Jesus Christ standing by his throne in midair, and holding three lances which he was about to hurl against the earth. At the same moment the Virgin Mother, falling on her knees, besought him to have mercy on those whom he had redeemed, and to temper his justice with mercy. 'Seest thou not what countless wrongs they continue to heap upon me?' said he. 'Right willingly would I have mercy, but my justice will not allow evil to go unpunished.' Thereupon the Queen Mother again addressed him: 'My Son, I know, as dost thou, who knowest all things, how thou canst restore mankind to thy favour. I have by me one trusty liegeman whom thou shalt send into the world to make known thy word, and thenceforth it will forsake and bewail its evil ways, and follow thee, its Saviour. To him as fellow labourer shall I give another of my servants to toil in even way.' Upon this her Son answered; 'Behold, now I am appeased and I accept thy plan; yet show me the man thou hast chosen.' Then the glorious Virgin, taking St Dominic by the hand, led him to our Lord Jesus Christ, who, with an approving smile, replied: 'Right well and manfully shall he carry out what thou hast said.' She then brought forward St Francis, whom our Lord praised evenly. The blessed Dominic earnestly scanned the features of his companion while the vision lasted; on the morrow recognising him in the blessed Francis, although hitherto a stranger to him, he ran up and tenderly embraced him with a kiss, saying: 'You are my comrade, let us stand together, and no foe shall prevail against us.' After this he told his vision, and from that hour they became but one heart and one soul in God, and enjoined their sons to foster this brotherly spirit to the end of time. (22)
Other individuals who foretold of the rise of the Order of Preachers include: Prior Stephen of the Carthusian Monastery of Partes; a Cistercian bishop of the diocese of Orange, in the Province of Arles; Bl. Mary D'Oignies of the diocese of Liege; Bishop Fulk of Toulouse; an elderly and holy woman from Tuscany; and Abbot Joachim, the founder of a monastery in Florence. 

The Legend of St. Dominic
A monument of the remains of St. Dominic in the Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy.
A monument that contains the remains of
St. Dominic, located in Dominic's chapel,
Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy

Unlike the lives of other saints, such as Sts. Augustine or Francis of Assisi, whose dramatic conversions shattered their previous lives, St. Dominic is one of those saints who came from a very holy family. He not only had two devout parents who lived virtuous lives, but two holy brothers; one of whom also joined the Order of Preachers, and the other gave himself up entirely to the service of the poor by works of mercy in a hospital.

In an effort to capture the essence of who Saint Dominic was, I selected certain chapters from the legends that includes: the miracles wrought by his fervent prayers; some of the many gifts bestowed upon him; his humility, charity, and patience in striving to win souls for God; some of the more dramatic moments of his battles with the devil and his demons; and the deliverance of individuals from demonic possession.

Conversion of a Heretic by His Joyful Patience

Saint Dominic was a man of great humility and patience. During his time there were many heretics, and on this one particular occasion, a debate with them was agreed upon. The local bishop desired to arrive with a "pompous retinue," but St. Dominic suggested otherwise that, "...[W]e should rather strive to win them over by our humility and virtuous example, than by mere show and display or by contentious words: and since the present meeting is not without its fears, let us arm ourselves with humility and go thither barefooted.' (74)

Not knowing how to get to the meeting place, enquiries were made with a man, who they assumed to be Catholic, but was in fact a heretic, whose intention was to lead them astray. Seeing that the brethren were barefoot, he lead them among thorns and brambles so that their feet and ankles became covered in blood.

As to how St. Dominic responded to all this. Here is the official account:
All this the servant of God bore all this with unruffled patience, breaking forth joyfully at times into the divine praises, and exhorting the others to do the same. 'Be of good cheer, dearest brethren,' he would say, 'put all your trust in God, for our sins have now been all wiped out in our blood, and the victory will surely be ours.' The heretic, seeing his marvellous endurance, and the joyful forbearance of the whole company, and feeling touched by his words, became changed in heart, confessed his cruel deceit, and abjured his errors before them. (75)

His Gift of Tongues

In reading this particular story, I could not help but be amazed at God's generosity in granting St. Dominic and another brother he was travelling with, the gift of speaking fluent German.

While travelling from Toulouse to Paris in the company of Brother Bertrand de Garrigue, St. Dominic met a band of pilgrims from Germany. Hearing them reciting the Psalms and Litanies, they both joined them, and upon arrival at the next town, remained with them for three days.

Saint Dominic was troubled by the fact that the brothers received material good things from the German pilgrims, yet could not provide spiritual ones in return. Saint Dominic suggested that he and Br. Bertrand kneel down and pray so that God would, in St. Dominic's own words, "...[E]nable us to understand their tongue, that we may preach Jesus to them." (81)

To the bewilderment of the pilgrims, they began to speak fluent German. For the next four days, St. Dominic and Br. Bertrand conversed with them about Jesus.

In all humility, St. Dominic stated the following to Br. Bertrand: 

'Brother, we are now going to enter Paris, and if our brethren here only knew of that miracle which God wrought in us they would repute us to be saints, whereas we are but sinners, and if it got rumoured abroad we should be liable to vanity: wherefore, in virtue of holy obedience I forbid you to mention it to a soul until after my death.' (82)
As commanded upon him, Br. Bertrand did not divulge this information to the brethren until after St. Dominic's death. 

How He Met The Devil Prowling Round The Convent

There are several stories of St. Dominic's confrontation with the devil and his demons. This particular story is perhaps the most dramatic of all.

On one occasion when St. Dominic, who like a watchful sentinel, was making his rounds throughout the convent, one night met the devil. Here is the account of what the two communicated:
...[A]nd bidding him stand still, the holy father accosted him thus: 'Why are you prowling in this fashion?' 'I do so,' said the other, 'on account of the profits I reap hereby."And what do you gain in the dormitory, may I ask?' said St Dominic. 'I keep the brethren from enjoying their rest, and then tempt them not to rise for matins, and when this does not work, I send them foul dreams and illusions.' Then taking him to the choir, the holy father continued: 'And what do you gain in this holy place?' 'I make them come late and retire soon, and busy them with distractions.' On questioning him about the refectory, he made answer, 'Who is there who does not either eat more or less than he should" When brought to the parlour he chuckled with glee: 'Ho, ho! this is my spot, this is the place for laughter, and folly, and idle talk.' But when they came to the chapter house the devil tried to make off: 'I loathe this place, for I lose here whatever I may have gained elsewhere, since the brethren are here told of their faults, correct one another, do penance, and are absolved.' (86)
He Snatches A Paper From The Devil

On another occasion, Saint Dominic had spied on the devil in the church at midnight, holding a piece of paper, trying to read it by the light of one of the lamps.

Saint Dominic confronted the devil, and had asked him what he was looking at. The devil's reply, " 'I am reading over your brethren's sins.' " (87)

Determined to take the paper, St. Dominic seized hold of, but the devil would not let go. He bid the devil, in God's name, to release it. Written on the paper were some faults of the brethren, whom St. Dominic corrected accordingly.

He Delivers a Glutton Possessed by the Devil

One of the brothers, in charge of the sick, had without permission, been eating leftover meat. One evening the devil entered into him and bellowed horribly. Saint Dominic had come to the spot where the rest of the brethren had rushed to the brother's assistance. He then asked the devil w
hy he had gone into him. The following is the exchange between St. Dominic and the demon:
I hold possession of him since he richly deserves it, for contrary to the letter of your constitutions, and without leave, he has been in the habit of eating the meat left by the sick.' On hearing this the tender father replied: 'And I, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, do absolve him from his sin, and command you in the name of the same Jesus, that you go out of him and vex him no longer'; and at once the brother was freed from his tormentor. (90)
He Beholds Angels Guarding His Brethren

A citizen from Bologna, a lawyer by profession, joined the Order of Preachers, much to the chagrin of his family and friends. A plan was set in motion to forcibly remove the new brother. Terrified of the anticipated violence, the brethren sought to call upon men-at-arms to guard their enclosure. Such measures proved to be completely unnecessary as St. Dominic assured them that, " 'We require no such protection, for at this very moment I see more than two hundred angels ranked round the church and convent who have been sent to guard us.' " (89) At the same moment their assailants fled panic-stricken and in confusion, and the novice summoned up enough courage to remain and persevere in the Order.

How St. Dominic Helped Calm a Storm

A ship on its way from Trapani, Sicily to the coastal city of Genoa, Italy, was overtaken by a violent storm, that threatened its destruction, and all on board. So severe was the storm that the masts and sails had been swept away; the ship was drifting at the mercy of the wind and waves.

Some passengers endeavoured to ease the load by throwing the cargo overboard, while others were making their last confession. Pleading for help, everyone was invoking their patron saints.

On board was a Dominican brother, William of Valencia, a very devout man who always put his trust in God. Hearing no mention of anyone invoking St. Dominic, he urged everyone to call upon him from their hearts, assuring them of the certainty of St. Dominic's assistance. Here is the official account of what followed:
...At this, every soul present pledged himself that if St Dominic stood by them they would go barefoot to his church carrying lighted tapers directly they touched land. Their vows made, and while they were all yet crying out at the top of their voices, ' O St Dominic, do come to our assistance!' the sky suddenly brightened, the storm hushed, the sea grew calm, and the whole face of the deep lay rippling in the sunbeams. Joy took the place of despair, moanings became shouts of joy, hearty thanks were poured out, and the name of Dominic extolled. Nor were they slow in redeeming their promise on reaching Genoa, but straightway all walked in procession behind our brethren, in the way they had promised, until they came to our church, and there devoutly prostrated themselves before his altar. (97)
How He Rid a Woman of Seven Devils

During the second Sunday of Lent, St. Dominic set out to preach at St. Sixtus Church in Rome, where Benedictine sisters had taken up residence near by.

A great crowd had gathered, and St. Dominic stood by the grating so the Sisters could both hear and see him preaching the word of God. Amongst the great crowd of men and women, was a woman possessed of seven demons, who began to disturb his preaching shouting, " 'Knave and fool, thou hast already robbed me of four persons who were mine, thou hast robbed me of my own'..." (119) The demons kept calling St. Dominic "knave," which means "dishonest man."

The crowd became increasingly disturbed by this woman, so St. Dominic directed the demons to "Hold your tongue," but to no avail. The demons responded, " 'Thou shalt not turn us out, for she is ours, and we refuse to leave her.' " (119) The demons also revealed how they possessed her.

As the confusion grew from this disturbance, St. Dominic lifted up his hand, and made a sign of the cross over her, saying, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I command you to go out of her, and not to torment her any longer." (120) Instantly the woman began to vomit up a quantity of coals, and a tremendous amount of blood. Saint Dominic had her brought to a house close by, with orders that she be cared for until her recovery.

After a long time had passed, when this woman recovered, and was on her way to the shrine of St. James the Apostle, she saw a group of Sisters who were on their way to St. Agnes convent in Bologna. Being quite well and in sound health, she conversed with them pleasantly.

How The Blessed Virgin Mary Appeared to Him While at Prayer, and Showed Him The Care She Takes or the Order

Once when St. Dominic was passing the night in prayer in the church, it was around midnight that he went to the dormitory. After looking in on his brethren, he resumed his prayer at the entrance.

Standing erect in prayer, he saw at the other end of the dormitory, three very pleasant looking women advancing toward him. The central figure seemed to be more dignified, and of higher rank than the others.

One of the two attendants carried a beautiful and resplendent vessel of holy water, and the other a sprinkler, which she presented to the third, who was between them.

The middle woman sprinkled the brethren, who were asleep, except for one, which caught the attention of St. Dominic.

Eventually St. Dominic threw himself down at her feet, and begged her to reveal who she was, although he knew all along it was the Blessed Virgin Mary. She replied, "I am she whom you greet every evening, and when you say 'Turn then our Advocate,' I prostate myself before my Son for the preservation of the Order.' " (124) As to the brother who did not receive the blessing, Our Lady replied," Simply because he was unworthy of it." (125) Sprinkling the remaining friars, she then went away. What happened next to Saint Dominic is best described by the account from Lives of The Brethren:
St Dominic returned to his prayers, and was caught up in spirit from where he was standing to the throne of God, and there he beheld our Lord, and the Blessed Virgin sitting on his right hand, whilst she appeared to our holy father to be wearing a mantle of deep blue colour. As lie gazed round he saw religious men of every Order in the Church standing in God's presence, but not one of his own family, so he began to weep bitterly and would not presume to come near our Lord and leis holy mother. Thereupon she made a sign with her hand for him to draw nigh, but still he did not dare to do so until our Lord also beckoned to him; then he came up and threw himself down before them, weeping as if his heart would break. Then Christ bade him arise, and asked him gently: 'Why weepest thou thus sorrowfully?' 'I am grieving,' said St Dominic, 'because I see here members of every religious Order, but of my own not one.' Then our Lord said: 'And would you see your Order?' To this the saint answered trembling: 'Yes, Lord, of a surety I would.' Placing his hand lovingly on the Blessed Virgin's shoulder, Christ replied: 'I have given over your Order to my mother's care.' At this the Blessed Virgin drew back her mantle, and opening it wide before St Dominic, it seemed to enclose nearly the whole of that heavenly country, so vast was it, and beneath it he saw a great host of his brethren. Casting himself down, St Dominic returned right hearty thanks to Christ and his holy mother; soon the vision passed away, and once again regaining his natural consciousness he rang the bell for matins. When the morning office was over he summoned the brethren to the chapter-house, and there spoke to them with burning words, exhorting them to love and reverence ever the blessed Virgin, and amongst the rest he told them of his vision. When the chapter was over he called aside the friar whom our blessed Lady had neither sprinkled nor blessed, and tried by gentle speech to discover whether there was not some secret sin which he had not confessed, for the brother had made a general confession to St Dominic. The brother made this reply: 'Holy father, I have nothing to reproach myself with in conscience except this, that on that night I retired to rest without being dressed according to rule.' St Dominic recounted this vision to Sister Cecilia and the other sisters of St Sixtus, yet as if it had befallen someone else, but the brethren present then, who had heard him relate it before, gave the sisters to understand that the person was none other than himself. It was on this account that St Dominic made it a rule that all his brethren should sleep in tunic and girdle wherever they might be.
How St. Dominic Founded The Convent at St. Sixtus

At the request of Pope Honorius, St. Dominic had gathered nuns scattered from various monasteries in the city, in order to unite them at St. Sixtus, where the brethren dwelt at the time.

Amongst all the nuns was Sister Cecilia, and the abbess of St. Mary's, where a picture of St. Mary stood. All but one, made their profession into St. Dominic's hands, and entered his enclosure, upon the condition that Our Lady's picture stayed with them at St. Sixtus. If this condition was not met, and the picture was returned to its former resting place, then all the nuns would be dispensed from their vows. Saint Domenic agreed.

Once the professions were made, St. Dominic told the nuns that they were not permitted to go outside the enclosure anymore to see family and friends. When this became known, some of their family and friends became angry for what they thought would be the destruction of a monastery, and for placing themselves into the hands of a man no one knew anything about.

As a result, some of the nuns regretted their profession, but St. Dominic knowing all this by the light of the Holy Spirit went to the nuns and addressed them with the following words, "My daughters, are you changing so soon, and do you want to go back from the way of the Lord? I want every one who means to enter of her own free will now to renew her profession." (133) In response, all the nuns renewed their profession.

Saint Dominic took all the monastery keys, and entrusted its safety to lay-brothers to guard it day and night, and provide provisions for the nuns.

As for the picture of Our Lady, St. Dominic and two assistants carried it from its original location to St. Sixtus, secretly in the night. They did this at night to avoid any hindrance from the citizens of Rome, who did not wish to see it leave because they had better access to it where it was. Bare foot, and with tapers (slender candles) to light their way, St. Dominic and his assistants transferred the picture to St. Sixtus with great devotion and due reverence to Our Lady.

The picture of Our Lady remains at St. Sixtus to this day.

Concluding Thoughts

Reading Lives of The Brethren is time well spent; an encouragement to a live a holy life. It certainly challenges the reader to examine his or her own life, and seek understanding and clarity as to what needs to be improved upon and what is missing. 

As to the numerous lessons that can be drawn from the many stories, it really is a function of each individual's faith journey, and how each one responds to God's love, mercy, forgiveness, graces, and blessings.

However, there are some lessons that each individual can benefit from, no matter where you are in your faith journey: the need to discover, recognize, and acknowledge our faults and defects; the necessity for a daily examination of conscience, and to strive for compunction of heart; frequent confession and Mass attendance; the importance of silence after Evening Prayer (Liturgy of the Hours); a new or renewed understanding of the spiritual combat against the Evil One and his demons; the importance of prayer; the need to place complete trust in God, and Our Lady's intercession in our lives; the much needed reminder to be always on guard against temptations, in its many forms and disguises; and how the beginning and growth in the virtuous life, often comes by way of hardships, difficulties, and chastisements.

It is my hope that you found today's post an intriguing read, that will encourage you to readLives of The Brethren, in its entirety.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Medjugorje: The Pleasant and Not So Pleasant Experience

The view from Cross Mountain, Medjugorje
At the top of Cross Mountain, taking advantage of the solitude and serenity.

Recently, I arrived back from my pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Herzegovina (officially Bosnia and Herzegovina), and it was for the most part a very pleasant and beneficial experience, but there were a few aspects that were not so pleasant; nothing major or terribly disturbing, but it did remind me of some thoughts I had from previous pilgrimages to Medjugorje that I never wrote about.

When one thinks of a pilgrimage, it typically evokes thoughts of a focussed spiritual journey that people take for a variety of reasons: to draw closer to God and Our Lady in a time of dedicated prayer and solitude; looking for the answers to many of life's questions; finding the solution to a problem; seeking clarity on the discernment of a vocation; the healing of any spiritual, psychological or physical needs; and hope for the cure of an illness, condition or disease.

These and other reasons are why many go on pilgrimages. For the most part, a pilgrimage is quite a pleasant experience, but there are some unpleasant aspects that one has to deal with. This especially holds true if you spend any significant amount of time in Medjugorje.

To date, I have had the privilege of spending fifteen weeks in Medjugorje, spread out over three pilgrimages in three consecutive years; after a while, you begin to notice and take note of many things. This year's pilgrimage was certainly no exception.

I initially encountered some unpleasant aspects during the first week of my first pilgrimage in June'2014. As a pilgrim focussed on the journey, you tend to put the unpleasantness aside, and move forward with your purpose. This is what I, and practically everyone does on a pilgrimage. You should not let the unpleasantness get in the way. At the same time, there are a few things you can do to help avoid it. I hope that by sharing my recent pilgrimage experience, it will help others to do just that.

Medjugorje Mornings

Whether you are climbing and praying your way up Cross Mountain or Apparition Hill at sunrise, or ushering in the day with prayer at the Blue Crosses, or at your pension, Medjugorje in the morning is truly a mystical place. I have done all the above, and never have I experienced such peace anywhere else in the world.

The morning view from my pansion of St. James, Medjugorje
The morning view, from the balcony at my pension, of St. James, the valley, and the mountains beyond.

Each day began with a 5:00am rise, and after having cleaned up, I began my morning prayers which took approximately ninety minutes and included: personal morning prayers, a meditation and prayer from My Daily Bread, Liturgy of The Hours, St. Gertrude The Great's prayer for the holy souls in purgatory, sinners in the universal Church, and for my family, a prayer for the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary, and a prayer to Our Lady to Spend The Day Well

Breakfast was at 9:00am, which was a perfect time for both me and the owners of the pension I was staying at. Each day's breakfast was something different: scrambled or boiled eggs; ham and cheese; a variety of different cold-cuts; a traditional meat piebiscuits; fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers; and anything that I would have preferred or requested. No matter what I had for breakfast, a cup of black Indian tea and my MacBookPro were mandatory includes each morning.

After having finished breakfast, and surfing the net, my daily excursion would begin. It was typically a choice between the three main prayer sites: Cross Mountain, Apparition Hill or the Blue CrossesAll three locations are excellent choices for the ideal Medjugorje experience; that is, an encounter with God and Our Lady. This is the essence of what Medjugorje is really all about; to experience the encounter as many times as possible.

Cross Mountain

The view of the cross at Cross Mountain after the last Stations of the Cross prayer plaque.
The view of the cross, at Cross Mountain, after the last Stations of the Cross prayer plaque.

Cross Mountain is the most difficult and highest of all three locations—the terrain is also the most rocky and dangerous requiring each pilgrim to be especially careful so as to avoid injury—and it is for this reason that I chose it. This coupled with the Stations of The Cross prayers, from St. Alphonsus Liguori, that I recited during each ascent, made for a much more penitential pilgrimage.

The walk from my pension to Cross Mountain afforded me the opportunity to mentally prepare, and become properly disposed for what really is a prayer with a little bit of climbing, not a climb with a little bit of prayer. I have actually dedicated an entire post on this, Medjugorje's Cross Mountain (Križevac) - A Time Of Prayer With A Little Bit of Climbing, Not A Climb With A Little Bit Of Prayer.

A view of the cafes and souvenir shops at the base of Cross Mountain
A view of what pilgrims see when approaching the base (where the steps are) of Cross Mountain: two cafe/souvenir
shops on the mountain itself (on the left), and one of many souvenir shops (on the right) directly across the street.

The one thing that I have never liked about arriving at Cross Mountain was the existence of all the souvenir shops and cafes, some of which are actually on the mountain itself. They are, for the most part, a source of unwelcome chatter, laughter, and singing. In my view, these businesses should not be allowed to operate so close to the base of this prayerful climb.

I recall vividly, from my first climb up Cross Mountain in late June'2014, how repulsed I felt at the presence of all these shops and cafes. Their existence is part of an unpleasant reality: the profiteering at Medjugorje's prayer sites.

The prayer sites are not the only location where profiteering goes on, but they are the most obvious. As one small example, if you have ever purchased a 1.5L of bottle of water at Cross Mountain, Apparition Hill, or the Blue Crosses, for more than €1.00, you have fallen victim to the profiteering.

At the base of Cross Mountain, where there is a sign, guidelines for pilgrims
The base of Cross Mountain, where there is a sign with guidelines for pilgrims to pay heed to. The top-left image indicates that
pilgrims are to be quiet or not cause a disturbance. This is common sense, but 
ignored by many. To the right is a cafe and
souvenir shop, one of two on the mountain itself, and sadly only a few feet away from the first station prayer plaque.

Ironically, there is a sign at the foot of Cross Mountain, with several images that provide pilgrims with some guidelines while at the mountain, and for the climb. The majority of pilgrims have a respectful attitude, and it is clear by the way they act: in a very quiet manner, properly disposed and prepared for a prayerful climb. Others demonstrated quite the opposite, some unintentionally due in part to the initial excitement and joy of a "first climb," and being apart of a group pilgrimage. 

However, there are some pilgrims—a very small minority—that know exactly what they are doing. Their discourteous attitude is demonstrated with loud chatter and laughter; some even go and sit in the cafes, and break out into group singing that typically includes several songs.

As a pilgrim, you try to remain focussed, but sometimes it gets so bad, that you just have to bring it to the attention of those who are either intentionally or unintentionally, violating some of the most basic guidelines. I for one did this on a handful of occasions, never in a fury, but always with a charitable spirit, in a kind, calm and considerate tone, that was well received by everyone.

The Third Station of the Cross, where between the plaque and the arrow sign, is the back path from the top of the
mountain that leads to the third station.

Sadly, some people are openly defiant, knowing full well that they are disturbing others, as was the case with this one young man who I had to be very candid and direct with. He was the leader of a group that had completed their climb, and were making their way down the mountain from the back path, talking loudly and constantly. As he approached the third station, where I was praying at, I immediately informed him, in a very firm tone, that he shouldn't be in such conversation with his group, that a more suitable location for it would be at a cafe or restaurant...this is Križevac (Cross Mountain)! From the utterance of my first word, he and his group fell silent, clearly understanding that such violations on Cross Mountain are not tolerated by everyone. Needless to say, they continued with their descent in complete silence.

This is one of the unpleasant realities that pilgrims confront during their ascent up Cross Mountain; having to deal with others who, after having completed their climb, descend in full blown "conversation mode." 

Another unpleasant reality of Cross Mountain, during both the ascent and descent, is the presence of beggars. I really don't know how many they are, but on a few occasions, I encountered two individuals that I recognized from previous pilgrimages. Regardless, I sincerely hope that the police and "security presence" in Medjugorje, will seek to remove such individuals from, and keep them off the mountain.

Having initially confronted all this unpleasantness during my first pilgrimage in June' 2014, I employed the same strategy that I initiated back then; climb Cross Mountain at the hottest time of the day, when the overwhelming majority of pilgrims have already finished their climbs, and are no where to be seen. It was a strategy that served me well, as each climb was an undisturbed time of Divine Intimacy with God and Our Lady. On a few occasions, I even had the pleasure of climbing with other individuals, who shared my appreciation for a quiet climb.

If you are wondering how I coped with the intense heat and sun, well the answer is actually quite simple. I made sure to have plenty of water with me, at least 1.5L (sometimes 3.0L), depending upon the day's temperature. Although exposure to the sun was pretty much a constant throughout climb—the most intense times were when I was in prayer at each station—I made sure to pace myself to avoid becoming fatigued: it was a slow climb. This was vital for me so as to not detract from my willingness and ability to concentrate and meditate at each station. Slowly, but surely, I climbed the mountain. 

I don't recommend this for anyone who is not young, healthy or fit enough. Unlike myself, you may also want to wear a baseball cap or hat. Offer it all up, uniting your willingness to suffer the intense heat and sun, with your Stations of the Cross prayers.

No matter what I had to deal with prior to, or during my ascent, nothing minimized or detracted from the prayerful climb, and especially the serenity I experienced at the very top of the mountain. After completing the Stations of the Cross, and my personal prayer to Jesus at the foot of the cross, I would sit and rest at this one particular spot, which is captured by the first photo published with this post. It was a time of solitude and serenity, that afforded me the opportunity for undisturbed and intimate conversation with God and Our Lady; every occasion was a time of Divine Intimacy.

Filii Restoran Pansion

One of the highlights of each day was going to Filii Restoran Pansion, an amazing family-owned restaurant and pension. I came to know the family, as I became a regular customer from day three of my five week pilgrimage right until the last day. Let me tell you, they serve the best food in Medjugorje, and do so at great prices; at least 40% cheaper than you would pay for at any one of the many restaurants on the main strip.

Cevapi (large) at Filii Restoran Pansion, just one of the amazing dishes they serve.

After climbing a mountain, or walking (I typically put in somewhere between five to seven kilometers a day, depending on where I went) for several hours in Medjugorje, you build up quite an appetite. I always looked forward to my meals at Filii. The most strenuous walks were on the days that I climbed Cross Mountain and walked to Filii. Although I could have easily taken a taxi, I chose to walk, adding to the penitential pilgrimage experience.

It was during these walks, which took approximately one hour depending on my energy level, that I was completed exposed to the sun. Walking to Filii's was well worth it, because no matter what I ordered, the meals replenished my energy levels, and left me completely satisfied.

My usual arrival at Filii was approximately between three and four in the afternoon, which afforded me plenty of time to eat, relax with a cup of black tea, and still have plenty of time to walk back to St. James to prepare for the Evening Prayer Program.

I highly recommend any pilgrim who is in Medjugorje as of the publishing of this post, or those who are on route, or planning to go, to definitely make Filii Restoran Pansion, a daily destination choice for your eating needs.

A view of Filii Restoran Pansion vegetable platter.
My order of the vegetable platter at the outside patio.

If you do decide to go to Filii, my advice would be to first go by taxi (taxi fares are 5 within Medjugorje, whether you are one person or with three other people) so as to familiarize yourself with the location, should you decide to walk it in the future. All the taxis know Filii—it is one of the best and liked restaurants in Medjugorje—so you will have no problems getting there.

Nothing beats eating amazing food at great prices, within a pleasant atmosphere, served by friendly staff, and prepared by a wonderful family. It is the perfect compliment to good conversation and time well spent with family, friends, or fellow pilgrims.

If you have been to Medjugorje and never went to Filii Restoran Pansion, you haven't experienced all that Medjugorje has to offer.

Evening Prayer Program
Argentinian pilgrims situating themselves well in advance of Mass, at St. James, Medjugorje.
Argentinian pilgrims in front of the back altar.

Each day, after Filii, I would walk to St. James (back altar) prior to the Evening Prayer Program, which began at 6:00pm with the Group Recitation of the Rosary. The Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries are recited first, which is only interrupted, for a few minutes, to honour Our Lady's apparition at 6:40pm, after which the Rosary continues, followed the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After, Mass is celebrated, then the group recitation of the "Seven Our Fathers, Hail Mary's and Glory Be's," a blessing of religious objects, healing prayers, and depending on which night: Veneration of the Cross; exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and/or the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

Although most days, I arrived at around 5:30pm, there were several days when I arrived earlier. This afforded me the opportunity to either: take a much needed nap; go to confession; or pray the Luminous Mysteries at Medjugorje's Luminous Mystery Mosaics; and purchase water or ice tea for the evening ahead. 

It was on one of those earlier arrivals that I was walking along at the very front of the altar, when a group of Argentinian pilgrims caught my attention. It was approximately 4:00pm, and they had situated themselves well in advance of the Evening Prayer Program, in the blistering sun. 

I was so impressed that I introduced myself and complimented them on their enthusiasm, and the sacrifice of having to suffer in the intense heat. I decided to ask if I could take a photo of them and they accepted. Those Argentinians are but one example of the pilgrimage spirit in Medjugorje.

After the completion of the Evening Prayer Program, I typically walked back to my pension, cleaned up from the day's activities, and went to bed.

Blue Crosses

The Blue Crosses are one of "the" prayer locations in Medjugorje, and a particularly special location for me; it is a very peaceful place for quiet prayer that I discovered during my first pilgrimage. Ever since that first pilgrimage, I have always experienced Divine Intimacy at the Blue Crosses. Taking only two minutes to climb from the street level, the Blue Crosses also happen to be one of the easiest locations to get to. 

This year, if I did not climb Cross Mountain, I spent a lot of time reciting the Rosary at the "Original Blue Cross," (see photo below), and sometimes at the newer one. Doing so also served as a much needed break from the fatigue of having climbed Cross Mountain for three or four consecutive days. Just as I did with Cross Mountain, I would target prayer at the Blue Crosses between noon to 4:00pm, for the exact same reasons.

A view of the original Blue Cross, Medjugorje
A view of the Original Blue Cross from the make-shift seating under the big tree.

The Blue Crosses, both at the street level, and the short climb to them, are flanked by pensions, cafes and souvenir shops; another section of the "profiteering subculture" in Medjugorje, the worst of which is at Apparition Hill (see photo below). To elaborate a little about Apparition Hill, between the street level and the base of Apparition Hill, pilgrims literally have to run a gauntlet of jewellery stores, cafes, souvenir shops, and a pizzeria on a well made cobble-stone road, that takes approximately two-to-five minutes to complete, depending on your age.

The entrance to the gauntlet of shops and cafes, that pilgrims are forced to walk through, before arriving
at the base of Apparition Hill.

Like at Cross Mountain and Apparition Hill, the cafes and shops (see image below) at the Blue Crosses generate chatter, laughter, and noise when a significant amount of pilgrims arrive. If you have ever been at this location, you know how acoustic it is; conversations from the cafes and souvenir shops can be clearly heard from fifty feet away!

In addition, this year I encountered the unpleasantness of group pilgrimage leaders providing orientations (some with very large groups) at this prayer site, right in front the statues of Mary, where many other pilgrims (myself included) were only a few feet away immersed in silent prayer.

On one occasion, I arrived at the Blue Crosses, hoping to have a great prayer session, only to be met by the loud voice emanating from a speakerphone. It was so loud, you could hear it from the street. Needless to say, I did not stick around, but instead opted for a Rosary walk, and a late afternoon meal at Filii's.

The second Blue Cross, where the visionary Mirjana Soldo has her public apparitions. Below are
some of the souvenir shops and cafes. 

It is my impression that many people have no idea that they are violating "shrine etiquette," where silence is golden at the prayer sites. For some, the unintentional disturbance they cause is the result of being in Medjugorje for the first time, where enthusiasm and excitement trumps prudence. Some just do not appear to have the presence of mind, that they are at an international Marian shrine.

I met such a group, some very nice young pilgrims from Los Angeles, who needed help. Being right behind them during the short climb to the Blue Crosses, and hearing that they spoke fluent English, I offered my assistance. After the introductions, they asked me for some direction, which spawned a short exchange about the prayer sites. I did all this, informing them in a kind and considerate tone, that we all need to keep our voices down, because at this location, they can carry quite a distance; that the Blue Crosses were only thirty feet away from us. They had no idea, and thanked me.

Concluding Thoughts

A pilgrimage to Medjugorje is an overwhelmingly positive and pleasant experience. It is a place of many graces and blessings, peace, reconciliation and hope; an opportunity to have a more profound encounter with God and Our Lady.

Should you decide to go on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, whether it is your first time, or a return pilgrimage, it will: improve upon your prayer life; strengthen your faith; teach you about the spiritual battle; you will meet and connect with new and like-minded people; reconnect with previously established friendships; you will discover new things about yourself and your life; and develop a much more closer relationship with God and Our Lady.

As St. Pope John Paul II stated, "Medjugorje is the spiritual center of the world." 

The joy and peace that one continuously feels in Medjugorje, for the most part, makes it easy to ignore some of the unpleasant aspects. No matter what unpleasantness one experiences, the focus should always be on moving forward with the purpose of your pilgrimage. The unpleasantness can at times be quite challenging, and as a matter of making Medjugorje a better place for all pilgrims, may require an intervention.

What ever you do, do not let any unpleasantness detract from or diminish any aspect of your pilgrimage. Part of what you can do is take it to prayer, and offer it up. Be patient, kind, and demonstrate by your example what it means to be a pilgrim in Medjugorje.