Sunday, August 16, 2015

Medjugorje's Cross Mountain (Križevac) - A Time Of Prayer With A Little Bit of Climbing, Not A Climb With A Little Bit Of Prayer

The Way Of the Cross First Station - Jesus is condemned to death

In Medjugorje this summer, I climbed Cross Mountain (Križevac) frequently, twelve times to be exact, always during the peak heat (35C-50C/86F-122F) of the day, typically from 12:00pm-4:00pm. I did so of my own choosing, offering up the extra effort to the Lord together with my prayer intentions for the Way Of The Cross, the Rosary and MassMy way to these prayerful climbs began with a walk from my pension to Križevac reciting the Rosary along the way, accompanied by one or two bottles (1.5L) of cold water or ice tea. By the time I actually arrived at the mountain, I had finished one bottle and was well hydrated before the climb began.

Done prudently, climbing Križevac during the hottest period of the day is really not as bad as it seems. A carefully paced climb that keeps in mind that this is more of a prayer than a climb, will help to ensure that you do not become overheated and exhausted, by aggressively ascending the mountain. This really is the most fundamental important point to remember and understand about Križevac, it is not a climb with a little bit of prayer, but a time of prayer with a little bit of climbing.

Accompanying the climb with plenty of fluids is essential to ensure you do not get dehydrated. In addition, you have to be careful as to where you step, both climbing up and more importantly, on the way down the mountain. Make every effort to step on flat surfaces; with so many of the rocks smooth due to the steps of millions of pilgrims over the past thirty four years, it doesn't take much to sprain (or partially sprain) your ankle or worse. Coming down the mountain aggressively or too confidently, can be hard on your knees and back as well.

The view of Medjugorje and the valley below from the Fourth Station of The Way Of The Cross

The summer weather during my pilgrimage was very hot and dry, which happens to suit me perfectly. I prefer Herzegovina's climate so my climbs were not so much an increased level of suffering, but more of an extraordinary effort, which I united to Christ's passion. One of the advantages of making this climb during the hottest part of the day was the opportunity to be alone, immersed in prayer undisturbed, seeking the Divine Intimacy that I so desired to have in Medjugorje. I was not to be disappointed; it was just one of the many gifts I received.

Some of the locals and fellow pilgrims that were aware of my climbs, charitably recommended (others very candidly) that I reconsider for a cooler time of the day. I assured them it was nothing to worry about. Part of the assurance I gave was based on my trust in God and Our Lady during my pilgrimage and the prudent approach I took; a properly paced climb with plenty of fluids, that ensured I took into account the heat of the day and that the effort to ascend the mountain would in no way diminish the spirit of prayer. My pace was so slow that I did not breath heavily or become exhausted during the ascent. What affected me most was the time standing still in front of each station, reading reflections and praying in the sun, which typically took me 5-8 minutes to complete. 

Once the ascent has been completed, I quickly segued into an encounter with Jesus at the foot of the Cross (which contains a splinter from the original Cross that Jesus was crucified on), immersed in deep prayer. The anticipation of this moment brings with it the joy and relief of having finally arrived at the peak. 

This is one of, if not, the most important moments of the climb. How long you pray and how much time you spend at the foot of the Cross is a matter for each individual to determine; there are no restrictions and I recommend you spend what ever amount of time your heart desires.

View of the Cross upon completion of the Way Of The Cross prayer

All things considered, climbing Križevac at the hottest part of the day is only an option for those who are in good health and young enough to take on such a physical challenge. No matter what your age or fitness level, it will drain your energy and require rest and recuperation afterwards. My recuperation typically included several bottles of soda and a steak dinner. It was the only way I could regain some strength and energy to coherently attend the Evening Prayer Program after such a climb.

I encourage anyone currently in or on route to Medjugorje, to climb Križevac as often as possible, at whatever preferable time of the day or night. Each climb is an renewed encounter with Jesus, a time of Divine Intimacy. I would like to recommend that you accompany your climb with the prayerful reflections of Father Slavko Barbarić's book Pray With The Heart; a book that became my prayer companion during my pilgrimage this summer. In it there are prayers for: the Way Of The Cross, Rosary, Apparition Hill, Adoration, Veneration of the Cross, before and after Confession, fast days, healing prayers, prayers before and after Mass, morning and evening prayers. This book is available right in Medjugorje at the Franciscan Book Store, next to the Pošta (Post Office) and Information Center, near St. James Church.

Here is what Fr. Slavko recommends to pilgrims once they reach to the top of Križevac, noted in the chapter The Places Of Prayer In Medjugorje, "...Unite yourself with Jesus. When you reach the top, pray under the Cross, be the weather nice or bad. Take courage. Pray your fullest under the Cross. Cry your heart out because of your sins. Open your heart before the Cross and you will know what it means..." (14) For those that do this, they are sure to experience the peace and joy that comes from having reached the peak of Cross Mountain.

Me enjoying quiet time with God at the back part of Križevac

Once you have finished praying at the Cross, there is the option of experiencing continued Divine Intimacy at the back part of the Cross. This area of the Mountain's peak is quite large and affords you the opportunity to pick a spot for some private time and rest. There are several trees to shade you from the sun and the view is absolutely spectacular; the full range of mountains, the valley below and Medjugorje. It is the perfect place to hear and listen to God.

For all those called to Medjugorje, may Our Blessed Mother clear the way for you, protect and guide you on your pilgrimage and grant you an abundance of graces. Be assured of my prayers for you.

Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Marian Apparition Experience In Medjugorje

My vantage point from the Blue Cross (middle of photo) approximately 50ft away from it.

Recently I arrived back from my pilgrimage in Medjugorje. My time there proved to be one of new discoveries about myself and my faith journey, meeting new people and making new friendships, the opportunity to immerse myself in deep prayer and further experience the local culture. Overall my time this summer in Medjugorje was a faith strengthening experience; a recharging of my "spiritual batteries." These are just some of the gifts that pilgrims receive in Medjugorje; a land of great graces, peace and reconciliation.

While in Medjugorje, I had the privilege of attending Our Lady's apparition to the visionary Mirjana Soldo on July 2 at the Blue Cross. Today's post shares that apparition experience, which I hope will especially benefit those new to Medjugorje and those who have been called by Our Lady to go there on a pilgrimage.

Arriving in Medjugorje only a couple of days before the July 2 apparition, I had just the right amount of time to situate myself back into Medjugorje. I began my daily attendance at the Evening Prayer Program (recitation of the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, Mass, blessing of religious objects, healing prayers, veneration of the Cross and adoration) and reconnected with some friends and fellow pilgrims.

On the day of the apparition, I comfortably set out to acquire a location where I could not only be somewhat close to the Blue Cross (where Our Lady appears), but also to have a good vantage point to shoot this event as it unfolded. I was not to be disappointed as I found the perfect location, an unfinished construction project, whose concrete base served as a platform for me to stand on and take several photographs. The photograph below shows that unfinished project, with a view of the street and path to the Blue Cross that Mirjana takes. Directly behind me in this shot is the Blue Cross, approximately 50ft away, higher up on the hill.

The concrete platform of an unfinished construction project, that served as the perfect vantage point to capture the day.

I began July 2 by waking up in the middle of the night to recite my personal prayers, shower and get ready to leave my pension at 4:45am. It was approximately a 20 minute walk to the Blue Crosses (there are actually two "blue crosses," the original and the newer one where Our Lady appears to Mirjana). The walk to the Blue Crosses afforded me the opportunity to begin my daily recitation of the Rosary. It was a perfect continuation of a wonderful start to my day, that with each step built up my joyful anticipation of attending Our Lady's apparition. 

Upon arrival, I was pleased to see that the hill was not packed with pilgrims. I knew that this would soon change so I searched for an ideal vantage point and quickly found it; the aforementioned unfinished construction project. I immediately took possession of its base (approximately 3 ft by 8 ft), reserving three square feet solely for me so I could comfortably stand and move around as needed.

My wait for the visionary Mirjana was approximately three and a half hours. In that time, I recited part of the Rosary and watched for any familiar faces so that I could offer them a place beside my vantage point. The opportunity to do that quickly vanished as the apparition time (8:30am) drew near. It wasn't long before many individuals, small and large groups began arriving.

The atmosphere at the apparition site was joyous and prayerful, filled with anticipation. All who were there early, like myself, were somewhat sleep deprived, but that did not negatively impact any of us at all; everyone was filled with great enthusiasm and expectation of Our Lady's apparition, fatigue was not a factor. Many pilgrims actually sleep overnight on the hill so as to reserve a spot very close to the Blue Cross.

Leading the pilgrims in group recitation of the Rosary were several priests from various countries, who recited the Rosary in different languages. To accompany the Rosary, there were was singing in Croatian, English and Italian. It was an amazing atmosphere of Marian devotion and a privilege to be in attendance.

The blond woman flanked by two escorts in yellow t-shirts is the visionary Mirjana being escorted to the Blue Cross,
which is just left of this photo.

Well in advance of the arrival of pilgrims, camera crews set up live streaming for the internet, capturing the entire apparition experience, which was published and made available by MaryTV. You can also watch the entire apparition on MaryTV YouTube Channel, MarytvMedjugorje. In addition, speakers were set up throughout the hill to make the prayers and singing easier to hear for all pilgrims regardless where they were situated.

As 8:00am approached, the hill was packed with pilgrims. Sunrise was at about 5:30am and you could begin to feel the heat of the day upon us. The only remaining people climbing the hill were those who had been selected to sit near Mirjana at the Blue Cross (priests and laity). The air was filled with anticipation as we all anxiously awaited for Mirjana's arrival.

Mirjana arrived on time at 8:30am and all eyes were on her at the bottom of the hill, where the path intersects with the main street. The crowd seemed to break out in a frenzy joy and relief of her arrival, with many of us, including myself, preparing our selves to photograph Mirjana as she walked by us. The above photo is one such example, where Mirjana was almost at the top of the path where she was then escorted to the left of that location, to arrive at the Blue Cross.

As Mirjana arrived at the Blue Cross, prayer and singing continued. Mirjana kneeled down and joined in on the group recitation of the Rosary. At any point in time from this moment on, Our Lady appears to Mirjana. The actual moment occurs when Mirjana is alerted to her presence, which is immediately noticeable. She no longer responds to her immediate surroundings, ceases praying and looks up to encounter Our Lady. No one else sees or hears Our Lady, but it is clear from Mirjana's body and facial expression, that she is in complete divine intimacy with Our Lady.

Once the apparition is finished, Mirjana returns to her immediate surroundings, which is typically met with tears and what can only be described as a great sense of being overwhelmed. Immediately Mirjana's assistant and translator receives a dictation from her of Our Lady's message. It is then read out loud in Croatian, English and Italian. The official translation is provided to the parish office. It is then published on line and through other mediums throughout the world. Below is the July 2 Message:
"Dear children, I am calling you to spread the faith in my Son - your faith. You, my children illuminated by the Holy Spirit, my apostles, transmit it to others - to those who do not believe, who do not know, who do not want to know - but for that you must pray a lot for the gift of love, because love is the mark of true faith - and you will be apostles of my love. Love always, anew, revives the pain and the joy of the Eucharist, it revives the pain of the Passion of my Son, by which He showed you what it means to love immeasurably; it revives the joy for having left you His body and blood to feed you with Himself - and in this way, to be one with you. Looking at you with tenderness, I feel immeasurable love which strengthens me in my desire to bring you to a firm faith. Firm faith will give you joy and happiness on earth and in the end the encounter with my Son. This is His desire. Therefore, live Him, live love, live the light that always illuminates you in the Eucharist. I implore you to pray a lot for your shepherds, to pray so as to have all the more love for them because my Son gave them to you to feed you with His body and to teach you love. Therefore, also you are to love them. But, my children, remember, love means to endure and to give, and never, ever to judge. Thank you."

Mirjana's descent from the hill with two escorts after the apparition is finished.

One thing you may have noticed about this apparition are the escorts. There are several throughout the path that Mirjana takes to ascend and descend from the Blue Cross. The reason for them might not be obvious if you have never been to these apparitions. So many pilgrims want to have personal contact with Mirjana, but this is not permitted. Even upon the completion of the apparition, many come to her and the descent down the hill takes quite some time. At times, upon her own initiative, Mirjana will stop and speak with some pilgrims.

Mirjana and the very bottom and middle of this photo, stopping to speak with a pilgrim.

Once Mirjana has made it down the path, pilgrims soon follow and it is not long before she is completely surrounded. The great thing about all this is that Mirjana is respected and she has no problem getting through the crowd. Pilgrims understand how much she has gone through prior to and during the apparition.

One fact that may interest you is how Mirjana prepares for the apparition the day before. As you might assume, she is immersed in prayer, but what you probably don't know is that she is up all night in prayer. Mirjana has been quoted as saying that she can not sleep knowing she will see the Blessed Mother the next day. That time awake is well spent in prayer preparing for that encounter.

The scene when Mirjana arrives at the bottom of the path at the street level. You can barely see here, her blond hair
is visible just at the lower right side of the photo, next to the red baseball cap to the far right.

I too descended with other pilgrims in attempt to capture the scene and to give myself an opportunity to beat much of the crowd. Once I cleared the crowd, I went back to my pension to upload my photos on my computer and went about with the rest of my day.

For those of you who will be called by Our Lady to go to Medjugorje, may Our Lady clear the way for you. I hope you too will be granted the opportunity to be apart of the marian experience in Medjugorje. Rest assured of my prayers for you and your pilgrimage.

Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Saint Pope John Paul II's Letter To Families

Saint Pope John Paul II amongst families
Saint Pope John Paul II's Letter To Families, is a document that is a must read for anyone who is Catholic and has yet to discover what the Catholic faith has to say about the FamilyThe richness of its content coupled with its thoroughness, so characteristic of Saint Pope John Paul II's work, is an inviting read to a proper understanding of the Family. This document was issued on February 2, 1994 on the Feast of The Presentation of the Lord to coincide with the Year Of The Family.

What I found particular intriguing was Saint Pope John Paul II's opening sentence, his personal appeal to families, "Dear Families! The celebration of the Year of the Family gives me a welcome opportunity to knock at the door of your home, eager to greet you with deep affection and to spend time with you..." (1) That personal appeal is maintained throughout the document, even amongst some of the most dense details of the Church's teaching, biblical references and all that he elaborated on. 

Letter To The Families is forty four pages printed out, and within the first four pages is a continuation of Saint Pope John Paul II's personal appeal to families, an extension of his "knocking at the door." The remainder of the document is divided into two chapters: I The Civilization Of Love and II The Bridegroom Is With You. Below are some key points from those first four pages, followed by selected content from the two chapters.

The family - way of the Church

Saint Pope John Paul II first noted that "man is the way of the Church," drawing from his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, published in the first days of his pontificate. He elaborated by stating that man walks along many paths, which the Church desires to "stand at his side," sharing the joys, hopes, sorrows and anxieties along the way. It was Christ who set man on his many paths and it was Christ who entrusted man to the Church. 

Among the many paths, the "family is the first and the most important." (1) He elaborated on this with the following key points. First he identified the path of the family as something that is "...particular, unique and unrepeatable." (2) Every individual is unrepeatable and the family is a path from which "man cannot withdraw." (2) The fact is that a person normally comes into the world within a family and owes to that family his very existence as an individual. How much more relevant does the family become when a person comes into the world without one, and as such experiences a sense of pain and loss, one that burdens his entire life. It is through the family that an individual goes forth to realize a new family unit. Even those who choose to remain single, it is the family that continues to be his "existential horizon," that fundamental community in which the entire social network is grounded. Saint Pope John Paul II puts a fine point on it all when he stated, "Do we not often speak of the 'human family' when referring to all the people living in the world?" (2)

Jesus himself entered into human history through the family. Through the divine mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, Jesus made an intimate connection not only with the human family of Nazareth, but with every family. Saint Pope John Paul II noted that just as Christ came into the world to serve, the Church "...considers serving the family to be one of her essential duties. In this sense both man and the family constitute 'the way of the Church.' " (2)


It is under the subtitle of Prayer that Saint Pope John Paul II continued to "knock at the door" to all the families of the world. He extended his outreach on the basis of God's love for everyone, making it possible to address his message to each family, a "living cell of the great universal family of mankind." (4) The source of this outreach, the "universal openness" to all people as brothers and sisters is the Father, Creator of the Universe and the Word Incarnate, Jesus our Saviour and Redeemer. It is this source as Saint Pope John Paul II noted, that impels us " embrace them in the prayer which begins with the tender words: 'Our Father'." (4)

With respect to the necessity of prayer, Saint Pope John Paul II noted that it is through prayer that God is present amongst families, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them" (Mt 18:20) He noted that his entire letter was in the first place to be a prayer to Christ to remain in every family, " invitation to him, in and through the small family of parents and children to dwell in the great family of nations, so that together with him all of us can truly say, 'Our Father!' " (4)

Love and concern for all families

Saint Pope John Paul II continued to propose the importance of prayer, encouraging all "domestic churches" (families) to pray. He especially encouraged prayer for those families in danger or difficulty, lacking confidence or experiencing division or in situations that are  "irregular." The term "irregular is borrowed from Familiaris Consortioanother well known document on the Family from his pontificate.

He continued further to stress how important prayer was in the home, where the Domestic Church exists. It is within the home environment that the witness to prayer becomes an encouragement to all members of the family and for many, it is where they live out their human and Christian vocation. To emphasize this even further, Saint Pope John Paul II asked: 
How many of them there are in every nation, diocese and parish! With reason it can be said that these families make up "the norm", even admitting the existence of more than a few "irregular situations." And experience shows what an important role is played by a family living in accordance with the moral norm, so that the individual born and raised in it will be able to set out without hesitation on the road of the good, which is always written in his heart. (5)
Saint Pope John Paul II was under no illusion as to the threats against the family. Even during the year in which this document was published (1994), he stated how there were programs backed by powerful people who sought to breakdown the family. He noted that at times, concerted efforts were put forth to normalize and glamorize situations that were in fact "irregular." He specifically wrote that such developments contradict both the truth and love which should inspire and guide relationships between men and women, without which can cause tension and division in the family, with grave consequences particularly for children. Here is what he further stated regarding the result of such threats:
...The moral conscience becomes darkened; what is true, good and beautiful is deformed; and freedom is replaced by what is actually enslavement. In view of all this, how relevant and thought-provoking are the words of the Apostle Paul about the freedom for which Christ has set us free, and the slavery which is caused by sin (cf. Gal 5:1)! (5) 
Saint Pope John Paul II's urgent message to prayer is even more relevant today in light of the fact that attacks on the family have increased. It doesn't take much effort to discover what these attacks are: the legalization of "same sex marriage," pornography available on demand from tv cable packages, education curriculums that include sexual immorality, including homosexuality, explicit language and images, the LGBTQ agenda and its propaganda, abortion, euthanasia and contraception just to name a few.

Saint Pope John Paul II's encouragement to prayer is a much needed message that should be repeated to all families. Here is what he had to say in response to the threats against the family:
It is apparent then how timely and even necessary a Year of the Family is for the Church; how indispensable is the witness of all families who live their vocation day by day; how urgent it is for families to pray and for that prayer to increase and to spread throughout the world, expressing thanksgiving for love in truth, for "the outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit", for the presence among parents and children of Christ the Redeemer and Bridegroom, who "loved us to the end" (cf. Jn 13:1). Let us be deeply convinced that this love is the greatest of all (cf. 1 Cor 13:13), and let us believe that it is really capable of triumphing over everything that is not love. (5)
Saint Pope John Paul II's message of prayer also included a Marian aspect. Prayer has always been a consistent message from Our Lady at Her many apparition sites all over the world. Saint Pope John Paul II included Mary's important guidance during our faith journey by referring to Our Lady's role at the wedding in Cana. It was there that Our Lady's told the servants to, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5) Saint Pope John Paul II noted that Christ called the Church to prayer with families and for families. The Virgin Mother invites all of us to be united through prayer to the sentiments of her Son, who loves each and every family. Christ expressed his love at the very beginning of his mission with his sanctifying presence at Cana in Galilee, a presence which as Saint Pope John Paul II noted, "still continues." (5)

This is just some of the content within the first four pages. The remainder of today's post includes certain segments that are particularly relevant in today's increasingly anti-family world, specifically addressing the "crisis of truth" and education. 

The Crisis of Truth

This "crisis" is discussed under the subheading, The Two civilizations (beginning at section 13). At this section, Saint Pope John Paul II asked, "Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound 'crisis of truth.'?" (13) He went on further to identify that such a crisis is in the first place a "crisis of concepts. Do the words 'love,' 'freedom,' 'sincere gift,' and even 'person' and 'rights of the person,' really convey their essential meeting?" (13) Saint Pope John Paul II noted how relevant his encyclical Veritatis Splendor is in light of this crisis. It is a document that in his words, "...has proved so meaningful and important for the Church and for the world--especially in the West. Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin..." (13)

How relevant is the focus on truth in today's society with regard to the family? Are we not witnessing concerted efforts to obscure the truth and include alternative lifestyles? Case in point, here in Canada where in 2005 the traditional definition of marriage legally changed to include "same sex couples." Such a change does not connect to the truth of the Sacrament of Marriage, but instead ushers in a lie and deceives people that any same sex relationship can be referred to as a "marriage."

A more recent example is the Ontario Provincial Government seeking to implement a sex education curriculum this Fall, that promotes and teaches sexual immorality including homosexuality. It is a curriculum that teaches children in the early and formative years of their lives to accept sinful sexuality. How much this will all negatively impact the family, the primary cell of society, remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, a relationship or the formation of families that do not begin with the truth are sure to result in negative consequences in the psychologically, physically and spiritually realms, for the respective individuals, communities and society.


The importance of the truth is further spot lighted in this section as well. Saint Pope John Paul II asked, "What is involved in raising children? In answering this question two fundamental truths should be kept in mind: first, that man is called to live in truth and love; and second, that everyone finds fulfillment through the sincere gift of self. This is true both for the educator and for the one being educated." (16)

Perhaps one of the most important points he made was with respect to parents, who are as he noted, the first and most important educators of their own children and that they possess a fundamental competence in this area, that is, they are educators because they are parents.

The parents' role in the education of children is a shared mission with other individuals and institutions, but that mission as Saint Pope John Paul II noted: 
...must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit. For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children, especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree,with their authorization. (16)
As I had mentioned at the beginning of this post, Saint Pope John Paul II wasn't just writing about the subject of the Family, he was reaching out to families. His concern for the Family as the fundamental cell in society is abundantly clear from the thoroughness with which this document was written. It is sure to help anyone who is sincerely interested in understanding the truth about the Family. Below are some key points from the second chapter, II The Bridegroom Is With You.

Saint Pope John Paul II appealed to families not just with words of support and encouragement, but referred to the sources of strength and hope that families need to draw from: the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Confirmation and the ultimate source, the Eucharist. In his own words, here is his appeal to families:
Dear families, you too should be fearless, ever ready to give witness to the hope that is in you (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), since the Good Shepherd has put that hope in your hearts through the Gospel. You should be ready to follow Christ towards the pastures of life, which he himself has prepared through the Paschal Mystery of his Death and Resurrection.
Do not be afraid of the risks! God's strength is always far more powerful than your difficulties! Immeasurably greater than the evil at work in the world is the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which the Fathers of the Church rightly called a "second Baptism". Much more influential than the corruption present in the world is the divine power of the Sacrament of Confirmation, which brings Baptism to its maturity. And incomparably greater than all is the power of the Eucharist. (18)
The Sacrament of the Eucharist is truly a wonderful sacrament, as Saint Pope John Paul II noted, one that Jesus instituted in a family-like setting during the Last Supper. He elaborated on the Eucharist in particular and again encouraged families to draw from this source of saving power, that families might have life and have it abundantly. He reached out to families with his continuous personal appeal when he stated, "The life that comes from Christ is a life for us. It is for you, dear husbands and wives, parents and families!" (18)

Perhaps one of the most encouraging statements regarding the Eucharist is located at the paragraph just before the subheading, The Great Mystery. In it, Saint Pope John Paul II reminds families, citing the biblical reference of the Wedding at Cana, that the Good Shepherd is with us, just as he was then amongst the bride and groom. It is in this knowledge that we should draw hope, knowing that the Good Shepherd is the "...source of strength for our hearts, the wellspring of ever new enthusiasm and the sign of the triumph of the 'civilization of love.' " (18) As a reminder to all families, he quoted Jesus who encouraged everyone to always remember, "...Do not be afraid. I am with you. 'I am with you always, to the close of the age.' " (18)

Letter To The Families has so much to offer those seeking to understand the Family. I hope that today's post has been an encouragement to read this document in full, to gain a complete understanding of what the Catholic Church has to offer regarding a subject matter that increasingly is becoming more important in today's secular world.

May Saint Pope John Paul II intercede for all families and their needs.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Devotion To The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Painting of Jesus appearing to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Church of San Michele, Cortemilia, in Italy.

As today is the First Friday of the month, coupled with it being the month of June, one that is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, it seemed only fitting to publish a post on the Devotion To The Sacred Heart Of Jesus. This devotion holds a special place amongst all the devotions in the Church because it was Jesus who specifically requested it. Our Lord established this devotion due to His ardent desire to be known, loved, honoured and adored by all Catholics; to establish His reign in the hearts of all. This devotion is so pleasing to Jesus that He can refuse nothing to those who practice it. 

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus sets aside the First Friday of each month as a day to be consecrated to honouring His Sacred Heart, in the spirit of reparation. The object of this devotion is to make our Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, ardently and perfectly loved, and to make reparation for the the neglect, indifference and ingratitude of the majority that results in Jesus Christ being left alone, abandoned and forgotten on our altars, never visited to offer consolation for such neglect. 

During our "First Friday time" with Jesus we should adore Him, make a fervent act of love to Jesus in the tabernacle, thank Him for having instituted this mystery of love, express our sorrow at seeing Him so abandoned, and resolve to visit Him as soon as possible and love Him unceasingly. 

Attendance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is assuredly the best means of honouring and loving the adorable Heart of Jesus. In addition to Mass, the following is also very efficacious in honouring our Saviour: reciting a Prayer of Adoration and spending significant time (a minimum of one hour) in front of the Blessed Sacrament; reciting an Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an Act of Reparation and the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation and praying St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)’s Sacred Heart Novena

The Sacred Heart Devotion is for all Catholic men and women, young and old who are troubled by many of life's afflictions. It is through this devotion that all will discover the greatest source of spiritual and temporal help, graces and blessings available to those who truly love the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. It is a never failing source to remedy all our problems and needs as well as a sure method of attaining perfection and salvation.

The personal attitudes needed for the successful practice of this devotion are: a true love of Jesus Christ and His Sacred Heart, the source of His excessive mercy, help, graces and blessings; a special respect for and veneration of the Blessed Sacrament; and a desire to make reparation for the neglect, indifference and ingratitude of the majority that results in Jesus Christ being left alone, abandoned and forgotten on our altars, never visited to offer consolation for such neglect, though He has given us the miracle of His Divine Presence in the Blessed Sacrament as a supreme gift to us in His desire to be always with us.

First Friday and Nine Fridays Promises
Sacred Heart of Jesus
For those who practice and promote this devotion, Our Lord Jesus Christ has made twelve special promises:
  1. I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
  2. I will give peace in their families and will unite families that are divided.
  3. I will console them in all their troubles.
  4. I will be their refuge during life and above all in death.
  5. I will bestow the blessings of Heaven on all their enterprises.
  6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall rise quickly to great perfection.
  9. I will bless those places wherein the image of My Heart shall be exposed and honoured and will imprint My love on the hearts of those who would wear this image on their person. I will also destroy in them all disordered movements.
  10. I will give to priests who are animated by a tender devotion to my Divine Heart the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
  11. Those who promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart, never to be effaced.
  12. I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate (receive Holy Communion) on the First Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence (the state of contrition and sorrow for sin at the end of one's life); they will not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their Sacraments. My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
The Nine Fridays must be made in honour of His Sacred Heart, meaning, practicing the devotion and having a great love of His Sacred Heart. They must be on the first Friday of the month for nine consecutive months, and Communion must be received.

Background History
In the history of the Catholic Church, God has responded to the many crises that have existed over the centuries, a fulfillment of what Jesus told the Apostle Peter, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18) To counter the crisis in France in the seventeenth century, Jesus appeared to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun from the Order of Visitation and established the Sacred Heart Devotion.

During St. Margaret Mary Alacoque's time, the faith of French people had waned and there was rebellion against the Church. Both Protestantism and the Jansenism heresy contributed to the weakening of the Church. Jesus' response was to establish a devotion that would bring souls back to him, the Sacred Heart Devotion. Here is what St. Margaret Mary Alacoque revealed about Jesus' message to her:
And He showed me that it was His great desire of being loved by men and of withdrawing them from the path of ruin into which Satan hurls such crowds of them, that made Him form the design of manifesting His Heart to men, with all the treasures of love, of mercy, of grace, of sanctification and salvation which it contains, in order that those who desire to render Him and procure for Him all the honor and love possible, might themselves be abundantly enriched with those divine treasures of which this Heart is the source.He should be honored under the figure of this Heart of flesh, and its image should be exposed…He promised me that wherever this image should be exposed with a view to showing it special honor, He would pour forth His blessings and graces. This devotion was the last effort of His love that He would grant to men in these latter ages, in order to withdraw them from the empire of Satan which He desired to destroy, and thus to introduce them into the sweet liberty of the rule of His love, which He wished to restore in the hearts of all those who should embrace this devotion. (Revelations of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque)
The revelations to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque first began on December 27, 1673 when she was kneeling at the grille in the chapel, in which the Lord told her that the love of His heart must spread and manifest itself to men and He would reveal its graces through her. This was the beginning of a series of revelations that continued for eighteen months. 

These revelations were rejected by the Mother Superior, resulting in St. Margaret Mary Alacoque being reprimanded, in which she subsequently became very ill, so ill that her survival was in question. From this, the Mother Superior reflected that she might have erred in scorning the nun due to her stories of revelations and vowed that if her life was spared, she would take it as a sign that the visions and messages were truly from God. Upon her recovery the Mother Superior invited a Benedictine and Jesuit priest to listen to her stories, both of which concluded the young nun was delusional. It was not until another Jesuit, Father Claude de la Columbiere who talked with her, was convinced of the genuineness of the revelations. It was this Jesuit father that wrote about the nun and inaugurated this devotion in England. 

For many years, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque suffered from despair, self inflicted punishments and contempt from those around her. In 1681, Father Claude returned to the convent and died during the following year. Opposition ceased after an account of Margaret Mary’s visions were read aloud in the refectory from the writings left by Father Claude, who had taken it upon himself to make known to the world the nun’s remarkable experiences. When Margaret Mary turned forty three, she fell ill and deteriorated rapidly. She received the Last Sacraments and was quoted as saying, “I need nothing but God and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.” The devotion became popular in France, Poland and spread to other countries. The Solemnity  of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated on the Friday following the Second Sunday after Pentecost, which this year is on June 12.

Enthronement and Consecration of The Sacred Heart as King of The Family
The Devotion To The Sacred Heart Of Jesus also offers an Enthronement and Consecration of the Family to His Sacred Heartwhereby entire families are consecrated to His Sacred Heart. The ceremony entails a formal prayer recitation with the head of the family leading the prayers that includes: the Apostles Creed, an Act of Consecration, a Prayer of Intercession, a Litany of Thanksgiving, a closing prayer and the signing of the Enthronement Pledge (certificate), by all members. 

What does all this mean for our families? Our families become the recipients of many graces and blessings if the installation of Christ’s image is accompanied by this formal ceremony. These two acts together will: stabilize and sanctify the family, create a Catholic atmosphere and spirit of piety in the home, bring back the wayward members and help console the members in times of trial and sorrow. 

The result of this enthronement and consecration is that it will make the home thoroughly Christian. With all the attacks on the family we are confronted with in today's society, this will bring devotion to the home, where it is vitally needed to not only remedy the waning of faith, but the deliberate and malicious attacks on the family, the primary cell of society. Seriously consider this devotion for your family's sake.

I would like to respectfully recommend the following daily prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, composed by St. Anselm of Canterbury:

Lord our God,
Grant us the grace to desire you with our whole heart,
that so desiring, we may seek and find you;
and so finding you, we may love you;
and loving you, we may hate those sins
from which you have redeemed us.

If you are looking for a book on this devotion, Fr. Jean Croiset's book, The Devotion To The Sacred Heart of Jesus: How To Practice the Sacred Heart Devotionwill provide you with the complete information and guidelines how to practice this devotion.

Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on us.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Redemptoris Mater - An Introduction To Saint Pope John Paul II's Encyclical On The Blessed Virgin Mary In The Life Of The Pilgrim Church

On Sunday, November 14, 1999, Saint Pope John Paul II dedicated the Redemptoris Mater Chapel
in the Apostolic Palace at the conclusion of a restoration project which began in late 1996.

In keeping with the theme of May dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I thought it fitting to close out the month by sharing a document that I recently read, Saint Pope John Paul II's encyclical Redemptoris Mater; a reflection on the role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and on her active and exemplary presence in the life of the Church. The document was issued on March 25, 1987 on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord in part, as a preparation for the Marian Year in the Church, which began on June 7, 1987 on the Solemnity of Pentecost and ended on August 15, 1988 the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and in anticipation of the Bimillenial Jubilee of the birth of Christ in the year 2000. Redemptoris Mater was also written to honour to Mary's jubilee, which preceded Christ's.

Like so many of his documents, Saint Pope John Paul II in writing Redemptoris Mater has enriched the reader's understanding of Mary with his extensive references that is sure to prompt many, especially Marian devotees, to add to their reading lists the wealth of resources contained within. For those whose faith journey has recently begun and are new to the Blessed Virgin Mary, this document will provide you with a complete understanding of Our Lady's role and presence in the Church. Those who recite the Rosary will find this document to be a perfect compliment to the contemplative aspect of the Rosary Devotion; it is a thoroughly written document that identifies and explains various aspects of Mary's life, her lived Rosary. Redemptoris Mater is thirty six pages and includes an: Introduction, Part I - Mary In The Mystery of Christ, Part II - The Mother Of God At The Center Of The Pilgrim Church, Part III - Maternal Mediation and a Conclusion.

Redemptoris Mater is characteristic of Saint Pope John Paul II's pontificate, a clear continuity with the magisteriums of his predecessors and the teachings of the Church. This document references several sources, in particular the Second Vatican Council's document, Lumen Gentiumthe Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. Reading Redemptoris Mater I could not help but think of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's document, Porta FIdei, issued for the Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013) in which he encouraged the faithful to rediscover Second Vatican Council's documents as a means of establishing a point of reference where, "...we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning." (5) It also reminded me of how this compliments St. Louis De Montfort's guidance, who stated in his book, True Devotion To Mary, that the quickest and most surest way to Jesus, is through Mary. 

Some of the other sources cited by Saint Pope John Paul II were Pope Paul VI's Marialis Cultus, on the right ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Council of Ephesus (431) in which the truth of the divine motherhood of Mary (Theotókos-Mother of God) was solemnly confirmed as a truth of the Church's faithSt. Leo The Great (Pope 440-461) statement of Tradition, that "Mary's 'motherhood' of the Church is the reflection and extension of her motherhood of the Son of God," (24); and Pope Pius XII's definition of the Assumption to be a dogma of faith, that the immaculate Mother of God, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.

The Meaning of The Marian Year
Before writing about some of the content of Redemptoris Mater, I thought it best to elaborate on the meaning of the Marian Year so as to help you better understand why this document was written. The Marian Year was declared in part due to the special bond that exists between humanity and the Mother of God. It is a bond that was additionally recognized by one of Saint Pope John Paul II's predecessors, Pope Pius XII, who in 1954 also proclaimed a Marian Year, " order to highlight the exceptional holiness of the Mother of Christ as expressed in the mysteries of her Immaculate Conception (defined exactly a century before) and of her Assumption into heaven." (48) 

In declaring the Marian Year, Saint Pope John Paul II followed the line of the Second Vatican Council, and in so doing, he wished to express the special presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of the Christ and his Church. He noted that this was a fundamental dimension of the Council's MariologyBuilding upon the Second Vatican Council, he also noted how the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985 exhorted everyone to follow faithfully the teaching and guidelines of the Council. These two events, as Saint Pope John Paul II stated, "...embody what the Holy Spirit himself wishes 'to say to the Church' in the present phase of history." (48) It was within this context that the Marian Year was declared with the goal of promoting a new and more careful reading of what the Council said about the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the mystery of Christ and of the Church.

Saint Pope John Paul II emphasized that the contents of Redemptoris Mater "...speak not only of the doctrine of faith but also of the life of faith, and thus of authentic 'Marian spirituality' seen in the light of Tradition, and especially the spirituality to which the Council exhorts us." (48) It is a Marian spirituality which has a rich source in the historical experience of individuals and Christian communities. Of the many witnesses and teachers of this spirituality, he particularly noted the example of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, "...who proposes consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary, as an effective means for Christians to faithfully live their baptismal commitments." (48)

The Marian Year was declared not only as a time to recall that Mary preceded Christ's entry into the history of human family, but to also emphasize the moment when the mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished, that human history entered into the "fullness of time," with the Church being the sign of that fullness. Here is what Saint Pope John Paul II had to further say about this:
As the People of God, the Church makes her pilgrim way towards eternity through faith, in the midst of all the peoples and nations, beginning from the day of Pentecost. Christ's Mother-who was present at the beginning of "the time of the Church," when in expectation of the coming of the Holy Spirit she devoted herself to prayer in the midst of the Apostles and her Son's disciples-constantly "precedes" the Church in her journey through human history. She is also the one who, precisely as the "handmaid of the Lord," cooperates unceasingly with the work of salvation accomplished by Christ, her Son. 
Thus by means of this Marian Year the Church is called not only to remember everything in her past that testifies to the special maternal cooperation of the Mother of God in the work of salvation in Christ the lord, but also, on her own part, to prepare for the future the paths of this cooperation. For the end of the second Christian Millennium opens up as a new prospect. (49)
There is so much that one could write about when referencing Saint Pope John Paul II's encyclicals and especially on the subject of Mary, that an entire blog could be dedicated to his enormous contributions. Redemptoris Mater is certainly no exception. Below is a brief description of what each of the three main sections include.

The first section, Part 1 - Mary In The Mystery Of Christ details many important points to consider and understand about Mary's life, her existence and role in the Church: in the plan of salvation, Mary holds a special place entrusted to her by the Father; a meditation on Mary's fullness of grace; the Annunciation as the revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation; a dedicated subsection entitled Blessed is she who believed; a reflection on Mary's motherhood that expands beyond the fleshly bond and extends to its greater significance, the spiritual bond which is developed from hearing and keeping God's word.

The second section Part II - The Mother Of God At The Center Of The Pilgrim Church, which includes the Church's journey and the unity of all Christians in which Saint Pope John Paul II deals with a matter that was very dear to him, the ecumenical effort, one made easier by the sharing of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches' reverence and devotion to Mary; a reflection on the "Magnificat" of the pilgrim Church that details Mary's constant presence on the journey of faith of the People of God; and the focus of today's post the subsection entitled, The Church, the People of God present in all the nations of the earth.

The third section, Part III - Maternal Mediation, emphasizes that the maternal role of Mary in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather it shows its power, it is mediation in Christ; Mary's role in the life of the Church and of every Christian; and the meaning of the Marian Year, which I have already provided.

The Church, the People of God present in all the nations of the earth

Saint Pope John Paul II begins this subsection from Part II by immediately quoting Lumen Gentium, "The Church 'like a pilgrim in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God,' announcing the Cross and Death of the Lord until he comes." (25) It is a quote that instills in the reader a sense of journey; one in which he drew a comparison between the old "Church of God," Israel's exile in the desert with the "new Israel," the "Church of Christ." He went on to further identify the Church of Christ, when he noted that:
Likewise the new also called the Church of Christ (cf Mt 16:18). For he has bought it for himself with his blood (Acts 20:28), has filled it with his Spirit, and provided it with those means which befit it as a visible and social unity. God has gathered together as one all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace, and has established them as Church, that for each and all she may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity." (25)
Building upon the sense of journey, Saint Pope John Paul II referred to the Second Vatican Council's analogy of the Church's pilgrimage with the Israel of the Old Covenant journeying through the desert. He explained that the Church's journey or pilgrimage has an external character, one that is visible in the time and space in which it historically takes place. Yet the essential element of the pilgrimage is interior, " is a question of a pilgrimage through faith, by the 'power of the Risen Lord,' a pilgrimage in the Holy Spirit, given to the Church as the invisible Comforter (parakletos)." (25)

It is in this journey through space and time and even more so the history of souls, that Mary is present, as the one who is "blessed because she believed," as the one who advanced in the pilgrimage of faith, sharing unlike any other creature in the mystery of Christ. Quoting the Council further, Saint Pope John Paul II noted that, "Mary figured profoundly in the history of salvation and in a certain way unites and mirrors within herself the central truths of the faith. Among all believers she is like a 'mirror' in which are reflected in the most profound and limpid way 'the mighty works of God' "(25) 

Referring again to the "mighty works of God," Saint Pope John Paul II pointed out that the Church became aware of them on the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles gathered together in the Upper Room, were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. It is at this moment, the beginning of the journey of faith, the Church's pilgrimage through the history of individuals and peoples, that Mary is present "prayerfully imploring the gift of the Spirit." (26) It is through this beginning that Saint Pope John Paul II elaborated on Mary's role and journey
In a sense her journey of faith is longer. The Holy Spirit had already come down upon her, and she became his faithful spouse at the Annunciation, welcoming the Word of the true God, offering "the full submission of intellect and will...and freely assenting to the truth revealed by him," indeed abandoning herself totally to God through "the obedience of faith," whereby she replied to the angel: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." The journey of faith made by Mary, whom we see praying in the Upper Room, is thus longer than that of the others gathered there: Mary "goes before them," "leads the way" for them. The moment of Pentecost in Jerusalem had been prepared for by the moment of the Annunciation in Nazareth, as well as by the Cross. In the Upper Room Mary's journey meets the Church's journey of faith. (26)
Continuing with the sense of journey, Saint Pope John Paul II further emphasized Mary's presence at the beginning of the long journey of faith, who was amongst the Apostles at Pentecost, those who became the "seed of the new Israel." (27) Mary was present as an exceptional witness to the mystery of Christ. The Church was assiduous in prayer together with her, and at the same time "contemplated her in the light of the Word made man." (27) He noted that "Mary belongs indissolubly to the mystery of Christ, and she belongs also to the mystery of the Church from the beginning, from the day of the Church's birth." (27) Here is what he had to say about the importance of Mary's faith and its special inheritance of the Church: 
It is precisely Mary's faith which marks the beginning of the new and eternal Covenant of God with man in Jesus Christ; this heroic faith of hers "precedes" the apostolic witness of the Church, and ever remains in the Church's heart hidden like a special heritage of God's revelation. All those who from generation to generation accept the apostolic witness of the Church share in that mysterious inheritance, and in a sense share in Mary's faith. (27)
The benefit to the many generations since Pentecost has not only been a sharing in Mary's faith, but recourse to it in support of individual faith and that of communities. Saint Pope John Paul II noted that those who accept the mystery of Christ not only turn to Mary with veneration, but do so with confidence in her, seeking support for their own faith. He identified this lively sharing in Mary's faith as a determining factor that put Mary in a special place in the Church's pilgrimage.

Mary's presence in the Church's mission in the world today is to be found in many different expressions, just as it has always been throughout the Church's history. Mary's presence is revealed through the faith and piety of individuals, the traditions of Christian families (the "Domestic Church"), missionary communities, religious institutes and dioceses; at many great shrines where not only individuals or local groups, but nations and societies, even entire continents seek to meet the Mother of the Lord. Saint Pope John Paul II drew examples from: the land of Palestine, the spiritual homeland of all Christians, the same homeland of the Saviour and his Mother; at Marian centers such as Guadalupe, Fatima, Lourdes and Jasna Gora. In addition there is also what Saint Pope John Paul II referred to as, "geography of faith and Marian devotion," which includes all special places of pilgrimage in which the People of God seek to meet the Mother of God in the hope of a strengthening of their own faith. (28)

I hope today's post has encouraged you to strengthen or begin your Marian devotion in the spirit of Saint Pope John Paul II, whose own Marian devotion permeated his entire life and pontificate. 

Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.