Mary: Our Life, Our Sweetness and Our Hope (Issue 3)May 5, 2011 No Comments
Our Life, Our Sweetness and Our Hope
By Theresa C. Bird
Contributor | Anchorage, AK
Featured in Issue 3 of Maria News Magazine
Often the subjects of much skepticism and controversy, Marian apparitions should serve to remind us of the torrent of love and mercy Christ has chosen to bestow upon us through His Blessed Mother. Most recently, in the town of Champion, Wisconsin, Bishop David Ricken announced the Church’s approval of the first and only Marian apparition in the United States of America. This particular apparition, given to a young immigrant woman in a poor farming town, has much in common with more familiar apparitions such as those at Lourdes and Fatima. True to her profoundly simple role as “handmaid of the Lord,” Mary personally expresses an emanation of the Divine Word that has repeatedly punctuated time and space for centuries, beginning with the prophets of the Old Testament: she calls mankind to conversion through prayer and penance.
Practically speaking, what is penance, and what does this call mean for our individual lives? The practice of penance, to which we are called, is primarily of two kinds: internal repentance and external acts of penance. Internal repentance is the detestation of sin and the determination to make amends for it. External, or outward, acts of penance include particularly the acceptance from God, in a spirit of resignation and trust, all of life’s sorrows and hardships and of everything that involves inconvenience and annoyance in the conscientious performance of the obligations of our daily life, work, and the practice of Christian virtue.
In other words, we are called to cultivate a detestation of sin, which is firmly rooted in our baptismal vow to renounce Satan and all his works and pomps. This internal repentance extends beyond our baptism, and must be renewed with each sacramental confession if we are to grow in Christian perfection and conform our souls ever more closely to the Crucified Christ. Secondly, we are called to offer to God all manner of pains and difficulties associated with fulfilling the obligations of our state in life. This is summed up in the words of Christ, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (1). We may also be called to practice what are known as voluntary acts of penance, such as fasting on bread and water at chosen times, refraining from eating particular foods, or suffering some physical discomfort for a period of time. These voluntary acts of penance, if undertaken with the proper disposition and intention, serve to strengthen man’s will and more easily incline his mind and body to the service of Christ and the joy to be found in contemplating the highest things.
The call to penance, which began with the prophets of the Old Testament, did not cease when the Son of God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, they became even more insistent, with John the Baptist proclaiming, “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (2) and Jesus Himself inaugurating his saving mission with the same words. The reiteration of this call to penance is so frequent that it is imperative for Christians to recognize it as coming from the will of our Divine Redeemer. Following upon the words of St. Peter in the Book of Acts, the Holy Catholic Church has not ceased to transmit this call to us in her sacred liturgy, in the teaching of the Popes and the precepts of the Councils.
As observed by Pope Pius XI, “Prayer and penance are the two potent inspirations sent to us at this time by God, that we may bring back to Him our wayward human race that wanders aimlessly without a guide. They are inspirations that will disperse and remedy the first and foremost cause of all rebellion and unrest, man’s revolt against God” (3).
Some believers have found themselves wondering if Mary’s intercession and the fulfillment of her requests can bring about the widespread spiritual and cultural renewal that is needed in our country To answer this question, one need only look at the effects of Mary’s 1531 apparitions in Mexico. After the conquest of Hernan Cortez, an entire civilization began struggling to emerge from centuries of devil-worship which manifested itself through human sacrifice. Although the indigenous peoples of Mexico were justifiably wary of the presence of both corrupt Spanish rulers and Franciscan missionaries with honorable intentions, Our Lady’s appearance to Juan Diego served to heal many wounds and bring about the conversion of millions. Christianity effectively replaced the institutionalized violence of the Aztec culture through the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The continent of North America was dramatically and forever changed.
North of Mexico, the United States was dedicated to the Blessed Mother through a decree of the First Council of Baltimore in 1846. This shows how important the Catholic bishops of the United States considered Mary’s role in the life of America. Just thirteen years later, Mary appeared to Adele Brise in the Belgian-settled farming town of Champion in northeastern Wisconsin. Together with a request that Adele offer prayers for the conversion of sinners, our Blessed Mother said to Adele, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation…teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments…Go and fear nothing. I will help you” (4). Adele immediately began catechizing the children throughout the Bay Settlement and Green Bay Peninsula, eventually building a school which ministered to the spiritual, educational, and temporal needs of poor children in the area.
The miraculous nature of Our Lady’s appearance to Adele became apparent to all when the Peshtigo Fire raged through northeastern Wisconsin in October 1871. Overshadowed in history because it occurred on the same day as the great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire was the deadliest in American history, claiming 2,500 lives and 1.5 million acres in Wisconsin and northern Michigan. Encircled by the inferno, Adele and her Sisters, along with schoolchildren and farmers, flocked to the chapel which had been built at the site of the apparition. They prayed throughout the night for preservation, and after several hours, rains came in a downpour, extinguishing the flaming fury outside the chapel. Though the fire singed the chapel fence, it was clear that something beyond the scope of rational explanation had taken place: the chapel, school, convent, and the five acres of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary were virtually untouched by flame, even though the entire area for miles around was scorched and lifeless.
In a formal declaration on December 8, 2010, Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, approved the 1859 apparitions and stated that they exhibit the substance of supernatural character and are considered worthy of belief. The timing of this declaration is providential, recalling the vital importance of Mary’s message: teach children the fundamentals of their faith, in order that we may resuscitate the moral framework of our decaying culture. In our own day, generations of Catholics in America have been denied proper catechesis, as well as the all-important knowledge of how to approach the sacraments worthily. However, the religious education of our children which will aid in stemming the bloody tide of the Culture of Death must occur concurrently—and indeed, be nurtured by—a fulfillment of Our Lady’s request for prayer and penance. Only thus will our moral sense be revived and our culture renewed.
Mary has appeared in different places around the world, always at the service of Her Son, Who often chooses to accomplish the work of His saving mission through the lives and actions of individual men. One of the first manifestations of His Divinity occurred at the Wedding Feast at Cana, prompted by the maternal love and concern of His mother Mary. If we wish to grow ever closer to Christ and to bring others to union with Him, we ought to hearken to the words of Our Blessed Mother, “Do whatever He tells you.” Then we can take up our cross and follow Him, as Mary did, all the way to the Foot of the Cross and, eventually, the Gates of Heaven.
(1) Luke 9:23
(2) Matt. 4:17
(3) Caritate Christi compulsi, 1932
For more on Mary’s apparition in Champion, WI, see www.shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com
For more on Mary’s apparition at Fatima, see www.wafusa.org
For more on Our Lady of Guadalupe, see “Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness,” by Warren Carroll
Tags: 1846, Blessed Mother, Champion, First Council of Baltimore, God, Jesus Christ, Maria News Magazine, Marian Apparitions, MariaNews.com, Old Testament, Penance, Virgin Mary, WisconsinFeatured Article, Issue 3