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Pope Francis’ Homily for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God & World Day of Peace; Angelus Address

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Pope Francis delivered the homily at Mass on New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of the Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Below, please find the full text of the official English translation of his prepared remarks.

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – World Day of Peace, 1 January 2016

We have heard the words of the Apostle Paul: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4).

What does it mean to say that Jesus was born in “the fullness of time”?  If we consider that particular moment of history, we might quickly be deluded.  Rome had subjugated a great part of the known world by her military might.  The Emperor Augustus had come to power after five civil wars.  Israel itself had been conquered by the Roman Empire and the Chosen People had lost their freedom.  For Jesus’ contemporaries, it was certainly not the best of times.  To define the fullness of time, then, we should not look to the geopolitical sphere.

Another interpretation is needed, one which views that fullness from God’s standpoint.  It is when God decided that the time had come to fulfil his promise, that the fullness of time came for humanity.  History does not determine the birth of Christ; rather, his coming into the world enables history to attain its fullness.  For this reason, the birth of the Son of God inaugurates a new era, a new computation of time, the era which witnesses the fulfilment of the ancient promise.  As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world.  He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (1:1-3).  The fullness of time, then, is the presence of God himself in our history.  Now we can see his glory, which shines forth in the poverty of a stable; we can be encouraged and sustained by his Word, made “little” in a baby.  Thanks to him, our time can find its fullness.

Nonetheless, this mystery constantly clashes with the dramatic experience of human history.  Each day, as we seek to be sustained by the signs of God’s presence, we encounter new signs to the contrary, negative signs which tend to make us think instead that he is absent.  The fullness of time seems to fade before the countless forms of injustice and violence which daily wound our human family.  Sometimes we ask ourselves how it is possible that human injustice persists unabated, and that the arrogance of the powerful continues to demean the weak, relegating them to the most squalid outskirts of our world.  We ask how long human evil will continue to sow violence and hatred in our world, reaping innocent victims.  How can the fullness of time have come when we are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights?  A torrent of misery, swollen by sin, seems to contradict the fullness of time brought by Christ.

And yet this swollen torrent is powerless before the ocean of mercy which floods our world.  All of us are called to immerse ourselves in this ocean, to let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing.  The grace of Christ, which brings our hope of salvation to fulfilment, leads us to cooperate with him in building an ever more just and fraternal world, a world in which every person and every creature can dwell in peace, in the harmony of God’s original creation.

At the beginning of a new year, the Church invites us to contemplate Mary’s divine maternity as an icon of peace.  In her, the ancient promise finds fulfilment.  She believed in the words of the angel, conceived her Son and thus became the Mother of the Lord.  Through her, through her “yes”, the fullness of time came about. The Gospel we have just heard tells us that the Virgin Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk2:19).  She appears to us as a vessel filled to the brim with the memory of Jesus, as the Seat of Wisdom to whom we can have recourse to understand his teaching aright.  Today Mary makes it possible for us to grasp the meaning of events which affect us personally, events which also affect our families, our countries and the entire world.  Where philosophical reason and political negotiation cannot reach, there the power of faith, which brings the grace of Christ’s Gospel, can reach, opening ever new pathways to reason and to negotiation.

Blessed are you, Mary, for you gave the Son of God to our world.  But even more blessed are you for having believed in him.  Full of faith, you conceived Jesus first in your heart and then in your womb, and thus became the Mother of all believers (cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 215,4).  Send us your blessing on this day consecrated to your honour.  Show us the face of Jesus your Son, who bestows upon the entire world mercy and peace.

Pope Francis: Angelus appeal for peace on New Year’s Day

Pope Francis renewed his calls for peace and goodwill throughout the Earth on Friday, New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of the Mother of God and the World Day of Peace. The Holy Father’s appeal came at the Angelus prayer with pilgrims and visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square after Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. “Today we celebrate the World Day of Peace, whose theme is: ‘Overcome Indifference and win Peace’,” said Pope Francis. “That peace, which God the Father wants to sow in the world, must be cultivated by us,” he continued. “Not only: it must also be ‘conquered’. This involves a real struggle, a spiritual battle that takes place in our hearts, for the enemy of peace is not only war, but also indifference, which makes us think only of ourselves and creates barriers, suspicions, fears and closures [of mind and heart].”

Pope Francis went on to say, “We have, thank God, much information; but sometimes we are so inundated with news that we are distracted from reality, from the brother and sister who needs us: let us begin to open our hearts, awakening attention to the next.”

“This,” said Pope Francis, “is the way to win the peace.”

After the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, Pope Francis returned the New Year’s greetings he received the evening before from the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and offered thanks to all those involved in peace initiatives in Rome, throughout Italy and in all the world.

“I express gratitude for the many initiatives of prayer and action for peace organized all over the world on the occasion of today’s World Day of Peace,” he said, making particular mention of the National March that took place New Year’s Eve in the city of Molfetta, under the joint sponsorship of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Caritas Internationalis, Pax Christi and Catholic Action. “It is good to know that many people, especially young people, have chosen this way of ringing in the New Year.”

The Angelus prayer followed shortly after the conclusion of Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the New Year’s Solemnity of the Mother of God, over which Pope Francis presided and at which he delivered the homily. “At the beginning of a new year,” said Pope Francis, “the Church invites us to contemplate Mary’s divine maternity as an icon of peace.  In her, the ancient promise finds fulfilment.” The Holy Father went on to say, “She believed in the words of the angel, conceived her Son and thus became the Mother of the Lord.  Through her, through her ‘yes’, the fullness of time came about.”

The Gospel reading of the day tells of how the Virgin Mary treasured all the words the Angel spoke to her, and contemplated them in her heart (Cf. Lk2:19). “She appears to us,” continued Pope Francis, “as a vessel filled to the brim with the memory of Jesus, as the Seat of Wisdom to whom we can have recourse to understand his teaching aright.”

“In this day,” he said, “Mary makes it possible for us to grasp the meaning of events which affect us personally, events which also affect our families, our countries and the entire world.”

Watch Pope Francis celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God below:

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Mi Virgencita Morena

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Since moving to Canada, I’ve met quite a variety of people from all over the world, most of them Catholic. We go through the usual motions – ‘What’s your name? What do you do? Are you from Toronto? You’re from Texas? Oh your parents are Mexican?’ – etc. etc. And shortly after the ‘Mexican parents’ thing, one thing always comes up – Our Lady of Guadalupe. It’s usually followed by ‘I’ve visited her shrine with my family once!’ or ‘I love Guadalupe!’

For some time though, I found that to be really weird. ‘How could you like Our Lady of Guadalupe? She’s Mexican!’ I would think, as if claiming her to only belong to the Mexican people and not accessible to anyone else. It’s odd, I know. Mary belongs to everyone (that’s kind of the point) so I can’t claim her. But the miraculous story of Guadalupe tells something different, something that makes my claim that La Virgen Morena is mine not so absurd.

On December 9, 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared for the first time to a 57-year-old native Mexican peasant. Our Lady of Guadalupe, as she came to be known, appeared to Juan Diego as a morenita, a mestiza. She appeared to him in a way that wouldn’t scare him but instead helped him to understand that she was one of his own. And when it came time to prove to the Bishop that she indeed was who she said she was, she imprinted an image of herself on his tilma, his cloak. Fr. Thomas Rosica, in his reflection on Our Lady of Guadalupe, says:

For the Indian cultures of that time, the tilma was the exterior expression of the innermost identity of the person. By being visible on Juan Diego’s tilma, Mary became imprinted in the deepest recesses of his heart – and in the hearts of all who come to her.”

To find proof of this, you need not look further than any Mexican household. Chances are, they grew up in a culture that emphasizes that family is first. Chances are, the center of their family was grandma’s house. And, chances are, grandma’s house probably had a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. (I say this from experience. There were AT LEAST 10 statues of Our Lady in my grandma’s house). Heck, even as we lead into the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I can tell you that my grandma, who has lived in the United States for years, is in Mexico right now getting ready to celebrate one of the most important feast days of the year with her pueblo. That’s how I grew up and that’s how it’s always been.

And maybe it goes beyond that. Maybe we feel that Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of our own because when we look at her, in all her mestizo beauty, we see our own mothers, aunts and grandmas, glowing, beautiful and pregnant. We feel the same warmth and love in Our Lady that we felt growing up in our homes simply because Our Lady looks like one of us and we find that comforting. She is a morenita, she is our Virgencita Morena.

Now that I’m a bit older, I understand that as the Patroness of the Americas, she belongs to all Americans (North, South, Latin, Central). And because she is Mary, she belongs to us all, as our Mother.

This feast day will always be a special one for me. Guadalupe is why I was raised Catholic and why I’ve decided to continue to be Catholic. My grandma’s devotion to Our Lady is what I admire most about her and I sure hope I can be the same kind of grandma to my grandchildren that she was to me. Our Lady of Guadalupe is so ingrained in the Mexican/Mexican-American culture, it will be an honour to pass it on to the generations that come after me.  

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

To learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe check out the new Knights of Columbus film Guadalupe: The Message and the Miracle airing on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 9 pm ET only on Salt + Light! 


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Vivian Cabrera is a displaced Texan living in Canada. A recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, she enjoys writing about the many ups and downs (both spiritual and physical) that come with moving to a country very similar yet quite different from her own. And because God is good all the time, she spends most of her time trying not to forget how to speak Spanish and working as the Social Media Coordinator for Salt + Light. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Suggestions? Find her up on twitter (@iCabrera05) or email her here: vcabrera@saltandlighttv.org.

“Am I not here, who am your Mother?” Reflection on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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“Am I not here, who am your Mother?”
Reflection on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated each year on December 12. This feast commemorates the great events that took place from December 9-12, 1531, when Juan Diego, a 55 year-old native Mexican, received four apparitions from the Blessed Virgin Mary on the hill of Tepeyac located in the northernmost delegación or borough of the Mexican Federal District (Mexico City).

The Basilica of Guadalupe built on this site is one of the most famous and most visited Catholic shrines in the world. During the apparitions, Juan Diego received the iconic image of the Lady of Guadalupe. Mary introduced herself to this poor, humble man as the “ever perfect Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God.” The Mother of God not only visited Juan Diego’s people, but she chose to remain with them. She left her sacred image mysteriously imprinted on the tilma (cloak) of her messenger in order that we might keep in mind the symbol of Mary’s covenant with these people, conferring her spirit and tenderness.

The faithful cannot conceive of Our Lady of Guadalupe without St. Juan Diego’s tilma. For the Indian cultures of that time, the tilma was the exterior expression of the innermost identity of the person.  By being visible on Juan Diego’s tilma, Mary became imprinted in the deepest recesses of his heart – and in the hearts of all who come to her.  Our Lady of Guadalupe is not simply an image on the tilma, as miraculous as this is.  She has become part her children’s innermost identity.

During the apparitions when Juan Diego told the Virgin he had not been able to relay her message to the bishop, he suggested she send someone of greater stature. He explained, “Because for sure, I am a meager peasant, a cord, a little ladder, the people’s dung; I am a leaf.” But to the humble Virgin of Nazareth who was appearing in the Americas, he was “Juan Diegito, the dearest of my children.” Mary considered herself a “handmaid,” but the angel told her she was the “favored one.” Juan Diego considered himself “the people’s dung,” but Mary considered him “the dearest of my children.”

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Love has given Mary a thousand names. For us in the Americas, and particularly through the eyes and hearts of the Hispanic peoples among us, we know the Mother of the Lord under different titles: Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), Our Lady of Charity of Cobre (Cuba), Our Lady of Aparecida (Brazil), Our Lady of Divine Providence (Puerto Rico), and Our Lady of Mercy (Peru). Each of these peoples people speak of Mary with tenderness and devotion, with terms of love and endearment. She is not only Nuestra Señora, but she is also Madrecita, La Virgencita, and La Morenita.

In paragraph #286 of his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes:

“Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love.  She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises.  She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives.  She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain.  As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love.  As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love.  Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity. Many Christian parents ask that their children be baptized in a Marian shrine, as a sign of their faith in her motherhood which brings forth new children for God. There, in these many shrines, we can see how Mary brings together her children who with great effort come as pilgrims to see her and to be seen by her.  Here they find strength from God to bear the weariness and the suffering in their lives. As she did with Juan Diego, Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: “Let your heart not be troubled…  Am I not here, who am your Mother?””

The apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe had a deep impact on Evangelization in the Americas.  The messages that Mary imparted to her children in 1531 from Tepeyac Hill need to be made known once again.  In a society that talks more about God rather than to God (prayer), we need to be reminded that God exists. In a world that is entangled with practices leading to death such as abortion, euthanasia, genocide, wars etc. we need to hear the message of respect for life in all its stages. In a world that is losing the sense of the supernatural, we need to know that Jesus is our Savior and that He has given us a most precious gift: his own Mother to be ours. Let us turn to Mary with our most intimate problems and deepest questions. She listens to us with attentiveness and compassion. On her special feast, let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to protect especially our suffering brothers and sisters in Mexico and throughout Latin America.

New Knights of Columbus Film “Guadalupe” to Air on Salt + Light

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Through a special partnership with ABC Television Network in the USA and as part of ABC’s Vision and Values Series, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation is pleased to announce that a new Knights of Columbus produced documentary Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message will begin airing on S+L on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 9 pm ET/ 6:00 pm PT.

Narrated by actor Jim Caviezel, Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message paints a comprehensive and inspiring picture of the history, facts, legacy and continued relevance of Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the western hemisphere and beyond.

Over the course of four days in December 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous convert named Juan Diego. Most experts and historians affirm that more than any other, this event, and the image miraculously imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma (cloak), has resulted in the mass conversion of millions of Native Americans to the Catholic faith. The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe helped to build bridges between the two worlds and began the transformation of our continent. Her appearance compelled people and cultures to unite under her mantle of compassion and charity in a way that did not exist before. Through her intercession, then and now, Americans have found a deep sense of common faith, hope and identity.

Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message brings this remarkable history to life through modern reenactments, 3D animations of the mysterious image giving an unprecedented glimpse into the intricacies of the centuries-old wonder. Featuring interviews with leading theologians, historians and experts on the scientific inquiries into this miraculous event. The film delves into the inexplicable existence of the image on Juan Diego’s tilma, the mystery found in her eyes and unveils breaking new anthropological insights into the symbols that spoke directly to the hearts of the indigenous people.

For more information about the film, including broadcast times and the DVD release, visit www.guadalupethefilm.com or follow the hashtag #guadalupethefilm.

Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message will air on S+L TV on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 9 pm ET/ 6:00 pm PT. You can also watch it online at that time on the S+L TV live stream here or you can purchase the DVD on our online store here.

Repeat times:

Sunday, December 13, 2015: 1:00 am ET, 10:00 pm PT; 1:30 pm ET, 10:30 am PT
Sunday, December 20, 2015: 9:o0 pm ET, 6:00 pm PT
Monday, December 21, 2015: 1:00 am ET, 10:00 pm PT; 1:30 pm ET, 10:30 am PT
Tuesday, December 22, 2015: 9:30 am ET, 6:30 am PT
Thursday, December 24, 2015: 9:30 pm ET, 6:30 pm PT
Friday, December 25, 2015: 1:30 am ET, 10:30 pm PT; 2:00 pm ET, 11:00 am PT

Also on December 10th, Noel Ocol had a chance to talk with David Naglieri, the writer and director of the film about the message of the Guadalupe story he wanted to bring to the audience.

Have a look:


See trailer below.

 

Pope Francis’ Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception & the Inauguration of the Jubilee of Mercy

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Pope Francis inaugurated the Jubilee of Mercy on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Read the full text of his homily below:

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Inauguration of the Jubilee of Mercy
December 8,  2015 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In a few moments I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door of Mercy. We carry out this act, so simple yet so highly symbolic, in the light of the word of God which we have just heard. That word highlights the primacy of grace. Again and again these readings make us think of the words by which the angel Gabriel told an astonished young girl of the mystery which was about to enfold her: “Hail, full of grace” (Lk 1:28).

The Virgin Mary was called to rejoice above all because of what the Lord accomplished in her. God’s grace enfolded her and made her worthy of becoming the Mother of Christ. When Gabriel entered her home, even the most profound and impenetrable of mysteries became for her a cause for joy, faith and abandonment to the message revealed to her. The fullness of grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception expresses the grandeur of God’s love. Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world. This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves. The beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love. The words of Genesis reflect our own daily experience: we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan.  Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy. The word of God which we have just heard leaves no doubt about this. The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfilment.

This Extraordinary Holy Year is itself a gift of grace. To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.

Today, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world. This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith. Before all else, the Council was an encounter. A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel. After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm. The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council. May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.

Watch Pope Francis celebrate Mass and deliver the homily below:

Watch Pope Francis open the Holy Door below:

Shout for Joy, O Daughter Zion!

Annunciazione Botticelli cropped

Third Sunday of Advent, Year C – December 13, 2015

Advent, far from being a penitential time, is a time of rejoicing. Christians proclaim that the Messiah has indeed come and that God’s reign is at hand. During these days we are invited to quietly prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the Son of God in the flesh.

On this third Sunday of Advent — known as Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing — I would like to focus on two important themes found in today’s scripture readings: the biblical expression “Daughter of Zion” and what it means to “rejoice.”

The rich text of today’s first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah [3:14-18a-20] speaks of the Daughter of Zion, the personification of the city of Jerusalem. Let us reflect on the significance of this title of the holy city of Jerusalem and see how and why the Church appropriated the title for Mary, Mother of the Lord.

Daughter of Zion is the personification of the city of Jerusalem. Zion was the name of the Jebusite citadel that later became the City of David. In the many texts of the Old Testament that speak of the Daughter of Zion, there is no real distinction to be made between a daughter of Zion and the city of Jerusalem itself.

In the Old Testament, the title Virgin of Israel is the same as the Daughter of Zion. The image of the bride of the Lord is found in Hosea, Chapters 1-3: It reflects the infidelity of the people to their God.

Jeremiah 3:3-4 speaks of prostitution and the infidelity of the bride. Virginity in the Old Testament is fidelity to the Covenant. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul speaks of the Church as a pure virgin. Here, virginity is the purity of faith.

Throughout the Old Testament, it is in Zion-Jerusalem that God shall gather together all of his people. In Isaiah 35:10, the tribes of Israel shall gather in Zion. In Ezekiel 22:17-22, the prophet describes God’s purification of his people that shall take place “within” the walls of the city, in the midst of Jerusalem.

The Hebrew word used to describe this inner section of the city is “beqervah,” a word formed from the root “qerev” meaning something deep, intimate, situated deep within a person. It also means the maternal womb, the intestines, the breast, the insides of a person, the most secret area of one’s soul where wisdom, spirit, malice and the Law of the Lord dwell. Therefore, the city of Jerusalem has a definite maternal function in the history of salvation.

In the Christian Tradition

The Second Vatican Council formally called Mary “Daughter of Zion” in the dogmatic constitution on the Church “Lumen Gentium” (No. 52). The Church’s appropriation of this title for the Mother of the Lord has a rich Scriptural foundation. Mary illustrates the prophecies of the Old Testament that ascribed value to the eschatological role of woman as mother both of the Messiah and of the new people of God.

The title Daughter of Zion evokes the great biblical symbolism of the Messianic Zion. Mary illustrates the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures which ascribed value to the eschatological role of woman as mother both of the Messiah and of the new people of God: the individual person and the whole people being very closely united, in line with the cultural structures of Israel.

For the prophets, the Daughter of Zion was the spouse of the Lord when she observed the covenant. Mary’s role as Daughter of Zion, or for that matter any of her roles in the life of God’s people, can never be understood independently of Christ and of the Spirit, which he bestows upon all humanity in dying on the cross.

“Lumen Gentium” says that all theology and Marian piety belong to the mystery of Christ and to the mystery of the Church.

Mary, Daughter of Zion, is the archetype of the Church as Bride, Virgin and Mother. It is not only biological virginity, but also spiritual virginity, which means fidelity to the Scriptures, openness toward others, and purity in faith.

Mary’s words to the servants at the wedding banquet in Cana (John 2:1-12) are an invitation to all peoples to become part of the new people of God. Mary is the new “Daughter of Zion” because she has invited the servants to perfectly obey Jesus the Lord. At Cana this new Daughter of Zion has given voice to all people.

Both at Cana and at Calvary (in John’s Gospel), Mary represents not only her maternity and physical relationship with her son, but also her highly symbolic role of Woman and Mother of God’s people. At Calvary, more than any other place in the fourth Gospel, Mary is “Mother Zion”: her spiritual maternity begins at the foot of the cross.

As “Mother Zion,” she not only welcomes and represents Israel, but the Church, the People of God of the New Covenant. At the foot of the cross, Mary is the mother of the new messianic people, of all of those who are one in Christ.

She who bore Jesus in her womb now takes her place in the assembly of God’s holy people. She is the new Jerusalem: In her own womb was the Temple, and all peoples shall be gathered back to the Temple, which is her Son. The Mother of Jesus is indeed the Mother of all of God’s scattered children. She is Mother of the Church. Mary is the first Daughter of Zion, leading all of God’s people on the journey toward the Kingdom.

I cannot help but recall the words of Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, in his profound, opening address to the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” in October 2008: “A woman, Mary, perfectly accomplishes the divine vocation of humanity by her ‘yes’ to the Word of Covenant and her mission. Through her divine motherhood and her spiritual motherhood, Mary appears as the permanent model and form for the Church, like the first Church.”

Rejoice in the Lord

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always [Philippians 4:4-7; see also Philippians 2:18; 3:1;4.4). The rejoicing to which St. Paul invites us, and which forms the heart of the Advent season. But we must ask ourselves, what did persecuted Christians have to rejoice about?

The answer is their relationship with the Lord, which can even become stronger and more intimate in times of persecution. Their joy is not in their circumstance; indeed it is often in spite of their circumstance. Rather it is in the Lord.

Sheer joy arises out of a deep and abiding relationship with God that carries the believer through all sorts of trials and tribulations. Rejoicing in the Lord is a sort of adoration, and adoration often takes the form of prayer. Rejoicing constantly leads to praying and praising repeatedly. Since Paul refers to giving thanks after he mentions prayer, it is probable that the term “praying” refers to petitioning God in some form, perhaps interceding for self and others in some manner.

The opposite of rejoicing

The opposite of rejoicing and happiness is not sorrow, but deadness that often manifests itself through cynicism, meanness of spirit and smallness of mind and heart. Many of us know what that feels like: the deadness and dissatisfaction induced by a consumer culture that stimulates our senses and bombards us with largely meaningless choices, while leaving us starved for some deeper purpose.

Then there is jealousy, envy, and that gnawing feeling that we have accomplished so little because we have been so poorly motivated and made some bad choices. And when we realize that others have been able to do much because they have been rooted in God, we become jealous and envious. These are not new phenomena!

The desire to escape such deadness and dissatisfaction was one of the motives of the early desert fathers and mothers. They rejected a world whose agenda was defined by the pursuit of power, property, and pleasure. They went into the desert to tap into the source of life and joy, and discover their own true selves through constant prayer. Having found the emptiness of what their culture defined as happiness, they sought another way.

Let me conclude with the words of Pope Paul VI in his wonderful apostolic exhortation on Christian joy, “Gaudete in Domino:”

“[Mary] has grasped, better than all other creatures, that God accomplishes wonderful things: His name is holy, He shows His mercy, He raises up the humble, He is faithful to His promises. Not that the apparent course of her life in any way departs from the ordinary, but she meditates on the least signs of God, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19; 51).

“Not that she is in any way spared sufferings: she stands, the mother of sorrows, at the foot of the cross, associated in an eminent way with the sacrifice of the innocent Servant. But she is also open in an unlimited degree to the joy of the resurrection; and she is also taken up, body and soul, into the glory of heaven.

“The first of the redeemed, immaculate from the moment of her conception, the incomparable dwelling-place of the Spirit, the pure abode of the Redeemer of mankind, she is at the same time the beloved Daughter of God and, in Christ, the Mother of all. She is the perfect model of the Church both on earth and in glory.”

This Advent, may the example of John the Baptist give us the strength and courage necessary to transform our deserts into gardens, and our emptiness into rich Catholic meaning and experience. May the boldness of St. Paul and the example of Mary, Virgin Daughter of Zion, teach us how to rejoice in the Lord, whose coming is very near.

[The readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent are: Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; and Luke 3:10-18]

(Image: Annunciazione di Cestello by Sandro Botticelli)

Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing! — A Reflection for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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On December 8, when the whole Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother, my mind goes back to my first visit to beautiful shrine of Lourdes tucked in the Pyrenees Mountains on the French-Spanish border. When I first visited Lourdes in 1978 as a university student at the end of a summer study program in Brittany, France, I volunteered my time as a “brancardier”, transporting many sick people from the “Accueils” to the grotto and the healing baths. I discovered then an extraordinary story that still remains hidden from many in the world today, especially in North America.

The Grotto of the Apparitions where Bernadette encountered the Mother of the Lord is truly holy ground. Each time I have returned to Lourdes, I appreciated more and more that holy ground. This little town is one of the most well known pilgrimage sites in the Catholic world. Though hidden in a corner of France, Lourdes has a universal vocation to all of humanity. It has lived this vocation since 1858 when Mary of Nazareth, herself a model of discretion and humility sought out another of her humble sisters in faith, Bernadette Soubirous.

Both Mary and Bernadette were sent by God, each in their own time and places, to bear a message of hope to waiting humanity. Even the initial skepticism of the local church authorities served as a time of purification of the great message of Lourdes that continues to resound throughout the world. Lourdes is a constant invitation to humanity that we are pilgrims on a journey of faith.

At Lourdes, Mary revealed herself to the peasant girl, Bernadette with the words: “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou,” spoken in the local dialect of the girl (neither French nor Spanish, but Provencal), that translates “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

The Immaculate Conception is a complex dogma that has interested theologians more than the ordinary faithful. Many people still wrongly assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ. In fact, it refers to the belief that Mary, by special divine favor, was without sin from the moment she was conceived. The main stumbling block for many Catholics is original sin. Today we are simply less and less aware of original sin. And without that awareness, the Immaculate Conception makes no sense. Through the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death.

When we honour the Mother of God under the title “Immaculate Conception”, we recognize in her a model of purity, innocence, trust, childlike curiosity, reverence, and respect, living peacefully alongside a mature awareness that life isn’t simple. It’s rare to find both reverence and sophistication, idealism and realism, purity, innocence and passion, inside the same person as we find in Mary. Something inside us yearns always for innocence, purity, freshness and trust. If we lose these we find ourselves cynical and disillusioned with an unhappiness that comes precisely from having been around, from having had our eyes opened, from having knowledge without innocence. We need to hold that innocence and experience in a proper tension. Mary, Mother of the Lord teaches us how to do just that. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s.

Tourists pass quickly through places, but the places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them forever changed. I am one of those grateful pilgrims to Lourdes whose life was changed, and continues to be changed when I visit that holy place. As we celebrate Mary under the title of “Immaculate Conception,” let us give thanks to God for the graces, blessings, messages and meaning of Lourdes. They continue to work many miracles throughout the world today.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Television Network

1. CNS Photo/courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: “The Immaculate Conception” by Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez
2. CNS Photo / Crosiers: A mosaic of Mary in an outdoor chapel in Lourdes, France.

Swimming Against The Tide

Cheridan Sanders celebrates her First Holy Communion at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Windhoek, Namibia. Brother Sebastian stands in the foreground.

 

A religious brother teaches young Cheridan Sanders how to swim; and that having faith means believing in a reality that does not exist, yet.

I grew up in mission territory.

‘South West’, as it was known then, was hot, dry and isolated.

Even today it remains one of the least densely populated nations.

No surprise then that many people have never heard of Namibia.

Imagine what life would have been like without those missionaries? Besides my own fond memories of attending Mass and participating in my weekly catechesis I benefited most from their presence.

Two impressions in particular remain with me.

First, the Sisters. I don’t recall one as much as I recall all of them. They were always giving out prayer cards and encouraging us to pray, especially to the saints on the cards.

Their encouragements were usually joined with hugs, smiles and invitations to come out of the sun and drink lemonade on hot days.

I reveled in their warmth, their embraces, their sweetness. And to this day, I love Mary and the saints and I believe it’s largely because of them.

And then there was Brother Sebastian…

Brother Sebastian was an intimidating, severe character to a seven year old me.

Stern, matter-of-fact and very German he was my version of Severus Snape. I recall his long, black robe, his black-rimmed glasses, and the fact that he was always dabbing his forehead with a white handkerchief.

He tolerated no cavorting, no dilly-dallying, no chatter and most of all, ‘no excuses!’.

(Admittedly, all things I was often guilty of)

This saga, all started in the shallow end of my primary school pool. Timidly holding onto the side, glancing furtively over to the deep end where the rest of my classmates were diving and prancing.

I looked back at the kids in the shallow end with me. I knew why we were all there. We were the kids who weren’t rich enough to have pools in our backyards, and then there was the colour of our skin.

… I was ashamed. I couldn’t swim, and judging by my flailing around, I determined that I’d never be as good as the other kids who’d been swimming, as one girl took much pleasure in pointing out, “since I was ‘3 months old!’.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

I don’t recall exactly how the next series of events came about, but I must have gone home and complained to my mother.

The next thing I knew, I was signed up for additional swimming lessons with Brother Sebastian at the Catholic high school up the street.

As I walked up the steep hill towards the Black Gates of Mordor… sorry I meant, the high school where my additional swimming lessons were held, my stomach churned.

I thought to myself: “Now, you’ve really gone and done it, Cheridan!” bitterly regretting telling my mother how embarrassed I was.

How could I have predicted that sharing my shame would mean bi-weekly swimming lessons with none other than Brother Sebastian!

It was bad enough flailing about helplessly in front of my grade school friends …but having to learn under the eagle eye of Brother Sebastian and his pack of elite high school swimmers, well it was all just too much!

It was decided; I needed to die.

To this day, I can see the high school boys, some of the best swimmers in the region in fact, looking on with smirks as they waited for Brother Sebastian to turn those penetrating eyes of his on them.

And true to his reputation, Brother Sebastian was a task master. He was very clear about his expectations:

Tardiness was unacceptable
Practice outside of the regular instruction was expected.
And, above all, we were to stay focused and committed to the task at hand.
‘Now, into the pool and get to work!’

All of which, delivered in a pronounced tone which brooked no argument.

He was methodical and painstakingly meticulous.

… Sometimes, he would even jump into the pool to ensure that we were executing our strokes correctly!

This I hated the most; the singling out of my ineptitude.

Oh! The suffering!

And I’ll admit, I tried to drop out on more than one occasion.

But there was no way out. My mother said I was going to follow through on this, no turning back.

So somewhere between my mortification and the drills, I learnt to swim.

Really well.

I became one of the best swimmers in my school, and eventually in my age group. In our inter-school competitions I always had a spot on my school’s relay team. And we rarely went home without winning.

And so, below his stern exterior, Brother Sebastian was a man of charity and generosity. He wasn’t exactly the warmest character; but he was a good man.

I learnt years later that he’d taken me on as a bit of a charity case. My mother couldn’t afford to send me for the semi-private lessons (my existing school fees already were astronomical).

I still smile at my mother’s audacity, she sought out the best coach in the country to teach her daughter how to swim.

And, his instruction (as much as I hated it) was a great service to me.

He taught me to swim against the tide. He taught me that hard work, perseverance, and self discipline pay off. That excellence is rarely achieved without a constant eye to self-improvement, and that success was not a matter of social standing, the colour of your skin, or even when you begin. But how much you apply yourself and your God-given talents.

He showed me that the real battle was believing in a future that was not a reality, yet.

And, if it weren’t for those missionaries and their unique forms of witness, expressed in a variety of ways, well I think my life would have been a little less rich.

More about Cheridan Sanders here.


CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.

The Miraculous Medal Shrine

Catherine_Medal

James W. Foley, the American journalist and war correspondent that was the first American beheaded by ISIS in August, 2014, once said:

“Drop a pebble in the water:
Just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
Circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center,
Flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling
Where the end is going to be.”

What ripple effect could a medal made in the image of Mary Immaculate have, either in Paris, or France or even the world?  Yet what was initially called the Medal of Our Lady of Grace became the peoples’ “miraculous medal” by 1836. By 2015, there were 45 national Miraculous Medal Associations and innumerable billions of people wearing this medal. And the ripple of 1830 is still circling!

The Miraculous Medal Shrine of Philadelphia is dedicated to Mary Immaculate, but it is only a piece of the great history of this medal. That history starts with a French sister, a Daughter of Charity, in Paris, France in 1830.

Zoe Laboure was born on May 2, 1806, a French, farm girl. When she was 23 years old, she entered the Catholic group of women called the Daughters of Charity, in January, 1830. Three months later she became a formal member entering their seminary and her first name became Catherine. 

Catherine Laboure received the Miraculous Medal from Mary, the Mother of God, that same year in the summer and fall of 1830 during three apparitions. The first apparition to St. Catherine Laboure happened on the night of July 18th, 1830. 

Sleeping in the roof dormitory with the other young sisters, she was awakened around 11 pm by a young child of about 5 years of age, dressed in white.  “Come, get up” said the child holding a lit candle. “Mary is waiting for you in the Chapel.” Calling Catherine three different times to get up, Catherine noticed that none of the other sisters were awake. Yet the light around the child was bright and vivid. Hurriedly dressing, Catherine, followed the child down the wooden, circular stair case. She saw that all the candles on the walls were aglow with light. When she arrived at the Chapel, it was radiantly lit and reminded her of Midnight Mass.   

The child took her to the priest’s Director’s Chair in the front of the Sanctuary. Catherine knelt there.  Soon she heard the rustling like that of a silk dress in a breeze, and there before her was the Blessed Mother. Sitting in the chair, Mary placed Catherine’s hands on her lap. They spoke for 2 hours. 

This apparition is commemorated at the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia. On the main level, to the left of the altar is the precise replica of that chair where the Blessed Mother sat. In the chair, there is a piece of the cloth from that same chair where the Blessed Mother sat. It is a relic from that apparition. Declared a saint in 1947, St. Catherine Laboure is the only known person to have touched Mary after her Assumption.    

Before we continue on, it is important for you to know why we call it a shrine and not a church. In general a shrine is a place erected or established by people because something very holy and important happened there. 

Shrines of all types are popular today. People place flowers or mementos like stuffed animals or lit candles, at a place where a loved one may have been or may have died. People create shrines on the side of the road. 

People want to remember and venerate that place; it is sacred.  Perhaps a life deeply loved was there and went to heaven. People who go to that place are empowered by the memory and may feel, touch or experience the divine and human life that was there, if only momentarily.

A part of where God has momentarily manifested his love, through his Mother in Paris, has been brought to Philadelphia for the love and veneration of all who go to this shrine, a sacred place. Besides the replica of the chair and piece of cloth denoting this as a place that God has visited, besides the daily Mass and tabernacle of God’s presence, there have been many favors granted to those who pray here. Something very divine and human happens here all the time

People come to this Shrine because the Blessed Mother intercedes with God for people here.  Every public novena prayed in this Shrine, details favors that people prayed for here and were granted or given by Mary Immaculate. Though there are no crutches, etc., I would like to share with you a few of the favors received here. 

One woman wrote to me:  “Dear Father, Please thank the Blessed Mother with me. After praying the novena at the Shrine, my husband received a positive pet scan. He was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in January, and as of present his cancer cells are completely gone.  Thank you Mary for this favor.” 

Or a man wrote to me, “Dear Father, Please Thank Mary for her intercession for my wife. I prayed the novena nightly at the shrine, begging our Blessed Mother to help her. My wife had a nodule on her lung, but after praying to Mary, the second scan showed the nodule was gone.”

More importantly than the cures from Cancer or diseases, people, through prayer here or just walking through, have regained their faith or have been reunited to their family after years of hatred. Experiencing Mary’s open arms of love, many are moved to make a heartfelt confession. It was these “miracles” of everyday life that caused the people in 1836 to proclaim the Medal of Our Lady of Grace as Mary’s Miraculous Medal.  For it seemed to them as it is to us today, that those who put it on, receive many graces of faith and have a change of heart.

Returning to our story that explains the Miraculous Medal, the second and third apparitions of the Blessed Mother to St. Catherine Laboure happened on the evening of November 27, in 1830. That evening, while St. Catherine, was at evening prayer with the other sisters, Mary appeared to her in the Chapel of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, France. The other sisters did not see Mary but knew something was happening from the great light that appeared in the Chapel.

Catherine states that Mary first appeared holding a globe. Mary said that the globe represents the whole world whom she offers to God Almighty. This part of the second apparition is commemorated in the Miraculous Medal Shrine on the lower level with the figure of Mary holding the globe. She is surrounded by many vigil lights. This Shrine is dedicated to Mary under the title of Virgin Most Powerful or in Latin, Virgo Potens. 

St. Catherine explained this vision. Appearing in a white gown and veil and holding the globe, Mary said that this Globe represented the world for whom she constantly pleaded to God for help. Sanctified by His Redemption, the globe represents the Mystical Body of her Son Jesus Christ, whom she gives to God as she gave Jesus Christ to the world. The world still wanting, Mary gives this body to God pleading for his grace and aid to all who ask her for help. 

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Mary is considered the most powerful of all human persons because she was chosen by God above all others. Her response to being chosen, her “yes” at the Annunciation, began the redemption of her son Jesus Christ. Through Mary, humanity said “yes” to God entering into their life. 

Mary never said no to God and God never says no to her. Her pleading is always answered. She is our eternal and most perfect model of life in and with God. Thus, many vigil lights, representing hundreds of intentions sent to us at the Miraculous Medal Shrine, are placed in this room for her globe, begging Mary to seek God’s graces for them. 

Vigil lights represent the person because the person owns them before they give them to Mary. They gave something of themselves, such as coins, buying the light for themselves.  They also represent the donor’s intention. They are given to Mary as a gift to her and to keep their intention before her always.

In this shrine also, there are pictures of the events of the apparition and of the life of St. Catherine Laboure. Installed in 1928, they are the sole mosaics in the Shrine.

Returning to our second apparition of November 27, 1830, there was another part of the apparition, sometimes called the third apparition. When St. Catherine looked up, Mary is seen as she is on the medal and in the statue on the main level of the Miraculous Medal Shrine today. 

She stood on the world crushing the head of Satan, the devil, reminding us of the verse in Genesis 3:15 – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her seed (Jesus Christ) and you. She will crush your head and you will lie in wait for her heal.” 

During this second part of the apparition, Catherine saw around her the words of the famous Miraculous Medal prayer:  “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

The glow around her became streams of light from some of her fingers. “These are the graces that flow to people who have asked for God’s favor,” Mary said. “Those fingers where there is no light, represent graces that no one has asked for from God. Come to the foot of the altar and with confidence ask God, through my intercession, for these graces.”

And as Mary turned, Catherine saw the cross coming up from the large M representing Mary at the foot of the cross. Underneath this were the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Around this were twelve stars representing the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel.

Mary then commanded Catherine, “Have a medal struck in this image. For all who wear this blessed medal around their neck, shall receive special graces eternally from God through me.” 

In 1832, over a thousand medals were struck and promoted by the Congregation of the Mission or Vincentian Fathers and Brothers. They were founded in 1625, by St. Vincent de Paul. They staff the Miraculous Medal Shrine today. 

By 1836 over a million medals were being worn by faithful devotees of Mary. It was around this time that this medal of our Lady of Grace became popularly known as the Miraculous Medal for all the miracles, both physically and spiritually that were reported by its wearers.

Today, Mary commands us to go to this altar too. The use of the word “altar” is also the symbol of the Holy Mass, where Mary’s flesh and blood, her Son, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection are celebrated. We too are called to offer ourselves to God at Mass, and there ask God through her, for what we need. This is not a new command for us but the most important command ever given to us. Recall what Mary commanded us to do at the Wedding Feast in Cana, (Jn. 2:5) “Do what he tells you.” 

God worked totally through Mary to give himself to the world in Jesus Christ, and continues to this day, to work through her to give us Divine Life. The open arms of Mary constantly invite us to stand at this altar and see in her, the compassion, the mercy and love of God just for you. 

These great shrines and places of prayer and solitude are all contained in this building that today is called the Miraculous Medal Shrine. It took 4 years to complete, beginning in 1875. The model of the Shrine, first called the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, was very ambitious, imitating on a slightly smaller scale, the great Church of Eastern Christianity, Saint Sophia, in Istanbul, Turkey. Dominated by a large center dome held up by massive archways, the Shrine is a yet a crucifix form with the nave and altar being crossed by a chapel on each side. 

The Shrine seats 400 comfortably and expands with the choir loft to 500+. However, pictures of Novena Services during World War II and later pictures of sermons from the pulpit by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the first TV evangelist, show people sitting on the sanctuary and side steps near the main altar and side shrines. They packed in as many as possible.  As an aside, St. Katherine Drexel, with 5 – 8 African American students, prayed in this Shrine almost every Monday at the Novena Services. She sat in the 3rd pew from the front on right side toward the Marian Shrine. 

The Stations of the Cross on the walls around the Shrine are oil, painted on copper plates with metal frames finished in polished gold. They are imported from France and are unique as the artist never made another set like them. He died before the stations reached this Shrine. 

The Large Rose Window above the choir loft uses a distinct and rare stained glass called Bernardini blue. The window is modeled after the stained glass of Sainte Chappelle, in Paris that was built in 1248 by St. Louis, King of France. The window was installed here in 1935. 

The stained glass windows of the saints that are above and on either side of the pews are presently being evaluated and researched. Initially they were believed to be from the school of the famous New York glass maker, John La Farge. However, recent tests indicate that they may be the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The difficulty stems from the fact that both men trained in the same school of glass-making at the same time.

On a sunlit day, if you go to the side of the window on your right (left side of Shrine as you look at altar) and look up at the window, the cut glass sparkles as if it is a gem. This indicates the Tiffany type and style of inlaid glass.

Most places of worship have one style of stained glass. This Shrine has four different types of stained glass making it very distinct. As we have just said, the Saints are American stained glass; the rose window is French; the Sacred Heart on the left side of the Shrine, is from Germany; and the stain glass that is in the dome above the sanctuary that depicts the seven Christian virtues (faith, hope, love, etc.) is from Italy. 

The Shrine was remodeled from 1979 – 1980, in response to the decrees of the Second Vatican Council that ended in 1964. At this time, the mural painting of Mary, Mother of the Church, the title that the Council gave to Mary, was installed in the great dome in the center of the Shrine. As a tease to viewers Emmanuel F. Utti purposely painted this mural to look like a mosaic which of course, it is not. 

The main altar is the original altar from 1879. It is composed of Italian white Carrara marble from the northern Tuscany region and red marble from the Numidia, Northern African area in Algeria.

The tabernacle, modeled on the onion domes of the Churches of Eastern Christianity, celebrates the unity of Eastern and Western Christianity. It is a reminder to pray for the Eastern Church after the onslaught of Communism.

Finally, the three major mural paintings encircling the sanctuary are nationally registered paintings and are patented. The panels in order from the left depict the Annunciation, the Immaculate Conception the original namesake for the chapel, and the Nativity. They are each 13 feet wide and 18 feet tall. 

The American Italian artist, Virgilio Tojetti (1849 – 1901) was commissioned to paint these three murals. He completed them in the late 1890’s and are some of his last works. 

Tojetti studied with the famed Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins, whose painting of the first surgery, called The Gross Clinic, was bought in 2009 for $68 million by the Walmart Company.

The statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal on the upper level to the right, was sculpted by the Italian artist Georgio di Giovanni Udny. He learned marble sculpting from his famous uncle, Giovanni Strazza. It was sculpted in Pietrazanta, Italy in 1925. It is of first quality Carrara marble.

This Shrine is dedicated to the Mother of God, Mary as depicted by this Statue. It is a depiction of the Blessed Mother as she appeared in the second part of the second apparition on November 27, 1830.  

On the lower level of the Miraculous Medal Shrine are other smaller shrines to the Blessed Mother under her different titles. The first is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, just to the right of the Virgin Most Powerful Shrine. The first apparition of our Lady of Guadalupe was December 9, 1531, almost 300 years before the apparition of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

This is a precise reproduction of the Tilma, the poncho, of St. Juan Diego in Mexico City. It is painted on the same fabric as was his cloak at that time. This is attested to on the backside of the painting. Of special devotion to the Mexican people, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of all of the Americas.

To the right is the statue of the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart is on the backside of the Miraculous Medal and holds an honored place in the Shrine. The Sacred Heart represents the Love and Mercy of Jesus Christ for us. Of course, these Virtues were taught to him by his mother Mary.

To the right of this is the Shrine of Our Lady of Velankanni. She is the patroness of India.  This Shrine was a gift of the Indian People who come to the Shrine. Mary is very dear to the people who call her “Ma Ma Mary”. The story of her 3 apparitions as this Madonna and Child in India can be found on the left side as you enter this small Shrine. 

To the right of this is the Miraculous Medal itself. Designed by the Blessed Mother, the medal is detailed in this shrine for everyone’s veneration. This shrine reminds us also that the Miraculous Medal is a type of portable shrine, as you are able to place this shrine around your neck to go with you everywhere. 

Just touching the medal reminds you of the Mother who loves you and waits for you with open arms. Hanging on a chain in front of your heart, it denotes the sacred place where God dwells in you. We hope that no one leaves here without one.

Finally there is the shrine with the unique statue of St. Joseph, spouse of Mary. Seated on a chair, Joseph is holding the implements of Christ’s Crucifixion in one hand and the child Jesus in the other. He lovingly looks at Jesus as Angels at Joseph’s feet hold fast to Jesus.

The Miraculous Medal Shrine is a wonderful gift of prayer and solace to all. Celebrating Mary, it intercedes with God for all who enter.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”


Written by Rev. Carl L. Pieber, C.M., Executive Director of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal (CAMM) in Philadelphia, PA, USA. 

Pope Francis’ Special Relationship with the Mother of the Lord

A Reflection for Mary’s Birthday – September 8

Anyone who has known former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio understands well that his Marian devotion, far from being a recent manifestation, is a long-established devotion. From the very beginning of his Petrine ministry, he has let us experience his love for Mary, Mother of the Lord. Appearing for the first time to the world, he told us on the night of March 13 “Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.” We were moved the following morning by the scenes of the newly elected Pope praying in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.  

This Basilica was built in honor of Mary, Mother of God, which is the first and most important title of Our Lady. It is a living witness to that great moment in the history of the ancient Church, the Council of Ephesus, in which the divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary was authoritatively defined. This Church is the first Marian shrine in Rome and in the entire West, in which the image of the Mother of God “Theotokos” (God bearer) is venerated under the title of Salus Populi Romani.

From his very first meeting with his brother cardinals in the Clementine Hall on March 15th, Pope Francis stressed his link with Mary and the role he ascribes to Jesus’ Mother. He said: “I entrust my ministry and your ministry to the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church. Under Her maternal gaze may each one of you walk happy and docile on your path, listening to the voice of Her divine Son, strengthening your unity, persevering in your common prayer and bearing witness to the true faith in the constant presence of the Lord.”

Francis has visited the Roman basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on the eve of every one of his foreign visits, and upon returning to Rome, goes from the airport to the basilica to pray in gratitude for graces and blessings received on the journeys. On the eve of his departure for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day 2013, Pope Francis visited once again the Basilica and entrusted World Youth Day 2013 to Mary’s care. During his unforgettable experience at World Youth Day 2013 in Brazil, he made a side-trip to the famous shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in central Brazil.

Pope Francis in imitation of the Blessed Mother!

Aparecida evokes first of all a major Marian shrine that was the venue of a very important meeting of bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean region back in 2007. During that important continental gathering, in which then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio played a decisive role, bishops were confronted on a daily basis with the traditional piety of Latin America that finds rich, beautiful expressions manifested toward the Mother of the Lord. The Mother of the Lord brings together past, present and future and offers countless opportunities of creativity and fidelity to the millions of people who flock to this shrine.

In a very moving homily in Aparcida during the 2013 Brazilian World Youth Day, he spoke these words about Mary:

“When the Church looks for Jesus, she always knocks at his Mother’s door and asks: “Show us Jesus.” It is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship. That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary. …Today, looking forward to the World Youth Day which has brought me to Brazil, I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary – who loved and raised Jesus – that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal. For this reason I would like to speak of three simple attitudes: hopefulness, openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy.

…Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy.”

During his recent “tour de force” in Latin America, Pope Francis’ first homily in Quito, Ecuador on July 7, 2015 in the Parco Bicentenario offered another opportunity to speak about Mary, Mother of the Lord:

“Mary is attentive, she is attentive in the course of this wedding feast, she is concerned for the needs of the newly-weds. She is not closed in on herself, worried only about her little world. Her love makes her ‘outgoing’ towards others. She does not seek her friends to say what is happening, to criticize the poor organization of the wedding feast. And since she is attentive, she discretely notices that the wine has run out. Wine is a sign of happiness, love and plenty. How many of our adolescents and young people sense that these is no longer any of that wine to be found in their homes? How many women, sad and lonely, wonder when love left, when it slipped away from their lives? How many elderly people feel left out of family celebrations, cast aside and longing each day for a little love, from their sons and daughters, their grandchildren, their great grandchildren? This lack of this ‘wine’ can also be due to unemployment, illness and difficult situations which our families around the world may experience. Mary is not a ‘demanding’ mother, nor a mother-in-law who revels in our lack of experience, our mistakes and the things we forget to do. Mary, quite simply, is a Mother!”

On July 9 as he bade farewell to the clergy of Ecuador in the Marian shrine of El Quinche, the Bishop of Rome said:

“…Something else that Our Lady’s Presentation makes me think of is perseverance. In the evocative iconography associated with this feast, the Child Mary is shown moving away from her parents as she climbs the steps of the Temple. Mary does not look back and, in a clear reference to the evangelical admonition, she moves forward with determination. We, like the disciples in the Gospel, also need to move forward as we bring to all peoples and places the Good News of Jesus. Perseverance in mission is not about going from house to house, looking for a place where we will be more comfortably welcomed.”

On Saturday July 11 at the Marian shrine of Caacupé, Paraguay, Francis again gave a deeply human, moving reflection about Mary:

 “Being here with you makes me feel at home, at the feet of our Mother, the Virgin of Miracles of Caacupé.  In every shrine we, her children, encounter our Mother and are reminded that we are brothers and sisters.  Shrines are places of festival, of encounter, of family.  We come to present our needs. We come to give thanks, to ask forgiveness and to begin again.   How many baptisms, priestly and religious vocations, engagements and marriages, have been born at the feet of our Mother!   How many tearful farewells!  We come bringing our lives, because here we are at home and it is wonderful to know there is someone waiting for us.

  1.  The birth of Jesus.  There was no room for them.  They had no house, no dwelling to receive her Son.  There was no place where she could give birth.  They had no family close by; they were alone.  The only place available was a stall of animals.  Surely she remembered the words of the angel: “Rejoice, Mary, the Lord is with you”.   She might well have asked herself: “Where is he now?”. 
  1. The flight to Egypt.  They had to leave, to go into exile.  Not only was there no room for them, no family nearby, but their lives were also in danger.  They had to depart and go to a foreign land.  They were migrants, on account of the envy and greed of the King.  There too she might well have asked: “What happened to all those things promised by the angel?
  1.  Jesus’ death on the cross.  There can be no more difficult experience for a mother than to witness the death of her child.  It is heartrending.  We see Mary there, at the foot of the cross, like every mother, strong, faithful, staying with her child even to his death, death on the cross.    Then she encourages and supports the disciples.

We look at her life, and we feel understood, we feel heard.  We can sit down to pray with her and use a common language in the face of the countless situations we encounter each day.  We can identify with many situations in her own life.  We can tell her what is happening in our lives, because she understands.”

In one of the touching moments of the visit to Asunción, Paraguay on July 12, 2015, Francis visited Bañado Norte di Asunción, an area where many poor people live and where the Church and the State provide various projects of social assistance.  He reflected on the plight of the Holy Family in the time of Jesus and the plight of poor families today:

“I have looked forward to being with you today. I could not come to Paraguay without spending some time with you, here on your land. We are meeting in this Parish named after the Holy Family, and I confess that as I arrived, everything reminded me of the Holy Family. To see your faces, your children, your elderly, and to hear about your experiences and everything you went through to be here, to have a dignified life and a roof over your heads, to endure the bad weather and the flooding of these last few weeks…

All this makes me think of the little family of Bethlehem. Your struggles have not taken away your laughter, your joy and your hope. Struggles which have not lessened your sense of solidarity but if anything, have made it grow.

I would like to think for a moment about Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. They were forced to leave home, families and friends. They had to leave all that they had and to go somewhere else, to a place where they knew no one, a place where they had no house or family. That was when that young couple had Jesus. That was how they gave us Jesus. They were alone, in a strange land, just the three of them. Then, all of a sudden, shepherds began to arrive. People just like them who had to leave their homes to find better opportunities for their families. Their lives were affected by harsh weather but by other kinds of hardship too.”

05 Mary Undoer of Knots

Mary, Undoer of Knots

Finally, Pope Francis has introduced the world to the little known Marian devotion to “Mary, Undoer of Knots.” He has a very special devotion to Mary under a title that goes all the way back to the second century. When young Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio was completing his graduate studies in Germany, he was captivated by a Bavarian painting of “Holy Mary, Our Lady Undoer of Knots” that he saw in a Church in Augsburg. In the painting the Virgin is shown in the act of untying a knot on a long white ribbon while crushing the serpent, which stands for evil. Bergoglio obtained a copy of the painting and brought it back with him to Argentina where he helped spread the devotion among his people. While this devotion is relatively unknown in our part of the world, it is known and loved in Argentina. While this devotion originated from a painting executed by the German artist Johann Georg Schidtner around 1700, located in St. Peter am Perlach Church in Augsburg, Germany.

The second-century devotion comes from an historic period less than one hundred years after the death of the Apostles. St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote: “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” The understanding of Mary’s universal mediation and her subordinate role to Christ in human salvation is beautifully summed up in this saying of Saint Irenaeus. The fact that it goes back to the second century reveals that this is not a medieval accretion. It’s a doctrine going back to the Apostolic period. From the earliest Church, the faithful commit themselves to Mary’s intercession when confronted with a difficult situation in their lives.

Prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots

Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love,

Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need,

Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children

because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy

that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes

upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. ?

You know very well how desperate I am, my pain,

and how I am bound by these knots. ?

Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted

the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children,

I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. ?

No one, not even the Evil One himself,

can take it away from your precious care.

In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. ?

Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power

with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus,

take into your hands today this knot.