Today is the feast of Notre Dame de Lourdes and we are aware of not only her Immaculate Conception, but also the fact that Our Lady has worked many healings at Lourdes. It was between February 11 and July 16, 1858, that Mary appeared 18 times to Bernadette Soubirous in a cave near her hometown of Lourdes, France. Now this place has become one of pilgrimage and a place to bring the sick, the disabled, and those who have incurable diseases to the grotto’s spring. It has been and is the place for many cures there in the waters.
I had the immense blessing to travel to Lourdes in the summer of 2017. That experience has left in the grotto of my heart a profound joy and love for Our Lady. Here I would like to share this beautiful poem by Paul Claudel that encompasses all what I feel for this beautiful Lady and Mother of all. Totus Tuus, Maria!
“The first spiritual relationship with The Blessed Virgin is simply a glance: I come solely to gaze on you.
What sustains that glance is not an articulated prayer but the song of the heart, which is given voice by love for Mary.
Praise precedes petition—indeed the latter cannot do without the former.
Is this not the case when people truly love one another?”
I Come, O Mother, To Gaze On You
It is noon.
I see the church open, and I must enter.
Mother of Jesus Christ,
I do not come to pray.
I have nothing to offer and nothing to request.
I come solely to gaze on you, O Mother.
To gaze on you, weep for joy, and know this:
That I am your child and you are there.
I come only for a moment while everything is at a standstill,
Just to be with you, O Mary, in this place where you are.
Not to say anything but to gaze at your countenance,
and let the heart sing in its own language;
not to say anything but solely to sing
because my heart is overflowing.
For you are beautiful, because you are immaculate,
the woman fully restored in Grace, the creature in its first honor and its final bloom,
as it issued from God on the morn of its original splendor.
You are ineffably intact, because you are the Mother of Jesus Christ,
Who is the Truth in your arms, and the only hope and the sole fruit.
~ By Paul Claudel
The oxen and the mules who silently witness the birth of the child in Bethlehem may be wiser than we, who like to talk the divine to pieces. Before the miracle of Christmas, only silence is appropriate. Even if some words are said, they do explain that which cannot be explained; they can only attempt to convey that the mystery of Christmas is totally unfathomable.
The shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem experience something wonderful when the angels appear in shining glory, proclaiming what has happened. For a moment, all of heaven comes near to earth. But angels soon leave, and the night becomes cold and dark once again.
Yet something definitive has changed in the hearts of the shepherds. They leave heaven behind them in order to seek out the sign promised by the angels. There is nothing exceptional about the child they find, and the glory of the Lord which they saw in the field is hidden here in the shoddy stable and manger in which the child lies. It is all so ordinary.
There have been many wonders and miracles in the history of Christianity. But when the incredible happens—when God becomes human—it takes place in the utmost simplicity, without a stir. No special wonders are needed. The incarnation of God is itself the great wonder. A miracle so great and astounding that not even eternity is enough to understand it. But to God it is so self-evident and natural that he has no need to make anything of it.
~ A Christmas meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.
Christ—the Word—is eternally begotten of the Father. “The Lord said to my Lord: You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.” (Entrance antiphon for Christmas, Mass at Midnight). It happens outside of time, in the mystery of eternity. In this birth, God reveals his own blessedness. Continuously, he goes outside of himself, and he does this so completely that, in and through this, he gives birth to a Son who is just like him, just as great, just as divine as he is. The Son is like the Father in everything, except in that he is the one who receives everything and the Father the one who gives everything. He is God in the manner of the Son, and the Father is God in the manner of the Father. God is not a monologue; God is dialogue. And the harmony between Father and the Son is so complete, so full of life, that it forms a Third in the communion. The Spirit is the spark of love that always jumps from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father. That God has revealed himself to you, this is the great Christmas gift to you. This gift also contains an order of trust. You must bear witness to the true love that has become visible on earth, when the Son who is eternally begotten of the Father is born in time as well.
The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is the birth given most attention at Christmas. But if you don’t see this birth in connection with the eternal birth of the Word from the Father, then you miss what is essential. Then all that is left is a little romantic mood-making: a sweet child who for a few moments may touch your heart, but who is really not allowed to seize your heart. God’s Incarnation is the greatest mystery in Christianity, the most incomprehensible and unfathomable. How can the great God make himself so little? How can this vulnerable, crying baby be “my Lord and my God”? It is precisely this mystery that is the great stumbling block for non-Christians. But if you believe this, you have the solution to all the riddles and difficulties in the world. Then you can no longer doubt that God loves his creation. That the Almighty God has become a little child, for our sake, is a definitive proof of the definitive victory of his love. To doubt that you are loved by God is only possible if you forget the manger.
~ A Christmas medidation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.
When John writes about the wedding in Cana, he very briefly points out that “the mother of Jesus was there” (Jn 2:1). Where Jesus is, there is Mary as well. She is always there. When Jesus dies, Mary is still there. She is under the cross. Why is Mary always there? Not directly to help Jesus, but to help us.
“Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the waiters in Cana and to all of us. She exhorts us to listen to her Son and to do what he asks. She not only says it: She is, in all of her life, a model of listening and obedience.
The fact that Mary wholeheartedly followed God’s will made it possible for him to save humankind. In and through Mary, the whole creation says “yes” to God and receives his gift. Through Mary, God’s request receives a perfect answer. Without her “yes,” the dialogue between God and humankind wouldn’t have progressed.
At the same time as her “yes” gives God opportunity to save you, it also gives you occasion to follow her. She teaches you to say the same “yes” to God as she did, so that the salvation of the world can be your personal salvation as well.
~ A meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D
Wishing you all a very blessed feast day of The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary!
The Lord is coming; I place myself in His presence and go to meet Him with all the energy of my will…
“The Name of the Lord cometh from afar…I look from afar, and behold I see the power of God coming…Go out to meet Him, and say, ‘Tell us if You are He who shall rule…'” These words are taken from today’s liturgy, and in reply, it invites us, “Come, let us adore the King, the Lord who is coming!…”
This coming was expected for long ages; it was foretold by the prophets, and desired by all the just who were not granted to see its dawn. The Church commemorates and renews this expectation with each recurring Advent, expressing this longing to the Savior who is to come. The desire of old was sustained solely by hope, but it is now a confident desire, founded on the consoling reality, renewed in ever deeper and fuller reality in every Christian soul. The spirit of the Advent liturgy, commemorating the age-long expectation of the Redeemer, will prepare us to celebrate the mystery of the Word made Flesh by arousing in each one of us and intimate, personal expectation of the renewed coming of Christ to our soul. This coming is accomplished by grace; to the degree in which grace develops and matures in us, it becomes more copious, more penetrating, until it transforms the soul into an alter Christus. Advent is a season of waiting and of fervent longing for the Redeemer: “Drop down dew, ye heavens, and let the clouds rain the Just One!”
O sweetest Jesus, You come to me with Your infinite love and the abundance of Your grace; You desire to engulf my soul in torrents of mercy and charity in order to draw it to You. Come, O Lord, come! I, too, wish to run to You with love, but alas! my love is so limited, weak, and imperfect! Make it strong and generous; enable me to overcome myself, so that I can give myself entirely to You, Yes, my love can become strong because “its foundation is the intimate certainty that it will be repaid by the love of God. O Lord, I cannot doubt Your tenderness, because You have given me proofs of it in so many ways, with the sole purpose of convincing me of it. Therefore, trusting in Your love, my weak love will become strong with Your strength. What a consolation it will be, O Lord, at the moment of death to think that we shall be judged by Him whom we have loved above all things! Then we can enter Your presence with confidence, despite the weight of our offenses!” O Lord, give me love like this! I desire it ardently… My poor soul needs You so much! It sighs for You as for a compassionate physician, who alone can heal its wounds, draw it out of its languor and tepidity, and infuse into it new vigor, new enthusiasm, new life. Come Lord, come! I am ready to welcome Your work with a docile, humble heart, ready to let myself be healed, purified, and strengthened by You. Yes, with Your help, I will make any sacrifice, renounce everything that might hinder Your redeeming work in me. Show Your power, O Lord, and come!
Come, delay no longer!
~ An Advent Meditation by Father Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.
A Reflection by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F. Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
Solemnity of All Saints’ Day is November 1st
The lives of the saints show the world “the divine in the human, the eternal in time”
1. “All it takes to make a man a saint is Grace. Anyone who doubts this knows neither what makes a saint nor a man”, Pascal observes in Pensées with his characteristic trenchant style. I start with this observation to point out the dual perspective of these reflections: in the saint the celebration of God (indeed, of his Grace) combines with the celebration of man, with his potential and his limitations, his aspirations and his achievements.
The many objections today to the concepts of “holiness” and “saint” are well known. Much criticism is also levelled at the Church for her traditional and uninterrupted practice of recognizing and proclaiming some of her most outstanding children as “saints”. Some have insinuated that the special importance John Paul II has given to beatifications and canonizations and the great number of them during his pontificate might mask an expansionist policy of the Catholic Church. Others consider that the proposal of new blesseds and saints from such different backgrounds, nationalities and cultures is merely a ploy to market holiness, to assure the leadership of the papacy in contemporary society. Lastly, some see canonizations and the devotion to saints as an anachronism left over from religious triumphalism, foreign or even contrary to the spirit and dictates of the Second Vatican Council, which placed so great an emphasis on the vocation to holiness of all Christians.
It is obvious that an exclusively sociological interpretation of this subject would risk not only being reductive but also misleading for an understanding of the phenomenon, which is so much a feature of the Catholic Church.
Holiness, a living reflection of the face of Christ
2. In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte which the Pope presented to the Church at the end of Jubilee Year 2000, he places profound emphasis on the topic of holiness. Among the “great host of saints and martyrs” which includes “Popes well-known to history or to humble lay and religious figures, from one continent to another of the globe”, “Holiness”, John Paul II notes in his Letter, “has emerged more clearly as the dimension which expresses best the mystery of the Church. Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of the face of Christ” (n. 7).
To understand the Church, we need to be acquainted with the saints who are her most eloquent sign, her sweetest fruit. To contemplate the face of Christ in the changing, diversified situations of the modern world we must look at the saints who are “the living reflection of the face of Christ”, as the Pope reminds us. The Church must proclaim the saints and she must do so in the name of that proclamation of holiness that fills her and makes her, precisely, a means of sanctification in the world.
“God shows to men, in a vivid way, his presence and his face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ (cf. II Cor 3: 18). He speaks to us in them, and offers us a sign of his kingdom, to which we are powerfully attracted, so great a cloud of witnesses is there given (cf. Heb 12: 1) and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel” (Lumen Gentium, n. 50). In this passage from Lumen Gentium we discover the profound reason for the devotion to blesseds and saints.
Saints show that Life in Christ is possible for all
3. The Church carries out the mission the divine Teacher entrusted to her to be an instrument of holiness through evangelization, the sacraments and the practice of charity. This mission also receives a substantial contribution to its content and spiritual incentives from the proclamation of the blesseds and saints, for they show that holiness is accessible to the multitudes, that holiness can be imitated. Their personal and historical reality allows people to experience that the Gospel and new life in Christ are neither a utopia nor a mere system of values, but “leaven” and “salt” that can bring to life the Christian faith, within and from within the different cultures, geographical areas and historical epochs.
“The future of human beings” the late Cardinal Giuseppe Siri remarked, “is never clear, for all their sins corrode all the paths of history and lead to an intricate dialectic of cause and effect, error and nemesis, explosions and interruptions. The certainty that the saints will continue to accompany people is one of the few guarantees of the future” (Il Primato della Verità, 154).
Holiness knows no bounds and is alive and well in the Church
4. The phenomenon of the saints and of Christian holiness gives rise to a sense of wonder that has always existed in the Church and cannot but amaze even an attentive lay observer, especially today in a world continuously and rapidly changing, culturally fragmented in values as well as in customs. From wonder is born the question: what makes faith incarnate in all the latitudes, in the different historical contexts, in the most varied categories and walks of life? How, without the dynamics of power, enforced or persuasive, can there be so many saints, so different yet so consonant with Christ and with the Church? What is it that impels people freely to accept the fertile seed of Christianity that subsequently develops into such diversity and beauty in the unity of holiness? What a difference there is between globalization, such a buzzword today, and the catholicity or universality of the Christian faith and of the Church which lives, preserves and spreads that faith!
The international scope of Catholicism, not sought for power but for service and salvation, is confirmed by the saints, men and women who come from the most varied historical backgrounds.
This international dimension confirms that holiness knows no bounds and that in the Church it is far from dead; indeed, it continues to be vitally up to date. The world is changing, yet the saints, while changing with the changing world, always represent the same living face of Christ. Isn’t this an unmistakeable clue to the unique vitality, half cultural and half historical – “supernatural” is the right word for us Catholics – of the proclamation and of Christian Grace?
John Paul II has beatified 1,299 persons and canonized 464
5. In the context of these thoughts, a comment on how the Catholic Church recognizes and proclaims blesseds and saints will be of interest. I am referring specifically to the work of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, called to study and to recognize holiness and holy persons through a meticulous and prudent procedure, reinforced, renewed and renewable in time.
Saints and holiness are recognized in an upward movement from the bottom to the top. Still today, it is Christians themselves who, recognizing the “odour of holiness” by an intuition of faith, point out candidates for canonization to their Bishop – who is responsible for taking the first step in the process of canonization – and, subsequently, to the competent dicastery of the Holy See. Neither the Congregation for the Causes of Saints nor the Pope “invent” or “fabricate” saints. The Holy Spirit has already singled them out, as all believers know well. This same Spirit – as the Gospel says – “breathes wherever he wills”, an observation to which we have grown accustomed down through the centuries, especially today, since the Church has spread in every part of the world and to every social class.
This said, it should be recognized that Pope John Paul II has made the proclamation of new blesseds and saints an authentic and constant means of evangelization and teaching. He has wished to accompany the preaching of truth and of the Gospel values with the presentation of saints who lived those truths and values in an exemplary way. In the course of his pontificate, from 1978 until today, John Paul II has beatified 1,299 persons, 1,029 of whom were martyrs, while he has canonized 464, of whom 401 were martyrs. The numbers of lay people he has raised to the honour of the altars are far more numerous than one would think: in fact, 268 blesseds and 246 saints, 514 lay persons in all.
Some people consider this to be many, for others, it is few.
With regard to the number of saints, John Paul II does not ignore the opinion of those who think these are too many. Indeed, the Pope mentions this explicitly. This is his response: “It is sometimes said that there are too many beatifications today. However, in addition to reflecting reality, which by God’s grace is what it is, it also responds to the desire expressed by the Council. The Gospel is so widespread in the world and its message has sunk such deep roots that the great number of beatifications vividly reflects the action of the Holy Spirit and the vitality flowing from Him in the Church’s most essential sphere, that of holiness. Indeed, it was the Council that put particular emphasis on the universal call to holiness” (Opening Address to the Extraordinary Consistory in Preparation for Jubilee Year 2000, 13-14 June 1994; ORE, 22 June 1994, p. 8, n. 10).
In Tertio Millennio Adveniente, John Paul II wrote: “In recent years the number of canonizations and beatifications has increased. These show the vitality of the local Churches, which are much more numerous today than in the first centuries and in the first millennium. The greatest homage which all the Churches can give to Christ on the threshold of the third millennium will be to manifest the Redeemer’s all-powerful presence through the fruits of faith, hope and charity, present in men and women of many different tongues and races who have followed Christ in the various forms of the Christian vocation” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, n. 37).
In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, the Pope also notes: “The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay peole who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 31).
Of course, all these beatifications and canonizations are also a sign of the capacity for inculturation in the life of the Christian faith and of the Church.
Historical truth sparks wider interest in the lives of saints
6. I would like, lastly, to reflect on the cultural contribution made by the saints, by the devotions to them, and by the fervent and serious examination that precedes and accompanies their canonization.
The Second Vatican Council asked that a “careful investigation – theological, historical, and pastoral” – should always be made concerning the proposal of the devotion to saints (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 23). This instruction found the Congregation for the Causes of Saints already prepared, and today it has been fully tested.
The concern for historical truth was always a feature of the work of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Already a “Decree” of Pius X of 26 August 1913, later set forth in the Code of Canon law of 1917, required the collection and examination of all the historical documents concerning the causes. But the fundamental innovation was contributed by the Motu Proprio “Già da Qualche Tempo” (“Already for Some Time”) of 6 February 1930, with which Pius XI established the “Historical Section” for the Congregation of Rites, with the role of making an effective contribution to the treatment of “historical” causes, that is, those without contemporary testimonies of the facts in question. The service rendered later by the “Historical Section”, known from 1969 as the “Historical-Hagiographical Office”, was extended to all the causes, even “recent” ones, increasing historical-critical sensitivity at all levels and in all the stages of the process. Lastly, the Apostolic Constitution “Divinus Perfectionis Magister” of 25 January 1983, followed by “Normae Servandae” of 7 February 1983, definitively sanctioned the specific contribution of method and historical quality in the treatment of the causes of saints.
The historical truth, so diligently sought for theological and pastoral motives, was also helpful in the cultural presentation of the saints. The new blesseds and saints “have come out into the limelight” to be examined and presented also as historically significant personages, a very integral part of the life of their Church, their society and their time. Interest in them is therefore no longer restricted to the Church and believers, but now extends to all who are interested in history, culture, civil life, politics, pedagogy, etc. In this way, the mission of these extraordinary people of God continues in a different yet effective way for the good of the whole of society. It is significant in this regard that it is no longer only “authorized ecclesiastics” who consult the archives of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, but also lay scholars who do research there for their doctoral theses, for historical, pedagogical, sociological studies, etc., because they find a wealth of historically reliable material.
‘The divine in the human, the eternal in time’
7. Therefore holiness, with its own special quality, also affects culture. The saints have made it possible to create new cultural models, new responses to the problems and great challenges of peoples, new developments for humanity on its way through history. On various occasions the Holy Father has stressed that the heritage of the saints “must not be lost; we should always be thankful for it and we should renew our resolve to imitate it” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 7).
The saints are like beacons; they show men and women the possibilities open to human beings. They are therefore also culturally interesting, independently of the cultural, religious or investigatory approach to them. A great 19th-century French philosopher, Henri Bergson, observed that “the greatest historical figures are not the conquerors but the saints”. Whereas Jean Delumeau, a historian specializing in 16th-century Catholicism, invited his readers to note that the great revivals of Christian history were marked by a return to the sources, that is, to the holiness of the Gospel, brought about by the saints and by movements of holiness in the Church.
In recent times, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger quite correctly asserted that: “It is not the sporadic majorities which form in the Church here and there that determine the path she and we will take. The saints are the true, crucial majority, and it is from them that we take our bearings. Let us stick to them! They express the divine in the human, the eternal in time”.
In the Church everything is at the service of holiness
8. In a changing world, not only are the saints not historically or culturally displaced, but – I think I must conclude – they are becoming an even more interesting and reliable subject. In an age of the collapse of collective utopias, in an age of indifference and the lack of appetite for all that is theoretical and ideological, new attention is being paid to the saints, unique figures in whom is found not a theory nor even merely a moral, but a plan of life to be recounted, to be discovered through study, to be loved with devotion, to be put into practice with imitation.
We cannot but be delighted at the revival of attention to the saints, because the saints belong to everyone; they are a heritage of humanity that has outdone itself in a development which, while honouring man, also gives glory to God, because “the glory of God is man alive” (St Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, IV, 20: 7).
I would like to interpret everything reflected on here in the light of a truly engaging message of the Holy Father John Paul II. In my opinion, this message can give those who are reflecting on the subject at least an idea of the Supreme Pontiff’s vision of holiness, inseparably linked to the baptismal dignity of every Christian. Thus, it can also explain better the role of the beatifications and canonizations in the pastoral journey of the Church during the 25 years of Karol Wojtyła’s pontificate. It is the Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in 2002: “The main task of the Church is to lead Christians along the path of holiness…. The Church is the “home of holiness’, and the charity of Christ, poured out by the Holy Spirit, is her soul” (Message for the 39th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 21 April 2002, nn. 1 and 2; ORE, 5 December 2001, p. 3).
In the Church, therefore, everything and particularly every vocation, is at the service of holiness! It is undoubtedly in this sense that when we look at the Church we must never forget to see in her the face of the “mother of saints”, who brings forth a fruitful and magnanimous superabundance of holiness.
~ Taken from:
L’Osservatore Romano (newspaper of the Holy See)
Weekly Edition in English
16 April 2003
I walk in a cloud of angels. God has a throne in the secret of my soul. I move, encircled by light, blinded by glowing faces, lost and bewildered in the motion of wings, stricken by music too sublime to bear. Splendor is everywhere. God is always enthroned on the cherubim, circled by seraphim. Holy, holy, holy, wave upon wave of endless adoration. I walk in a cloud of angels that worship Him. I walk in a cloud of angels…
~ By Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers) O.C.D. (1905-1988)