Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?

Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."

To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."

As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."

Our Lady of Lourdes: The Eleventh Apparition

Posted by Jacob

On Sunday, February 28, 1858, Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at the grotto in Lourdes for the eleventh time. Beginning on February 11, The Blessed Virgin had been appearing to Bernadette Soubirous, each time bringing a message of prayer, penance, poverty, and participation. Through these posts, we continue our journey with Saint Bernadette as we encounter Our Blessed Mother through her eyes, memories, and words. During the previous nine visitations (February 11, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, and 27) the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Lourdes, communicated the message of Lourdes to all mankind, through Saint Bernadette. She implored us, saying, “Penance, Penance, Penance. Pray to God for sinners.” Our Blessed Mother further invited Bernadette to drink and bathe in the muddy water of the grotto, after which a clear flowing spring came forth where none had existed before. Our Lady of Lourdes commanded, “Go drink in the spring and wash yourself there,” something that faithful pilgrims continue to do each day. (For personal reflections on my experience at Lourdes, see here and here).

During the tenth visitation, the Blessed Mother appeared again to Bernadette, but remained quiet. Bernadette was relieved, as Our Lady of Lourdes had not appeared the day before, and she had been afraid that somehow she had offended the beautiful lady. While Bernadette had been graced with a visitation, aquero had remained silent, smiled at Bernadette’s acts of penance, and prayed the Rosary with her.

During the eleventh visitation, Our Blessed Mother repeated her instructions to pray for sinners, and to offer acts of penance to God for their salvation. As typical, Bernadette carried a lighted blessed candle with her, knelt in prayer before a crowd nearing 1,000 curious onlookers, and repeated her seemingly bizarre (to those observing) acts of penance. The spring, which had only appeared days before, continued to flow strong and pure and clear.

Our Blessed Mother would appear to Bernadette seven more times at the grotto at Massabielle, each time more and more people accompanying Bernadette, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful lady she referred to. Given the crowds, the local priests and religious would soon be forced to get involved, whereas previously they had observed hoping to have the apparitions discredited. Our Lady would also soon make a request of the community, one which would ensure continued devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes, and continued propagation of the message of Lourdes.

Saint Bernadette, you always enjoyed serving others.
In February 1858, the Blessed Virgin appeared to you when you were gathering wood.
Among your sisters, you have learned to treat the sick and those in need.
Later, in Nevers, you were an excellent nurse, offering an attentive and intelligent charity.

Saint Bernadette, Like Mary, who saw the family’s needs in Cana, inspire in me the same generosity and the same faith that you see in Christ.

Lord, you have given us brothers and sisters to love. We pray that our eyes, our hands, and our hearts are open to all those that you put in our way. Amen.

The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration of Jesus

Posted by Jacob

28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.)

34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)

Today we hear in the Gospel of Luke his depiction of the Transfiguration of Jesus, Our Lord. The Transfiguration is the fourth Luminous Mystery, or Mystery of Light (See also the Miracle at the Wedding in Cana, The Baptism of Jesus, and the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God). Explaining the Transfiguration, Pope John Paul II wrote, "The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to 'listen to him' (cf. Luke 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit.”

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, during the Fourth Luminous Mystery, “For a moment, Jesus discloses His divine glory, confirming Peter's confession. He also reveals that He will have to go by the way of the cross at Jerusalem in order to 'enter into His glory'. (Luke 24:26)" As Luke recounts, God the Father commanded, "Listen to him." The disciple John, called the beloved disciple for his faithfulness to Jesus, was the only disciple who did not abandon Jesus on His way to the Cross at Calvary. As we consider this fact, it is interesting to not that he was only able to accomplish this faithfulness while holding the arm of Mary, the Mother of God. In thinking of John, we realize that we can suffer tremendous pain in this life with bravery, by embracing our Holy Mother and praying her Rosary.

The word "transfigured" is an interesting word. It is defined as “to transform, literally or figuratively to metamorphose, or to change.” It means to change into another form. But it also means to change the outside to match the inside. In the case of Jesus Christ, the Transfiguration provides a glimpse of the glory of heaven, here in the reality of earth. The glory of God incarnate is revealed, and we literally see the majesty of heaven shining forth like a brilliant sun. In that moment, the light of Christ overcomes that of Moses and Elijah—two figured highly revered by the Jews. We can imagine from Peter’s response that he was ecstatic. His master had reached the same level as Moses and Elijah. Despite only days before having proclaimed Jesus the “Christ of God,” Peter equates Him to Moses and Elijah, and in doing so loses sight of his true Godliness. Rather than place Jesus in the Holy Trinity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, Peter suggests that tents be erected, in homage to a more earthly trinity present in the minds’ of the Jews. He is quickly corrected by the proclamation from Our Father in Heaven: “This is my Son, who I have chosen. Listen to Him.” The cloud overtakes Moses and Elijah, and only Jesus remains, reminding us that while Moses represents the law of the Old Testament and Elias represents the prophets, Jesus is the consummation of the Old Testament. He is the new Law and the fulfillment of all the prophets.

St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote of the Transfiguration in terms of the connection between suffering and glory, between the Law and the Prophets, between the foreshadowing of the Old Testament and the prophesies fulfilled in the Jesus. He wrote in 444: "I say to you, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God." ... By the "kingdom of God" He means the sight of the glory in which He will appear at His revelation to the inhabitants of earth. He will come in the glory of God the Father and not in a humble condition like ours. How did He make those who received the promise spectators of a thing so wonderful? He goes up into the mountain taking three chosen disciples with Him. He is transformed to such a surpassing and godlike brightness that His garments even glittered with rays of fire and seemed to flash like lightning. Besides, Moses and Elijah stood at Jesus’ side and spoke with one another about His departure that He was about, it says, to accomplish at Jerusalem. This meant the mystery of the dispensation in the flesh and of His precious suffering upon the Cross. It is also true that the law of Moses and the word of the holy prophets foreshadowed the mystery of Christ. The law of Moses foreshadowed it by types and shadows, painting it as in a picture. The holy prophets in different ways declared beforehand that in due time He would appear in our likeness and for the salvation and life of us all, agree to suffer death on the tree. Moses and Elijah standing before Him and talking with one another was a sort of representation. It excellently displayed our Lord Jesus Christ as having the law and the prophets for His bodyguard. It displayed Christ as being the Lord of the Law and the Prophets, as foretold in them by those things that they proclaimed in mutual agreement beforehand. The words of the prophets are not different from the teachings of the law.”

For Jesus, we can only imagine what He prayed about on the mountain prior to the Transfiguration. Given the pain and Passion that lied in store for Him, we can guess that He was contemplating His earthly sacrifice and death. The Transfiguration was a message from above, preparing the disciples for the pain and suffering that was growing near. As Jesus descends from the mountain, He sets His sights firmly and resolutely on Jerusalem, on His death, on our redemption.

The Transfiguration makes us stop and think for a moment. Jesus revealed His sanctity to the disciples present, and then walked graciously to His death for us. But what of our own transfiguration? How has the sacrifice of Jesus changed us? We only need look to the Eucharist for our answer. For us, we are able to experience moments of profound Transfiguration in the Eucharist, when we receive Holy Communion. This experience of the Eucharist is more than a symbol, it is the physical manifestation of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. It is for us, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, “a pledge of future glory, containing in Itself all delight.” The celebration of the Eucharist is our transfiguration on earth to allowing us to endure the agony of our daily passion in preparation for the glorious joy of our Resurrection!

Dear Jesus,
Thou didst appear to Thy three disciples in all Thy glory.

I know that Thou art now in Heaven seated at the right hand of the Father in the same glorious state Thou revealed Thyself in on Mount Tabor.

I am truly thankful that Thou hast suffered, died and risen so as to conquer death so that I may be saved from the it's power.

I know that I will one day be risen with a glorified body when Thou come to judge the living and the dead.

I am sorry for the many times that I have offended Thee by not striving for holiness and by being lazy in my prayer life.

Please send me the graces I need to truly desire holiness and to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve it so that I may live my life always mindful that one day I will stand before Thee and be held accountable for all my action and lack thereof.

Day 59 of 365
Prayer Intentions: True transformation of our sinful lives into lives of Christ!
Requested Intentions: For the reconciliation of estranged spouses (A); Safety of travelers (J); Improved family relationship with the Lord, using gifts for His glory (L); For the orphans of Saint Francis Xavier in India (Fr. B); For the health of a family member with Rett’s Disorder (C); For a restorative, faith-deepening Lent for all those who are struggling (L).
Special Intentions (Day 18 of 45-day Novena to Our Blessed Lady of Lourdes): The intentions of all those who read this blog, whether submitted or retained in the quiet of their hearts; Penance, Penance, Penance for sinners; For all those who are suffering.

The Marian Creed of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

Posted by Jacob

Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was called to enter the Passionist Order by the Blessed Virgin Mary. From that day, he was greatly devoted to Our Holy Mother, and wrote the following Marian Creed in her honor. While most of his works were burned following his death, at his request (lest his pride lead him astray in heaven), this writing, along with a few others has survived.

(For more on Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, click here,)

I believe, O Mary, that you are the mother of all men.

I believe that you are our life and, after God, the sole refuge of sinners.

I believe that you are the strength of Christians, and their help, especially at the hour of death, that following thee, I shall not stray, that praying to thee, I shall not be abandoned, that standing with thee, I shall not fall.

I believe that you are ready to aid those who call upon thee, that you are the salvation of those who invoke thee, and that you are willing to do more good for us than we can desire; that even when not asked, you hasten to our assistance.

I believe that in your name is to be found a sweetness like to that experienced by Saint Bernard in the name of Jesus-----that it is joy to the heart, honey to the mouth and music to the ears and that, after the name of Jesus, there is no name through which the faithful receive so much grace, so much hope and so much consolation.

I believe that you are co-redemptrix with Christ for our salvation, that all the graces which God dispenses pass through your hands, and that no one will enter Heaven except through thee who are rightly called the "Gate of Heaven."

I believe that true devotion to thee is a most certain sign of eternal salvation.

I believe that you are superior to all the Saints and Angels, and that God alone surpasses thee.

I believe that God has given to thee in the highest possible degree, all the graces, special and general, with which He can favor His creatures.

I believe that your beauty and excellence surpass that of all Angels and men.

I believe that you alone did fulfill perfectly the precept: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God" and that the very seraphim of Heaven can learn from your heart how to love God.

I believe that if all the love which all mothers have for their children, all that all husbands and wives have for each other, all that all the Angels and Saints have for those who are devoted to them, were united in one, it would not equal the love that you have for even one soul.

February 27: Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

Posted by Jacob

Today, February 27, marks the feast day of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838-1862), the patron saint of young people, students, and young religious. Saint Gabriel’s short life is marked by piety, faith, and obedience to the Lord, and religious vocation at the behest of Our Blessed Mother. While the last six years of his life, spent as a brother in the Passionist Order, were marked by humility, self-denial, and simplicity, Gabriel’s early life was quite the opposite. His complete consecration of his life to the Lord, despite the temptations of the modern world which he so loved, make his sacrifice a vivid example of the Christian love and obedience we should strive for.

Born Francis Possenti, in Assisi, Italy in 1838, Saint Gabriel was the eleventh of thirteen children produced by the union of his parents. His father, a pious man with great political recognition in the area, and his mother, a well-connected religious woman from a respected family, were delighted in their son. He was baptized at the same font that his saintly namesake had been baptized nearly 600 years earlier.

From an early age, Francis demonstrated the potential for thoughtfulness and piety. He encouraged his teacher and siblings to pay more attention to the poor, oftentimes choosing to give some of his portions to those in need. Before he reached the age of four, his mother passed away from a serious illness, as did four of his siblings. Francis, the most sensitive of the family, was severely moved by these losses, increasing his empathy for others and his sensitivity to those in need.

As Francis matured, he developed insight into the fact that he was smart, charming, and attractive. He pursued hedonistic pleasures like art and theater, which he would later write to friends almost “cost him his soul.” He dressed to perfection, paying careful attention to his appearance. Francis excelled at school, and was generally the award-winner in all of his classes. He was chosen to give his commencement address upon graduation from the Jesuit College. Francis embraced the world, and to his classmates and friends, he appeared to have all the tools required for great success. He was the center of attention wherever he went, all the doors of the finest families and establishments open to him throughout the city. And while he was impulsive, prone to anger, and pridefully vain, he was poised to achieve great worldly things.

But Francis felt called in a different direction. Twice, Francis came down with serious illnesses while in school, illnesses he was not expected to recover from. During these times, he prayed to the Lord, promising to become a religious if his life was spared. While a student at the Jesuit College, he had asked permission to enter the Order, and was granted permission from his spiritual director. But Francis delayed entering the Order, finding reasons to wait. He maintained his faith, praying daily in the chapel and receiving the Eucharist, but could not commit to the religious life and give up his worldly enjoyments. As time went on, Francis began to doubt his choice of the Jesuit Order, instead feeling called to become a Passionist, the Order formed by Saint John of the Cross. His spiritual director encouraged him to wait and pray, and see where the Lord led him.

Following the cholera outbreak in 1856, the town rejoiced in thanks to the Blessed Mother, who interceded to save Spoleto. In veneration, a statue of Our Lady was carried throughout the streets. Francis observed the procession, more curious than devoted. As the statue was carried past him, he gazed into the face of the Blessed Virgin, and through the eyes of the statue, Mary pierced his heart with a gaze so strong it felt as a ‘dart of fire.” At the same time, he heard the words deep within in, “Why! thou art not made for the world! What art thou doing in the world? Hasten, become a religious!”

From that moment, Francis’ life changed. He entered the noviatiate of the Passionists, where he would live until his death. The Passionist Order is a strict order, and his family and friends urged him not to commit to such a life. Rather, they suggested he become a priest, or better yet, not become a religious and use his “talents” in the world. Francis was not to be disuaded. After his initial retreat, he was clothed in the robes of the Passionists, and gave up his name for a new name: Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.

His days were spent in prayer, chanting, study, and manual labor. The Passionist Order maintains a rule of silence, and speaking was forbidden without permission. Gabriel spent the majority of his time meditating on the Passion of Christ, and praying the Rosary to Our Lady of Sorrows. Despite the rules and strict lifestyle, Gabriel was filled with joy. “My life is a continuous delight; what I experience inside these sacred walls is almost inexpressible; the 24 hours of the day seem to me like 24 short instants; really my life is full of delight.” He looked at each sacrifice as a way in which to polish away his sinful life, his pride, his vanity, and devote his life to Jesus. He wrote, “I will attempt day by day to break my will into pieces. I want to do God’s Holy Will, not my own”

Saint Gabriel looked to the Blessed Mother as his comfort and refuge in times of suffering, of which he had plenty due to illness. He wrote of her to his brother, “Love Mary!… She is loveable, faithful, constant. She will never let herself be outdone in love, but will ever remain supreme. If you are in danger, she will hasten to free you. If you are troubled, she will console you. If you are sick, she will bring you relief. If you are in need, she will help you. She does not look to see what kind of person you have been. She simply comes to a heart that wants to love her. She comes quickly and opens her merciful heart to you, embraces you and consoles and serves you. She will even be at hand to accompany you on the trip to eternity.”

Within a few years of joining the Order, Gabriel was stricken with Consumption. He died a slow and painful death, over the course of two years, during which he maintained a cheerful and joyous disposition, so much so that his brothers in the Order wished to spend their days with him. In his dying moments, he asked for his picture of the Crucifixion, with the Blessed Virgin standing at the foot of the cross. It was well-worn from use. He devoutly kissed it, placed it upon him, folded his hands across it, and began to pray. With indescribable love he began to say aloud: “Oh, my Mother make haste, make haste!”

Many from the Order watched and prayed in his cell with him, as they knew his moment of death was close at hand. They were moved to tears by his devotion, and by the love with which he implored the comfort of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. By their records, Gabriel suddenly turned his eyes to the left and above him, gazing in rapture upon some heavenly vision. With a peaceful smile, he died, never letting go of his beloved picture. Not yest a priest when he died at age 24, Gabriel was buried at the Passionist retreat in Isola di Gran Sasso, Italy.

Since his death, numerous miracles have been reported via his intercession. For exmaple, Saint Gemma (1878-1903), a young woman with numerous ailments including deafness from meningitis, paralysis, abcesses, and curvature of the spine was miraculously cured after praying a novena to Saint Gabriel. In her own words, "I grew in admiration of his virtues and his ways. My devotion to him increased. At night I did not sleep without having his picture under my pillow, and after that I began to see him near me. I don’t know how to explain this, but I felt his presence. At all times and in every action Brother Gabriel came to mind.”

When she was approximately 20, and on her deathbed, Gemma began her novena to Saint Gabriel. While trying to sleep, she heard the rattling of a Rosary and he appeared to her, saying, “Do you wish to recover? Pray with faith every evening to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I will come to you until the Novena is ended, and will pray together to this Most Sacred Heart.” On the last night of the Novena, Gemma was miraculously cured of all her ailments, a scientific impossibility at the time. Saint Gemma went on to be visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary, and bore the stigmata throughout her prayerful life, committed to Jesus.

One of his brothers wrote of him: “In the garden within the monastery walls at Isola stands a large crucifix. A seed fell to the ground before it. A plant sprang up, and twined itself around the cross until it reached the feet of the figure nailed upon it. It then bent outward, as if to behold what was above. A bud formed, swelled, burst into bloom, and gazed in loving awe upon the figure of Christ Crucified. Lo! it was a true flower of the Passion! Its heart was pierced and stamped with the signs of Him Who hung upon the cross. The seed that fell at the foot of the crucifix was Francis Possenti. The plant that grew there from and flowered was Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, Passionist.”

While he was alive, Gabriel did not work miracles. For six years he lived a quiet, ordered life, devoted to the Blessed Mother, and content to sit in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Meditating on the Passion and Sacred Heart of Jesus was his comfort, as he worked to grow closer to God and leave behind his worldly desires. His conversion reminds us of the ties we have to the physical world, those things that we struggle to give up, those things that pull us away from God and His plan for our lives. What do we cling to instead of the cross? What do we put before our Lord in importance, turning our focus away from what should center us? What change is the Lord calling us to make this Lenten season?

Day 58 of 365
Prayer Intentions: Conversion; Turning away from sin; Placing the Lord at the center of our lives.
Requested Intentions: Safety of travelers (J); Improved family relationship with the Lord, using gifts for His glory (L); For the orphans of Saint Francis Xavier in India (Fr. B); For the health of a family member with Rett’s Disorder (C); For the restoration of hearing (L); For a restorative, faith-deepening Lent for all those who are struggling (L).
Special Intentions (Day 17 of 45-day Novena to Our Blessed Lady of Lourdes): The intentions of all those who read this blog, whether submitted or retained in the quiet of their hearts; Penance, Penance, Penance for sinners; For all those who are suffering.

Our Lady of Lourdes: The Tenth Apparition

Posted by Jacob

February 27 marks the anniversary of the tenth apparition of Our Blessed Mother to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at the grotto in Lourdes. Beginning on February 11, 1858, The Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous a total of 18 times bringing a message of prayer, penance, poverty, and participation. Through these posts, we continue our journey with Saint Bernadette as we encounter Our Blessed Mother through her eyes, memories, and words. During the previous nine visitations (February 11, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, and 25) the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Lourdes, communicated the message of Lourdes to all mankind, through Saint Bernadette. She implored us, saying, “Penance, Penance, Penance. Pray to God for sinners.” Our Blessed Mother further invited Bernadette to drink and bathe in the muddy water of the grotto, after which a clear flowing spring came forth where none had existed before. Our Lady of Lourdes commanded, “Go drink in the spring and wash yourself there,” something that faithful pilgrims continue to do each day on personal pilgrimages.

Following the ninth visitation of Mary on the 25th of February, Bernadette’s mother and aunts took her home, embarrassed by her antics—crawling on the ground like an animal, kissing the dirt for sinners, drinking muddy water and smearing it on her face. Saint Bernadette’s behavior had also raised the suspicion and ire of the local authorities. She was brought in for questioning by the imperial prosecutor, who again threatened her with jail if she refused to recant her story and stay away from the grotto at Massabielle. While Bernadette’s mother was clearly shaken by the encounter with the grand prosecutor, Bernadette remained calm and consistent, refusing both orders. Rather than jail the child, the prosecutor sent her home.

The following day, February 26, Bernadette returned to the grotto, but Our Blessed Mother did not appear. Being a Friday of Lent, Bernadatte repeated her acts of penance as instructed by the Blessed Virgin, praying the Rosary, kissing the ground in penance for sinners, and both drinking and washing in the spring. To Bernadette’s surprise, the spring was now perfectly clear and clean, and flowing abundantly like the triumph of grace over sin! Bernadette was troubled, however, as she feared that she had somehow offended the Blessed Mother, and that is why she hadn’t returned.

Nonetheless, Saint Bernadette came back to the grotto the following day, honoring her promise to aquero, and was graced by a visitation. Our Blessed Mother said nothing, but silently prayed with Bernadette, and smiled her gentle smile, encouraging Bernadette to continue her acts of penance. Upon completion of the Rosary, Our Blessed Lady of Lourdes disappeared, and Bernadette returned home filled with peace.

Our Blessed Mother would appear to Bernadette eight more times at the grotto at Massabielle, each time more and more people accompanying Bernadette, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful lady she referred to. Each time she appears, Our Lady encourages us to pray the Rosary, to hold up those prayers as penance for sinners, and to think of those who are suffering. Her choice of Saint Bernadette, an uneducated and poor girl, reminds us of our worth in the eyes of the Lord, and calls us each to make a difference in the world by remaining open to the message of Lourdes.

Lourdes: Personal Reflections: Rock

Posted by Jacob

A pilgrimage is a journey toward the Lord with a purpose. It is not a destination, but a process. It is not the visitation of a place, but a deep experience felt in the internal kingdom of God, the soul. It is not tourism, but purposeful exploration. Although, in my case, the purpose at the time was somewhat unclear. As I wrote before, I felt called to the grotto by the Blessed Mother, and I answered, somewhat unsure of what I would find. In many ways, the pilgrimage that started at Lourdes is still underway—a journey, with the ultimate destination being God, where all our journeys begin and end!

I have previously written about my experience with water at Lourdes—both bathing in the spring and drinking the water, as instructed by Our Blessed Mother. Here, I turn my attention to the grotto itself-- the rock, if you will.

At Lourdes, pilgrims are encouraged participate in three specific actions. First, we enter the grotto, and touch and venerate the rock. Second, pilgrims drink and bathe in the spring, as instructed by the Holy Mother. And finally, at evening processional, pilgrims carry a candle, praying together and singing the hymns of Lourdes. These three actions are human gestures, but for Christians, rock, water, and light are tied to Jesus Christ, for He is the Rock on which we build our lives, He gives the Water of Life, and He is the Light of the world. In this way, the Blessed Virgin, through her apparitions in Lourdes, invites us to perform these actions, which become a meeting with Jesus.

I arrived at Lourdes fairly late in the day. By the time I traveled from the airport to my hotel, it was nearing nightfall, and admittedly, I was tired. But given that I had only a short time in Lourdes, I decided to walk down the hill, through the bustling streets of gift shops and cafes, and visit the information booth at the gates of the Sanctuary. My intent was simply to find out when Masses were the following morning, and to “make a plan” to ensure that I was able to participate as fully as possible in the pilgrims’ journey.

Like I have written before, I was called to Lourdes by the Blessed Mother. And like Bernadette, as I approached the sanctuary, I started to feel an urge, an indescribable draw toward the grotto. It may sound strange, or even supernatural, but those are the best words I can use to describe it. Of course, in my stubborn humanity, this urge pulling me to the grotto didn’t really fit with my plan, and I resisted. Instead, I visited the information booth (as planned), and wandered a bit, getting the lay of the land, but avoiding the grotto. I was taken by the mosaics on the basilicas, the statues of saints, the countless pilgrims speaking a variety of languages, and the general respect and sanctity that permeated the sanctuary.

Somehow, in all of this, it got dark. And then the Marian Candlelight Processional—the very procession that began with Saint Bernadette at Our Blessed Mother’s urging, and continues to this day—began. And I found myself, with lighted blessed candle, surrounded by pilgrims, praying in various languages (but more on that in a future post!). And through all of this, I had yet to visit the grotto… because it wasn’t in my plan.

It wasn’t until the conclusion of the processional, and some quiet adoration of a mosaic of Our Lady of Lourdes, that I gave in to the draw, and found myself moving toward the grotto along the banks of the Gave. As I approached, passing by lit candles and pilgrims talking in hushed voices, I realized that it was nearly midnight, and I was no longer tired.

And then I was in the grotto. Despite the late hour, despite the pilgrims still kneeling in prayer before the candles, the rock, the spring, the statue of the Immaculate Conception, it was perfectly still. Peaceful.

And I was overcome. It was the closest thing to a supernatural experience I have ever encountered. Standing in the quiet of the grotto, I felt a wave of peace and acceptance wash over my body, a literal visceral reaction to the space, which caused my knees to buckle. I dropped to a kneeling position on the cold concrete (bruising my knees in the process, I should mention!), and gazed in adoration at the statue lit by the flicking of candles. I prayed the Rosary, alternately stopping just to sit in the presence of such peace and tranquility, such acceptance despite my sinfulness. And I cried, although for some time I wasn’t aware of the tears. When I did notice, of course, I was instantly back in my body, human, and concerned about what others would think. But glancing around at my fellow pilgrims, I noted that I was not alone, the others experiencing similar emotions, similar reactions. And I was again at home in the Church of Christ.


These are the messages of Christ, and these are the emotions that sprang forth from the grotto. Hours later, although it seemed like only a moment, I moved to the rock face of the grotto, running my hands along the surface where the Blessed Virgin appeared—now smooth from the hands of more than six million pilgrims who visit each year. It is from this rock that these messages come—the Rock of Christ, upon which His Church is built, upon which we base our lives. It is upon this Rock that we take refuge, that we come home to—even after a long absence.
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18: 1-2)

The grotto of Massabielle literally means “old rock” (pictured left, in 1858). It was a place of disrepair, where garbage was thrown and pigs grazed. From this maligned and unimportant spot came the message of Lourdes, brought by the first disciple of Christ, his mother, Our Blessed Mother. She appeared to the poorest and most uneducated, in the most blighted and forgotten place. Her purity, always present, transformed the dirt and mud into a clear flowing spring, reminding us of the physical transformation accomplished through her Son, Jesus Christ-- that through Him, all things would be made new, all things would be made spotless and clean, all sins would be forgiven. Through Him, we are born anew, but not without sacrifice. Touching the rock at Lourdes reminds us of this, makes our creed tangible, reconnects us to the physicality of our beliefs.

We are reminded that despite our own brokenness, our own sinfulness, that the Lord loves and forgives us. He is our rock, our salvation. Our lives built upon the foundation of His love will not waver. We just need to listen to His call, and follow where it may lead us. In my case, His call came through Our Lady of Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin who mediates the grace of God for us. The peace and love of Christ felt at the grotto is like nothing I have since experienced, although some part of that feeling remains with me-- a spiritual transformation of the physical experience of Lourdes.

A prayer for the Grotto at Lourdes

O Lord, you are my God,
and for you I long with all my heart.
As I stand before you in this place where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette,
I renew my desire to follow wherever you may lead.
Take me and use me for your Gospel.
Grant me the grace to overcome my weaknesses;
to bear my burdens lightly;
to be attentive to your voice;
and to be zealous in your service.
Give me that faith which will never remain silent,
that hope which will never cease to trust,
that love which will burn always brightly,
and that joy which delights in your church.

(prayer adapted from The Lourdes Pilgrim: A Prayerbook and Guide by Oliver Todd)

First Rosaries sent!

Posted by Jacob

As some of you may have noticed, the “Rosaries constructed” count has held steady for week or so around 160 (see left, beneath the Donate button)… This is due to a number of reasons which may need explaining. First, I was waiting for materials to arrive, which now have (see here for details!). Second, when one finishes a cord-style mission Rosary, there is a “final step” in which each of the knots tied on the Rosary is coated with super glue or clear nail polish to prevent them from coming untied. This is a fairly cumbersome portion of the project, which has taken a bit longer than originally planned. Once they are sealed and dried, each Rosary is bagged in a small zip-top plastic bag, to prevent tangling in shipping, and allow for easy distribution by overseas missionaries and military personnel.

For those who are new to the blog (welcome!), I have set my goal as building 1,000 Rosaries during the course of 2010. These Rosaries are being shipped to overseas missionaries in desperate need of prayer aids, as well as to American military personnel stationed or deployed overseas. I ask for prayers in support of this rather ambitious endeavor. If you would like to make a financial contribution in support of Rosary construction, please utilize the “Donate” button on the left-hand sidebar of this blog. Each Rosary constructed costs approximately one dollar, so your contributions are greatly appreciated!

I’m happy to announce that the first batches of Rosaries have been sent—some going to East Timor, an extremely poor country where many Catholics lack both basic prayer aids, as well as basic needs of every day life. Another batch of Rosaries is being sent to India, to the Saint Francis Xavier orphanage, a facility administered by Catholic priests and religious. I would humbly request that you pray that these Rosaries are well received, and assist those who use them in drawing closer to the Lord, through the intercession of our gracious Blessed Mother.

February 26: Saint Isabelle of France

Posted by Jacob

Saint Isabelle of France (1225-1270, also known as Isabel and Isabella) was the daughter of King Louis VIII of France. She is the saint whose feast day we celebrate today, February 26. Remembered for extreme devotion to the Lord, even as a child, Saint Isabelle requested spiritual direction and permanent confessors from Pope Innocent IV, who allowed her to retain some local Franciscans for that post. As she matured, she became even more devoted to the Lord, through the direction of the Franciscans, eventually breaking off several engagements (arranged for political reasons by her brother who had assumed the throne), and refusing to marry so as to remain virginal for the Lord.

Isabelle resided in the royal castle for much of young adult life, but lived a cloistered life, similar to that of a religious. She refused the lavish appointments and meals offered to her, instead subsisting on meager rations, and donating what she saved to the poor. Her days were spent in service to those in need, specifically the sick and the destitute. Of weak constitution, Isabelle was often ill, specifically with stomach ailments, a condition exacerbated by her fasting and mortification.

Following the king’s return from the Crusades, where he had been imprisoned for some time, Isabelle left the castle, called to found a Franciscan Order for women—the Convent of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin-- in Longchamp, France. The sisters of the order spent their days in charity, but as the name of the order suggests, never accepted recognition or reward for their labors, instead glorifying the Lord. The mission of the Franciscan Order was to serve the poor in love.

Saint Isabelle was appointed Abbess upon recognition and approval of the Order, but refused, instead preferring to live nearby the monastery, oversee operations from her home in solitude, and re-write the rules governing the work of the sisters. Unpleased with the first rule of the order, which was modified from the Rules of the Order of Poor Clares, Isabelle sought to make the direction of her sisters more strict, eventually succeeding in gaining approval.

Isabelle continued to suffer from constant illness, but also, through the grace of God, received mystical graces and experienced numerous ecstasies. During one of these ecstatic visions, she foretold the day and hour she would pass away, which delighted her greatly, as she was eager to return to her Lord. Following her death, she was buried in her habit, and laid to rest in the convent she had founded. Her body was exhumed twice, both times found to be incorrupt.

The life of Saint Isabelle suggests to us that our human weaknesses, even those of the body, can be overcome by the grace of God. Isabelle, despite pressure to do otherwise for personal and political gain, resisted the pressure of the Courts of France to marry, remaining a virgin, and consecrating herself to God. She sought out the spiritual direction she needed, listened for the call of the Lord, and followed it without question. Despite sickness and discomfort throughout her life, she found the strength to serve the Lord and those around her. So eager to rejoin her Maker, she was rewarded with knowledge of when that would happen, which she awaited with joy. Saint Isabelle of France inspires us to examine our lives, identifying those small barriers we hide behind, rather than serving God. Whether it be work, sickness, fatigue, or financial security, we all have many reasons—many excuses—to focus on ourselves, rather than on the Lord, and through Him, on those in need around us. This Lenten season is a perfect opportunity to broaden our view from ourselves to those around us, breaking down our barriers, and embracing the Lord in those we serve.

Day 57 of 365
Prayer Intentions: Service to others in service to God.
Requested Intentions: Safety of travelers (J); Improved family relationship with the Lord, using gifts for His glory (L); For the orphans of Saint Francis Xavier in India (Fr. B); For the health of a family member with Rett’s Disorder (C); For the restoration of hearing (L); For a restorative, faith-deepening Lent for all those who are struggling (L).
Special Intentions (Day 16 of 45-day Novena to Our Blessed Lady of Lourdes): The intentions of all those who read this blog, whether submitted or retained in the quiet of their hearts; Penance, Penance, Penance for sinners; For all those who are suffering.

Our Lady of Lourdes: The Ninth Apparition

Posted by Jacob

On February 25, we remember the ninth apparition of Our Blessed Mother to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at the grotto in Lourdes. Beginning on February 11, 1858, The Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous a total of 18 times bringing a message of prayer, penance, poverty, and participation. Through these posts, we continue our journey with Saint Bernadette as we encounter Our Blessed Mother through her eyes, memories, and words. The previous seven visitations (February 11, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 23) were preludes to what was to begin during the eighth (2/24) blessed message of Mary—during which she told Saint Bernadette to offer “Penance, penance, penance,” and to “Pray to God for sinners.” During that visit, the Blessed Virgin also asked Bernadette to kiss the ground in penance for the sins of the world.

On February 25, 1858, Bernadette returned to the grotto, accompanied by her mother and a crowd of over 300 people. Following the message of Mary given on the previous day, Bernadette offered herself and her prayers as penance for sinners. She knelt outside the grotto, and moved to her customary place on her knees, rather than by walking. As was her custom, blessed candle burning, she knelt and prayed the Rosary, and was graced again by the appearance of aquero, the beautiful lady in the recess on the rock face. At the conclusion of the Rosary, the Blessed Mother spoke to Bernadette. She asked, “Would you kiss the ground for sinners?” Bernadette did not audibly answer, but instead, to the surprise of those gathered, began to kiss the ground in front of her. The Blessed Mother continued, “Would you eat the grass for sinners?” Again, to the shock of the crowds gathered, Bernadette moved on her knees further into the grotto, eating the sparse grass that grew like the wild pigs who foraged there.

In a miraculous turn, the Blessed Mother then told Saint Bernadette, “Go drink at the spring and wash yourself there.” Bernadette was confused, as there was no spring in the grotto, and turned to move to the Gave River, which was only yards away—the same river she had refused to cross with her sister and friend on the date of the first apparition. The Blessed Mother corrected her, gesturing for Bernadette to come into the grotto further, finding herself in front of a small pool of muddy water. She scratched the earth a few times to get enough water to drink, and then both drank it and washed herself with it, smearing mud across her face. The onlookers took this as final proof that the simple miller’s daughter was mad. The authorities, however, were outraged.

In her personal journal, Saint Bernadette recounts the events of the ninth apparition. In her own words: “She also asked me to go drink from the spring and wash there; since I did not see a spring, I started toward the Gave. She said that that was not the right place and she pointed to another place, showing me the spring under the Grotto. I went to the place she showed me, but all I saw was a tiny bit of muddy water. There was so little of it that I was hardly able to get any of it in my hands. Nevertheless, I obeyed and started digging with my hands. I tried to drink it, but it was so dirty that the first three times, it came back up. On the fourth try, I was able to drink a little of it.”

During four visitations from Mary (9-12), Saint Bernadette carried out the same actions—drinking from the spring, washing herself, eating grass, walking on her knees, and kissing the ground. Those around her do not understand, but as we reflect on her actions, we see they are biblical in nature. Because Our Lady of Lourdes asked her, Bernadette acts out the Incarnation, the Passion and the death of Christ.

Moving on her knees at the back of the Grotto recalls the Incarnation, God lowering himself to become human. Bernadette kisses the ground showing us that this act of humility is an action of the love God has for his people.

When Bernadette stoops and eats the dirty, bitter grasses growing in the recesses of the grotto, she re-enacts the Jewish Old Testament tradition of slaughtering a lamb, cleaning it, and filling it with bitter herbs. For the Jews, this showed that the Lamb of God had taken away the sins of the world, washed it clean, and taken on all bitterness unto himself.

Bernadette smeared her face with mud, suffering much as Isaiah had prophesied about Christ. "Because he carried on himself all our sins his face no longer appeared human." And, “He was" Isaiah continues, "like a lamb led to the slaughter, and on his way the crowd mocked him.” At the grotto, Bernadette “disfigures” her face with the mud of the spring, and the crowd mocks her and questions her sanity. She suffers the humiliation, in those moments, of Christ on the way to his cross.

Bernadette’s actions free the grotto—free it from the bitter grasses growing and hiding it’s beauty, free the holy spring beneath it. In a manner of speaking, she also frees us, the people who the message of Lourdes is intended. By her actions, the mysteries of the heart of Jesus are revealed: "The water that I shall give you will become, in you, a spring welling up to eternal life.” Our hearts are like the grass and mud of the grotto, wounded and soiled by sin. But we are freed by the message of Lourdes, remembering that at the bottom of each of our hearts, there is the life of God. “Penance, Penance, Penance!” calls us each to daily conversion.

February 25: Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio

Posted by Jacob

February 25 marks the feast day of Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio (1502-1600). Beatified in 1789 by Pope Pius VI, Sebastian’s canonization is currently pending. His simple life, devoted whole-heartedly to the Lord, is a template for living today.

Sebastian was born the son of poor parents in Galicia, Spain. Early in his life, a terrible epidemic of the plague reached his village, and by order of the government, all those infected were quarantined on the outskirts of town. This was a dangerous place to live, bordering wilderness, but he and his mother did as they were instructed, moving into a small isolated hut. It was there, according to holy legend, that a wolf attacked young Sebastian, biting him severely. He bled excessively, and when the bleeding had been stopped, he was found to be cured of the plague. From that moment on, Sebastian was found to possess an uncanny ability to relate to animals, and they generally followed his ever command.

Sebastian earned his living as a young man in several types of work, primarily physical labor. He worked on several farms, but having committed himself to the Lord, left several positions due to unchaste temptations—first following the declaration of love from a wealthy widow, and later following a similar declaration from the daughter of his employer. Despite these trials, he continued farming, as he found that it gave him an opportunity to meditate and pray as he worked in the fields.

In 1533, as he feared that temptation would overcome him, Sebastian left Spain, sailing to the “new world” in Mexico. He settled at Puebla de los Angeles, and again gravitated to agricultural work, initially being employed as a farm hand and laborer. Over the next several years, Sebastian experienced great success, both vocationally and financially. Recognizing the need to convey materials between settlements, and also with the native peoples of Mexico, he started a small carting business. As his need for animals grew, he integrated bull-training into his business, and then to facilitate easier transportation, began building roads. Before long, he had amassed a large fortune, little of which he kept for himself. Instead, he lived simply and charitably, providing necessary dowries for young women who wished to marry, food for the poor, financial gifts to struggling farmers, and generosity to the maligned native people.

Sebastian retired from business in 1552, seeking a quiet and contemplative life with his Lord. At age 60, upon urging from a local poor family, he agreed to marry their daughter, but only under the stipulation that it remain a virginal marriage. While Sebastian had never taken a vow of celibacy, he embrace the self-sacrifice as a sign of his love for the Lord. His wife died after several years, and he remarried, under similar stipulations. Sadly, his second wife also died quickly, having fallen from a fruit tree while picking fruit. Sebastian prayed for his wives, considering their lives holy, and proclaiming that he had assisted "two white doves" ascend to Heaven with the Lord.

Following the death of his second wife, when Sebastian was approximately 70, he was stricken with a severe stomach illness. While he recovered, during the height of his sickness he had received a heavenly vision instructing him to prepare for his death. So moved by the call of God, he sold all that he had, donated the money to the Franciscan Order of Poor Clares, and went to work for the Franciscan nuns.

It became clear to Sebastian after a few years of service that he was called to officially become a Franciscan of the First order. At 72 years old, he took the vows of the Franciscans, and lived 26 years longer as a member of the order. During this time, he proved to be the humblest of his brother, spending his days begging alms for the monastery and the poor of the region. He became known for his holiness, acts or piety, and obedience, and many miracles were attributed to him, often involving animals (whom he continued to display a truly Franciscan relationship with). When he traveled through the country, it was said that he was seen accompanied by angels. He was also visited by demons in his monastery cell at night, his brothers oftentimes afraid to join him there as he waged a war of prayer against them.

At age 98, Brother Sebastian’s stomach illness returned, which he bore without complaint. His only sorrow was that it prevented him from receiving the Holy Eucharist. At his request, the Blessed Sacrament was brought to his cell, where he laid on the cold, bare floor in adoration. He asked his Franciscan brothers to pray the Apostle’s Creed over him, and as they prayed: "I believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting," Sebastian passed away, surrounded by the light of Christ. His body was interred, but exhumed twice to be moved, found incorrupt as it remains today. His incorrupt body rests, encased in glass, in Puebla de los Angeles in Mexico. Numerous miracles have been reported there.

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio lived a simple, yet caring life. He recognized the will of the Lord in his daily events, no job too menial or too small to offer in service to his fellow man, the nuns of the Poor Clare convent, or his Franciscan brothers. He found the joy of the Lord everywhere—in farming the fields, communing with animals, helping the indigenous peoples of the region, or building roads. He resisted the temptations of the Devil, oftentimes taking extreme actions (like moving across the world) to ensure the sanctity of his soul and body. How often do we resent the little jobs we have to accomplish in life? How often do we struggle to find personal glory in our daily toils, when in fact, all our righteous work glorifies the Lord? How can we offer every action of our lives, however small and menial, to our God for His glory and the salvation of all?

Day 56 of 365
Prayer Intentions: To find the Lord in the events of our daily lives, however small!
Requested Intentions: Safety of travelers (J); Improved family relationship with the Lord, using gifts for His glory (L); For the orphans of Saint Francis Xavier in India (Fr. B); For the health of a family member with Rett’s Disorder (C); For the restoration of hearing (L); For a restorative, faith-deepening Lent for all those who are struggling (L).
Special Intentions (Day 15 of 45-day Novena to Our Blessed Lady of Lourdes): The intentions of all those who read this blog, whether submitted or retained in the quiet of their hearts; Penance, Penance, Penance for sinners; For all those who are suffering.