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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Visionary and a Mother's Message of Hope...

St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

I’m sure the skeptic might argue that with faith we see what we want to see but, whether that is true or not, without faith, you can’t see anything (at least outside of the material realm, which cannot explain a great part of the reality in which we live).

Anyway, philosophical arguments aside, Monday night, my family and I attended an historic event in Key Biscayne.

It was actually my wife’s idea. In fact, she got upset that I had given it such little thought until Sunday night, but as I told her, I have been rather busy. I was preparing a presentation for the adult catechises program at my parish. After which, I was preparing a talk for a men's retreat I attended last weekend. And, I’ve been blogging. So, I’ve been a little preoccupied.

She shot back something to the effect of, “That’s nice; too busy.  Too busy for the Blessed Mother but, you haven’t been too busy to watch the World Series.”

Nice, I thought.  You had to go there didn't you?  In all honesty I haven’t been paying much attention to the series.  I usually start watching after the kids are in bed anyway.  It's not like if the Mets were playing (you can stop laughing now).

Still, the fact that she was upset at my lack of interest, must indicate I hit a sore spot.

Did she say the Blessed Mother? What is she talking about?

The Medjugorje Visionaries
For the last few weeks, my wife had been harping about Marija Pavlovic Lunetti, one of the six visionaries, who the Virgin Mary first appeared to in Medjugorje (in former Yugoslavia) in June 1981, and continues to get daily messages from the Holy Mother.

Marija was going to be visiting my mother-in-law's parish, St. Agnes Catholic Church, for a special ceremony, which included Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Rosary, a Mass and a message from the Virgin Mother.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t given it much thought because, I was only thinking about it as a talk by one of the visionaries, which, while interesting enough in itself, would have meant, that instead of coming home and relaxing on Monday night, after having spent the weekend at the retreat house, where I got little sleep, it would mean having to schlep all the way out to Key Biscayne (which despite my wife's insistence that it’s close, it’s actually not!), fighting the traffic of all the other faithful that were attending, finding parking and getting home late; not exactly an ideal scenario for me (at the time).

However, my wife had been looking forward to this. She had invited all her women's group friends and was taking my kids; with or without me.

Let's just say that after hearing one of my good friends say during the weekend retreat that he often does things with his daughters, no matter how tired he is and no matter how mundane it may seem, such as letting them paint his nails or putting ribbons on his hair, because of his obligation to his family as a husband and father, how could I tell my wife, “Hey, honey, why don’t you take the kids to see the Blessed Mother? I’ll catch you when you get back.”

So, instead of vegetating in front of the TV, to watch the WS and Monday Night Football with a Stella Artois in my right hand and the remote in my left (or vice versa, depending on which part of the couch I’m sitting on) and going to bed early, as I hoped, I decided to bite the bullet and take one for the team (not exactly the best frame of mind to have, going into a spiritual experience).

However, the more I thought about it at work, the more I realized what a big deal and unique opportunity this was.

This wasn’t just a visionary talking to a crowd. Marija was actually going to talk with the Virgin during the event and was going to tell us what the Blessed Mother told her.

I mean, millions of people make pilgrimages to Lourdes, France, Fatima, Portugal, Tepeyac, Mexico (Guadalupe), and Medjugorje, among dozens of other locations, just to be in the presence of where the Mother of Jesus has appeared, sometimes centuries ago.

This was an encounter with Mary happening in our own backyard and, more importantly, it was an opportunity to experience it with my wife and kids. I started to get excited.

I left work a little early and met my wife at the field behind the church at about 5:30pm (about two and a half hours after Adoration had begun).

Despite getting very little publicity, outside of the parishioners of St. Agnes and word of mouth (which considering the setting in the school yard that couldn't have accommodated many more people than attended), it was an impressive showing of faith.

About three thousand people from all walks of life, including lay and religious. There were several orders of nuns represented, including a half dozen of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, which sat near my family and faithful of all ages, from babies to very elderly. There was even a small group from Tampa and several visitors from Latin America.

About 45 minutes into the bilingual Rosary, and as the night began to fall, Marija joined in to pray. She was praying in Italian and the rest of us responded in Spanish.

Suddenly, I felt a cool breeze and Marija went silent. Through my eyes and heart of faith, I knew Our Lady was present. We were all kneeling. There was a reverent hush in the crowd. Three thousand people on their knees praying to God and asking the Blessed Mother for her intercession. It was very powerful.

It lasted for about five to ten minutes. Afterwards, there was a brief pause in the program before Mass began.

During the Holy Mass, a young local priest gave a moving homily about his conversion and call to serve as witness, which started in Medjugorje.

The priest said that he grew up in Miami and was doing all the things that many 20-year-olds of his time were doing, including clubbing, drugs and alcohol, until he went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, and there he experience a profound conversion.

Upon his return, he began going to daily Mass, which eventually led him to realizing his call to become a priest.

After the Eucharist celebration, Marija spoke.

She told the story of how the Virgin first appeared to them, while they were children and how the Blessed Virgin instructed them to pray. She told them how prayer was the only way to change the course of history, even in our time. At one time, the six visionaries were told to pray as much as three hours a day.

Marija also passionately told the story of the loss of hope at the foot of the Cross.

All the Apostles, except for John, the youngest of the group, abandoned Jesus and went into hiding. Those few disciples that stayed until the end were sobbing uncontrollably. The man they believed to be their Messiah, their Christ and Lord, who was going to liberate Israel, had just been tortured in the most violent and humiliating way imaginable at the time and hung, dying on a cross. Darkness fell over the whole land and hope was fading with each breath He took.

Then, in Jesus' final act before taking His last breath, He turns to Mary, as she stood at the foot of the cross with the beloved disciple, John, and said, “Woman, behold your son.”

Turning to John, He said, “Behold your mother.”

And with that, Marija said, she became not only our mother, as beloved disciples ourselves, but the mother of hope. She became the hope that would carry us through the suffering and despair to Her Son.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “We receive Jesus through Mary and we return to Jesus through Mary.”

Marija says that one of the most important messages that Our Lady gives us is to pray.

It was prayer that saved Europe from being overtaken by the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in the 16th Century, where a makeshift and inferior fleet of Christian sailors, put together by the Holy See, appeared hopeless in facing an aggressive Ottoman Empire’s main fleet, which was destroying every opponent in its path.

The fate of Christendom in Europe hung in the balance and hope was quickly diminishing. Yet, the Christian fleet, not only staved off the more powerful Muslim invaders, they soundly defeated them in a port village near Greece. The reason for their victory, Marija said, was prayer. Christians were urged to pray the Rosary before and during the battle and they fervently prayed until the battle was won.

And, Marija said, it was prayer that saved Medjugorje during the Bosnian War, where bombs were dropped but never went off. Scientist claimed that it was because the ground was too soft but Marija said that the truth is that the entire region is very rocky and credits God for sparing Medjugorje because of the prayers of the faithful.

Even in today's world, where economic and political systems are falling by the waste side, and turmoil and unrests rein throughout the world, and hopelessness and despair is growing, Marija says Our Lady urges us to pray. Pray and maybe change the course of history, if it is God’s Will.

The message of the Blessed Mother is that we turn to God, to prayer, to the Eucharist, to the Bible, and to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and through these hope will flourish, as it did on Easter Sunday and as it did in Lepanto. She said we are all called to be saints.

The visionary also said that Mary told her that she had seen us gathered there that night, had blessed us and would be praying for us. 

In her farewell to the Holy Mother, Marija said she told her as she always does, "Until we meet in paradise."

At the end of the event, which lasted over six hours (I missed the first two and a half), I went with my son, who had fallen asleep in his stroller, to get a medal blessed by the Holy Mother while my wife, girls and mother-in-law walked ahead to my mother-in-law’s condo, where we had parked.

As a man with the medals made his way towards us, I noticed that he runs out just before reaching us. Feeling a bit dejected, I was about to turn and walk away, when I saw Marija and her husband walking towards me. I quickly pulled out my Flip camera and hit the on button so I could later show my kids.

Marija waved at the scarce crowd around me, as most had left or in the process of leaving.

I hit the button to stop recording and a few seconds later, noticed that it was still rolling. So, I hit the stop button. Suddenly, I thought, did I record when I thought I was recording? I went to check the video and noticed I hadn't recorded Marija passing by me.

As I walked back to meet my family I realized, I’m sure this was just as well. This wasn’t about Marija anyway, it was about God, His messenger of hope that He gave us at the foot of the cross, and the love and faith that the thousands of people shared and left feeling in their heart…

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