Pray for our religious.
PERVASIVENESS OF NEW AGE AMONG NUNS MAY LOOM AS SCANDAL ON SCALE RIVALING ABUSE CRISIS AMONG MALE COUNTERPARTS
The infiltration of New Age practices into convents and retreat houses operated by Catholic nuns appears to have reached the level of an epidemic, with so many reports that at times it appears difficult to find one that doesn't allow such spirituality, at least to some degree.
Such may be hyperbole but what is not hyperbole is that esoteric spirituality has spread -- in alarming measure -- through what is left of female American religious in a way that recalls the startling prevalence of sexual abuse among male religious counterparts.
That's not to say that most religious have gone occult. And it is certainly not to cast aspersions. The majority of nuns are in their seventies or eighties -- beyond active involvement in activities such as operating a retreat center. Moreover, those who are linked to these practices often appear to be good, well-meaning women who have simply followed the spirit of our time.
But the question is what that spirit is and the trend -- contravening Vatican teaching -- is as widespread as it is troublesome. One thing is clear: the call of Vatican Two for women to distinguish themselves spiritually has been answered in virtually every part of North America in a totally unexpected way: establishment of mysterious, Eastern-style meditation.
When we ran an article on this several weeks ago, we were deluged by instances -- many dozens -- in which Eastern contemplation, labyrinths, Reiki, or other exotic non-Catholic methods of spiritual development were present at Catholic retreat centers -- almost surely unknown to the Vatican.
The examples seem daunting, and because of their serious nature, we are going to let this report proceed at length.
One example: the Portiuncula Center for Prayer, modeled after St. Francis and run by Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
Located less than an hour southwest of downtown Chicago, this Catholic center offers therapeutic massage, Reiki, reflexology, holistic facials, and Zen Shiastsu (which taps into the “energy” points around the body). It also has a “labyrinth” which it describes as “an ancient circular diagram” consisting of a “single concentric circular path with no possibility of going astray. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives; it touches our sorrows and releases our joys. So walk it with an open mind and an open heart.”
Labyrinths are a meditation, relaxation, and spiritual tool that invite a person to walk towards the center with a problem, prayer, or idea.
Once at that center, the person spends some time in quiet thought, then lets go and makes the journey back out of the labyrinth to reengage with the world with a “clearer” heart and mind. While they are even to be found in some churches, the way they are used evokes worry in many circles.
“Like Stonehenge, they are geographic forms that define sacred space,” says website dedicated to the practice -- and referring the famous spot in England where monuments were erected by occult Druids for ancient solstice rituals, among other non-Christian mystical practices.
“The labyrinth is a large, complex spiral circle which is an ancient symbol for the divine mother, the God within, the goddess, the holy in all creation,” quotes a website critical of its use.
When paganism is refined in modern terms, it becomes the “New Age,” a modern amalgam of practices often preaching that each human is “god” and viewing the Creator as a less personal and universal “energy” that is not usually identified as the “Holy Spirit.” It was of course paganism that Christ descended to battle.
Two other remarkably widespread practices are Reiki, which taps into the “energy” around us, and the “enneagram” -- a controversial way of categorizing personalities. The energy of Reiki is the “ki” of Eastern religions, which tends too rapidly toward psychic energies and earth spirits. The symbol of the enneagram was promoted by a famed occultist named Gurdjieff and bears certain resemblances to the way personality types are discerned through a zodiac (though in this case the discernment comes by way of “self evaluation”).
At another Franciscan center in Scottsdale, Arizona, is not only the enneagram but “aqua yoga.” Many Catholic convents, retreat houses, and parishes are embracing this technique of meditation and relaxation -- often as a mere physical tool but nonetheless in contradiction to a Vatican document on the New Age, "Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life,” that prohibits it.
The argument for it: 16 million Americans now use yoga and find health benefits from what is simply an exercise in breathing. The concern: yoga is from Eastern pagan religions and like Reiki can tend toward a deeper involvement in mysterious energies. In some cases, “mantras” (a word used over and over) are employed and such mantras can be the name of Hindu or other “gods.” The Beatles brought a focus on yoga when they studied it with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s. Before that, it was popularized by deep occultists known as Theosophists.
In some cases, centers that hold seminars in Reiki and enneagram are receiving funds through diocesan appeals. Defenders say there is a Christian type of Reiki that is different than the New Age version, and others say that “healing touch” ministries are similar to the laying on of hands common to Christians. Neither, argue others, is there anything wrong with healing oils.
Such is confusing in that in its 2003 document the Vatican explicitly warned that “there is a remarkable variety of approaches for promoting holistic health, some derived from ancient cultural traditions, whether religious or esoteric,” and covering “a wide range of practices” including “kinesiology, homeopathy, iridology, massage, and various kinds of ‘bodywork’ (such as orgonomy, Feldenkrais, reflexology, rolfing, polarity massage, therapeutic touch, etc), meditation, and visualization... The source of healing is said to be within ourselves, something we reach when we are in touch with our inner or cosmic energy.” It also cited the enneagram -- along with more blatant New Age articles such as crystals, strongly warning the faithful away from them.
That document was written by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, which also named the enneagram as a subject of concern.
There are those who take issue with some of what the Vatican cited, especially chiropractic and acupuncture methods. But it is beyond dispute that exotic new spiritual ways have overtaken many nuns (and in some cases priests) -- apparently revealing a yearning for something more than the dry theology that has dominated Western seminaries for more than a half a century.
Dominican sisters in Houston offer tai chi (also involving ‘ki’ energy) along with the labyrinth -- using the occult ying-yang symbol (right) in their literature. Benedictine Sisters of Mount Scholastica in Atchinson, Kansas, meanwhile, have named their retreat area the Sophia Center -- after the feminine form of God.
“Sophia is the name often given to the feminine image of God as portrayed in the wisdom books of the Bible,” said a nun there, Sister Linda Herndon, in response to a query from us.
In Cleveland, a former mother house at a Catholic high school has been converted into a retreat center called “River’s Edge,” offering yoga, quigong, Reiki, and other esoteric “wellness” programs (while ironically, across the way, is the monastery of the Poor Clares [below, left] -- a shining light in the darkness).
“My brother’s dear wife is in the last stages of ovarian cancer and near death,” writes Ruth Stamps of Blue Ridge, Georgia. “She is not Catholic, but a devout Evangelical Christian. At one point, she considered going to River’s Edge for their cancer support group, but found this place’s agenda too weird and New Age! The Cleveland area seems to be eaten up with this stuff, but it does not apparently reflect on the Cleveland Diocese itself.” Enter the center.
“I left a job as a fifth grade teacher at a parochial school after three years because I could no longer tolerate or ignore the watering-down of the faith,” wrote another woman named Coreen Herrick. “My most recent experience with New Age happened this summer at the St. Edmund’s retreat center near Mystic, Connecticut. The ‘nun’ invited retreat members to join her after dinner in the ‘touching of hands’ massage. Of course, it was cloaked in therapeutic terms. But I knew better. This same nun also (even though this was a silent retreat) engaged us in a ‘pagan’ spirit ‘blessing’ before the meal.”
There are sisters who are Reiki “masters.” You can find them in the Midwest. Or in Kentucky. There are monks. “Encountering Divine Goodness in Earth and Cosmos: New Ways of Being in the World,” says an advertisement for a retreat at Loyola House in Guelph, Ontario.
In Ringwood, New Jersey -- where it is once more Franciscan nuns -- the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is a lonely place (with Host exposed, left), but presumably not so the lessons in Reiki in the same complex. In many cases, questionable spiritual practices are part of the solemnity of Lent.
Nor is it confined to North America. “Another sad example comes from the UK,” notes a viewer named Ken Simpson. “At the shrine of St Jude, Faversham, Kent, the Carmelite priest in his sermon asked people to put feet flat on ground, ‘to feel the earth,’ lay hands open, 'not to hold on to anything, then to breathe out the badness from inside, and then to breathe in God’s goodness.’”
Is that really bad? How far do we go with this? Can we overstate the case? Might not some of it be okay -- just oddly expressed?
In some cases, perhaps. But in others, the psychic is clearly predominant.
There is dream exploration. There is guided imagery. There are non-Christian healing rituals. Once again -- time and again -- there are the enneagram and labyrinth. Or Yoga.
Ask those at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, or the Holy Spirit Center in Encino, California.
“Out of all of the New Age stuff, the labyrinth is the most pervasive,” notes another viewer. “It seems to pop up everywhere -- we were at St. Anne’s shrine in Sturbridge [Massachusetts] looking around -- thought the place very beautiful and appeared holy -- until we noticed the new meditation labyrinth had been created on the grounds. I think people read about these fads and are duped and they get no direction from priests and pastors.”
In Santa Fe, a practicing shaman is involved in church fund-raising.
In Brooklyn, New York, according to another correspondent, a parish called St. Ephrem has advertised Reiki in its weekly newsletter and “because of this I encouraged my wife to stop attending and to go to another Catholic church. I’m not sure if they still offer this,” says a resident named Gerard Mastrapasqua. The cases go far beyond even those we reported previously.
No doubt, good people get wrapped up in this. Also no doubt: we should be careful not to condemn. When we are on the other side of the veil, there will be surprises. But we are called to obedience and especially to stay away from anything that leads to strange, universal “spirits” or that see God as a cosmic energy.
Examples? The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet have status at the U.N. Check them out. Daring to try new symbols? There are the Sisters of St. Martha of Prince Edward Island. A labyrinth can be found at another beautiful retreat center (in Tony Malibu, alongside grottos devoted to the Blessed Mother). If you’re in Wisconsin and want the enneagram, this is your spot.
One group of Dominican nuns in Grand Rapids calls itself “Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares.”
Maya Abdominal massage or a drum-making workshops or Chinese Essence Qi Gong or “Feng Shui for the Soul”?
Go to the Sisters of Mercy in New Jersey.
Beginners in yoga can find Catholic resources in Arlington, Virginia. (“The priests and nuns there seem like good folks, but the labyrinth seems like a bad idea,” notes a viewer). Integrated energy healing, Reiki, angel healing? Go here.
“In every woman there is a queen, speak to the queen and she will answer!” says another Catholic group (“Called a Circle of Wisdom”).
This is what we really think it is.
Holistic health? Go here; you can “develop your spiritual muscles” and learn yoga by visiting these nuns. “Celebrate the arrival of winter and our turning toward the light during this season of peace, love and joy. Bring bells, drums, rattles to join in the songs and holiday),” they say; massages and labyrinth [as pictured left) here; for Danville, Pennsylvania, you can get a labyrinth retreat here; an especially beautiful labyrinth is available [pictured below, right] at Marie de la Roche Province in Allison Park, Pennsylvania. Reflexology? Our Lady of Grace Retreat Center on Long Island has what you want; get in the “Zen Spirit/Christian Spirit” here; head to Northport for reiki. And so on. While we have to rely on field reports -- and thus can't verify each one -- those we were able to check out have proven to have what was reported.
These are confusing times and while the Vatican document seemed aimed at society at large [a “pastoral" document to warn the faithful, it said], the New Age, it now is clear, had already infiltrated deeply into the Church itself -- to a degree much beyond that raised as a concern in the early Nineties. Such is the perplexity of our times that a Cardinal has said he was fascinated by a Hindu experience.
We are certainly to be open and ecumenical -- full of love, at every turn, finding common ground -- at the same time that we must guard against paganism.
“In St. Peter Hospital in Albany New York, they have a pamphlet for yoga and other connected exercises, with the picture of the Hindu elephant god Ganesh [in an] advertisement on the first page, in the lobby of the hospital,” a medical doctor informs us.
It is one of many Christian hospitals with a New Age slant.
In Austin, Texas, the Seton Family of Hospitals run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul has a center called “Seton Cove” that like so many others offers touch massage, a labyrinth walk, and “chair massage” -- a seeming far cry from the prim conservative nature of St. Elizabeth Seton [left], its patron. It doesn’t even help if a hospital is named St. Mary's.
Some of the links to the occult are direct and startling. Noted a writer from the Winnipeg, Canada, of a meeting that was focused on writing for the parish bulletin: “Somehow the conversation turned to ecumenism, and the stewardship coordinator mentioned an article in our local newspaper about ‘the study of wicca and how it is “parallel” to Catholicism.’ Of course I immediately disagreed, but she proceeded to defend the study as being ‘in tune with mother earth.’ I just sat there with my mouth open! Our priest said nothing!"
Wicca is the formal name for witchcraft. “Each year I have purchased a planning calendar from the Sisters of St. Joseph of LaGrange -- Ministry of the Arts. Some major feast days and saints’ days are noted,” writes Barbara Garfield of Ryegate, Montana. “However, as I paid closer attention to the entries this year, I see there are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other feasts listed. That did not bother me as I have tried to become familiar with other religions and their practices. What does bother me are the entries for Samhain (wicca) for October 31 and Samhain (Celtic) for November 1 (as well as All Saints).”
In Seaford, New York, writes another worried viewer, was a visiting woman evangelist who "would come out in a costume that looked just like a priest and pretty much ran the whole retreat while he sat on the side.
“Each night they did a ritual. The first night we all lit candles. We were told to bathe ourselves in the light. No mention of Jesus being the Light. Then they had us march around until we ended up in a big circle around the perimeter of the Church. It looked like a witches' coven.”
Circling it like Joshua circled Jericho -- or something else?
Meanwhile, St. John’s University in New York offers its downtown campus for advanced Reiki courses. The list seems endless.
The Daughters of Wisdom, sponsors of Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center in Litchfield, Connecticut, originated in Poitiers, France in 1703. Founded by Saint Louis de Montfort and Blessed Marie Louise Trichet, the aim of the congregation is to seek Divine Wisdom.
Now such wisdom -- at that has turned into an interfaith one -- includes the labyrinth.
We are sorry to prolong this. But the extent of such practices is almost certainly unknown by the Vatican.
“I am beginning to become so disenchanted with my parish, St. Matthias in Somerset, New Jersey, that I have chosen so far to split my Sunday giving between my parish and another church 45 minutes away in Newark,” noted one more distressed website viewer. “I have always had concerns about the permanent Reiki section in the Sunday bulletin, but when I also saw that brochures were also prominently displayed at the exits right next to those for ‘spiritual direction’ (both ministries provided by the ‘Reiki master’), I felt really sick. Last year I worked up the nerve to ask a deacon, who directed me to the Pastor. I went to him and he told me it was completely harmless: 'Trust me, I’ve had Reiki therapy and I would tell you if it were harmful.’ He told me not to pay attention to those ‘conservatives.’”
And indeed, we do not want to go overboard with this. Our greatest calling is love for one another in circumstances that are often strenuous. But the occult can have long-term ramifications.
Tai chi is offered at St. Joseph Dwelling Place in Ludlow, Vermont -- tapping once again into that 'chi' or Ki. Is that always bad, especially when associated with martial arts? It is a question. In Ontario, the same. "I also went to a Capuchin Retreat House in Mt. Washington Michigan. They have since started 'massage therapy' and who knows what else," writes another viewer.
The Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, reportedly have a labyrinth on their property. “I just read the article today on the new age and Catholic retreat houses. I have discovered such practices in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Visitation Spirituality Center here in Monroe, Michigan,” reported yet one more viewer.
“I wrote to you a little over a year age on a group of these nuns in Baltimore,” reported another, part of the mail barrage we received. “I ran a retreat house, and one of the groups turned out to practice Zen Buddhism, after telling me they weren’t Buddhist. They had a statue of Buddha, incense, gong, candle, and flower. This is idolatry.”
Does this not matter to the bishops?
Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church in Alexandria, Louisiana. What is going on there?
“How glad I am to see a place to report rampant New Age practices in Catholic retreat centers,” writes yet one more viewer. “Here are a couple of places I wish to report. The first is the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Click on the link, scroll down, and you will find retreats on the labyrinth, Zen, Christian yoga (whatever that is!), Meyers/Briggs personality inventory, Reiki, and special retreat for gays and lesbians.”
“My mother was New Age almost before the New Age got here, and ended up worshiping Satan,” notes a viewer, who like many preferred anonymity. “My twin sister is New Age (deeply) and seemingly can’t be talked or prayed out of it. Since my baptism into the Church 33 years ago, I’ve been warning many people about the occult. Lots of them were nuns -- including a prioress at a convent outside of Boston. Only that prioress seemed to listen. No one else. My sister is a medium and channels spirits who sound so wise, profound, and compassionate that their writings fooled an abbot of a monastery into approval. (Her vocabulary, when she is channeling, is far above her own vocabulary.) I know that lately I’ve been hearing hints from her that she likes the idea of ‘androgyne,’ a combining of male and female in one person to make them ‘complete.’ To me that commits an error so severe that the person has crossed over into Satanism.”
For your discernment.
“It seems to me that the devil made huge inroads into Catholicism by distorting the Vatican II teaching that Catholics should respect whatever of truth lies in other religions,” frets an e-mailer named Trudi Lawrence. “Monks, nuns, and probably priests mistakenly and unguardedly went looking for truths there that they thought Catholicism didn't have."
Maybe all they had to do was look deeper.
Interesting but True
Suffering and the Cross part 1
Suffering & Cross What can we learn from suffering? Sometimes we get stuck asking the question “Why do we suffer?” instead of asking “What can we learn through suffering?” When we ask this question, we realize that God allows the things he hates (e.g., sin and suffering) so that the things he loves (e.g., virtues, compassion, love, and new life) may grow. Sometimes suffering is necessary to achieve some good. In the Gospel of John (16:21), Jesus speaks of the suffering of a woman in labor. Although her pain is great, her joy is complete with the birth of her child. Sometimes when we are in the midst of suffering, it is difficult to see the good that can come out of it. However, whether it is the birth of a child or the development of a virtue, good often does follow from suffering. Suffering helps bring us closer to others. Through our own sufferings and heartaches, we come to understand the pain of others. Just as Jesus shared in our sufferings, we too are called to share in the sufferings of others. Suffering helps us to be better Christians and more Christ-like. In many respects, suffering is a gift, as it can teach us to be better Christians by teaching us about patience, humility, and compassion. Think about Job in the Old Testament. Job was a wealthy and revered man who was blessed with good health and a large family. And, in the eyes of the Lord, Job was good and righteous. However, Satan stripped Job of his earthly possessions, his family, and his health. Although Job endured great suffering, he remained steadfast in his faith in God. Moreover, his great suffering helped to purify and strengthen his love for God. Recall too the lives of the saints and martyrs. In Philippians 1:12-13, we read that St. Paul was not concerned with his own suffering; rather, he was pleased that his “imprisonment in Christ’s cause worked out to the furtherance of the gospel.” Likewise, St. Stephen and thousands of other martyrs not only grew closer to God in their suffering, but they chose a life (and death) of great suffering for their love of Christ. In their suffering, they remembered the Lord’s promise that “Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:10-12). And, most importantly, recall the passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As St. Francis de Sales reminds us, “Look intently and frequently on Christ Jesus, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sorrow and labor. Remember that your sufferings are not comparable to his in quality and quantity, and that you can never suffer for his sake anything equal to what he has suffered FOR YOU.” How amazing is God’s love for us! Our powerful, all good, and everlasting Lord – the Creator of the entire world – humbled Himself to take on the form of a man, and not just any man, but a slave. And, He obediently accepted death – death on a cross – because of His infinite love for us (Philippians 2:7-8). Suffering reminds us to look ahead to our eternal life with God. Sometimes, suffering forces us to take a time-out from this life. When we suffer, we are forced to ask the hard questions in life. We are forced to examine the meaning of life, and the meaning of death. And, we are forced to consider that this world makes no sense at all unless there exists some greater plan for us. Through it all, suffering inspires us to look ahead to the possibilities of eternal life – a life of truth, beauty, justice, and love – with God. The Lord reminds us to “Have no fear of the sufferings to come . . . remain faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10).Through our own sufferings, then, we are called to remember the sufferings of other Christians and of Christ Himself. Through our sufferings, we are called to be faithful to God, and to turn to Him for comfort. And, we are reminded that true peace and happiness can NEVER be found in this world; rather, as Christians, we must set our sights on the next world – and our eternal life with God. How are we to endure suffering? In modern society, we are taught that happiness is the ultimate goal. And, moreover, happiness is equated with immediate gratification, pleasures of the body and the palate, and possession of the “conveniences” created by modern technology. In this conception of happiness, suffering doesn’t seem to have a place. Yet, as Christians, we know that we are called to a life of holiness, and that the path to holiness often involves suffering. We believe that Christ saved us by His suffering, and that “we must work out our salvation in the same manner, through suffering and afflictions, enduring the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet with all possible meekness” (St. Francis de Sales). For Christians, then, suffering does have its place. If we are to be holy, we must endure our trials in accord with God’s will. When an evil happens to us, we must do all we can to remedy the situation. If we are at fault, we must humbly admit our transgression. And, if the evil is caused by another, we must bless that person and “never repay injury with injury” (Rom. 12:14, 17). We must be patient in our suffering – we must not complain or seek pity from others. We must consider the suffering of other Christians before us – and of Christ Himself. We must offer up our suffering to Christ. We must remember that our time on this earth is short and our trials shall quickly pass. Above all, we must pray. The great mystic Thomas à Kempis said that we should always let Christ’s promises strengthen and console us. Receiving Him will be a reward beyond all measure. Thomas à Kempis “speaks” for Christ as follows: “You will not labor here for long, nor will you always be burdened with sorrows. . . . The hour will come when blood, sweat and tears will be no more. All that passes away with time is of little importance, and it passes away quickly. Whatever you do, do it well . . . bear adversity with courage. Eternal life is worth all these battles – and more ... Oh, if only you could see the everlasting crowns of the saints in heaven and how much glory they now enjoy – those same saints who, when they were alive, were held in utter contempt by the world and were thought unworthy of even drawing breath . . . Are not all painful labors to be endured for eternal life. It is no small thing to lose or gain the kingdom of God! So, lift your face to heaven. Look at me and all my saints with me, they who in this world have had great contention. They are now joyful, they are now consoled, they are now safe, they are now at rest, and they will forever remain with me in my Father’s kingdom.” What is meant by redemptive suffering? Pope John Paul II wrote: “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris). St. Paul likewise realized that his sufferings had redemptive power: “I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Colo. 1:24). Some people are concerned that St. Paul’s words imply that Christ’s passion was insufficient for our redemption. Before Christ died, He cried out, “It is finished,” meaning that He had accomplished our redemption. But, as Pope Pius XII said in his encyclical on the Mystical Body (Mystici Corporis Christi): “In carrying out the work of redemption Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because He is indigent or weak, but rather because He so willed it for the greater glory of His spotless Spouse (Church). Dying on the Cross, He left to the Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Towards this she (the Church) contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this task of sanctification with His Church, but he wants it, in a way, to be due to her action. What a deep mystery . . . that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body offer for that intention, and on the assistance of pastors of souls and of the faithful…” Jesus wants to honor us, the members of His Mystical body by participating in His redemptive mission (Colo.1:24). Compiled by Fr. Herman (Feb. 11’07--the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes).
Suffering and The Cross part 2
Suffering & The Cross The Shrine at Lourdes was chosen last year for the World Day of Prayer, because it was the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In fact, it was on Dec. 8, 1854, that Blessed Pius IX, affirmed that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary was, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from every stain of original sin.” At Lourdes, Mary, speaking in the local dialect, said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” With these words, did not the Virgin perhaps wish to express the bond which joins together health and life? Just as death entered the world through original sin, so through the merits of Jesus Christ, God preserved Mary from every stain of sin, and salvation and life came to us (Rom. 5:12-21). The original plan of God for creation was thereby restored in Christ. The great work of Redemption, accomplished through the precious blood of Christ, began with the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In Jesus, every person is called to the fullness of holiness (Col. 1:28). Just as Jesus is the source of life which overcomes death, Mary is the solicitous mother who comes to the assistance of her children, obtaining for them health of body and soul. This is the message that the Shrine of Lourdes constantly presents to devotees and pilgrims. This is also the meaning of the physical and spiritual healings that take place in the grotto of Massabielle. From the day of her apparition to St. Bernadette Soubirous, Mary’s prayers “cured” pain and sickness, restoring health of body to so many of her children. However, her intercession achieved even more surprising miracles in the souls of believers, opening their hearts to re-encounter her Son Jesus, the true response to the most profound aspirations of the human heart. The Holy Spirit, whose power overshadowed her at the moment of the Incarnation, transforms the souls of countless sick people who turn to Him. Even when they do not obtain health in body, they can always receive something even more important—conversion of heart, the source of peace and of interior joy. This gift transforms their existence and makes them apostles of the cross of Christ, vessels of hope even when confronted with the most difficult trials. Suffering is part of the human condition, and man has to learn to accept and overcome it. But how can we do that, if not through the cross of Christ? In the death and resurrection of the Redeemer, human suffering finds its most profound meaning and its salvific value. The entire weight of the tribulations and sufferings of the human race is condensed in the mystery of a God who, assuming our human nature, denied Himself even to the point of making Himself “sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21). On Golgotha, He was weighed down with the sins of every human creature and, in the solitude of abandonment, cried out to the Father: “Why have you abandoned me?” (Mt. 27:46). From the paradox of the Cross flows the response to our most unsettling questions. Christ suffers for us. He takes upon Himself the suffering of all and redeems it. Christ suffers with us, giving us the possibility of sharing with Him our own sufferings. United to the sufferings of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation. That is why the believer can say with St. Paul: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24). Sorrow, accepted with faith, becomes the door for entering into the mystery of the redeeming suffering of the Lord. This is a suffering which does not take away peace and happiness, because it is illuminated by the splendor of the Resurrection. At the foot of the Cross, Mary suffers in silence, participating in a very special way in the sufferings of her Son. She became the mother of all people, ready to intercede so that every one can obtain salvation. It is not difficult to understand this singular participation of Our Lady in the salvific role of Christ. The miracle of the Immaculate Conception reminds believers of a fundamental truth. It is only possible to attain salvation by participating with docility in the plan of the Father, who willed to redeem the world through the death and the resurrection of His only-begotten Son. He wanted to show how He loves us. He wanted to show the horribleness of sin and the displeasure we earn by our disobedience to His commandments. He wanted us to know the costliness of attaining heaven. He also wanted to tell us how sin is infectious, like a ripple in a lake. With Baptism, the believer is inserted into this salvific plan and is freed from original sin. Sickness and death, although they continue to be present in our earthly existence, nonetheless lose their negative meaning. In the light of faith, the death of the body, conquered by the death of Christ (Rom. 6:4), becomes the obligatory passage to the fullness of immortal life. I recall what Mother Teresa said when she visited our seminary in Madras in the year 1963: “You are to become apostles of joy, to console the Sacred Heart of Jesus through joy. You have heavy crosses waiting for you in your future ministry. Remember the passion of Christ ends always in the joy of Resurrection; so when you feel in your own heart the suffering of Christ, remember the Resurrection has to come, the joy of Easter has to dawn. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of the Risen Christ.” I know this has been repeatedly told to her sisters. God is love, and we are truly called to become instruments of His love on earth, not to become apostles of compromise of God’s teachings for the sake of peace. We do a disservice to our fellow man if we do not point out their error and ignorance. We are called to lift the veil of untruth and error and show the beauty of God and His plan for human beings. At Christmas in the Eastern Church, there is a practice of embroidering the swaddling clothes with the Sign of the Cross. Also, the figure of the Divine Infant is presented with arms extended, as he would be on the Cross. We have the same kind of baby Jesus in our parish. In those symbolic ways is presented the unity of the mystery of redemption, joy, and sorrow. From the wood of the crib to the wood of the cross, the mystery is one. The poverty, the abandonment, the rejection which Jesus suffered on the Cross, He already experienced at His coming. We need to understand that life should be the same. Just as beneath the Cross there was the comfort of loving hearts, so at Bethlehem He was greeted with the joyful welcome of pure hearts and the song of the angels. When we celebrate His coming every year with special solemnity, we greet Him with the age-old song, “Venite adoremus”, “Come let us adore Him.” Beneath the Cross, our prayer of worship is the same: ‘We adore thee, O Christ, and praise thee.’ In our lives, punctuated by the interplay of Bethlehem joy and Calvary sorrow; we are certain that the same love that made Him come and made Him die for us, is always beside us. This is the mystery of the Cross. Pray to Our Blessed Mother of Perpetual Help that she may help every Christian witness to the fact that the only authentic response to sorrow, suffering, and death is Christ, our Lord, who died and rose for us. Compiled by Fr. Herman April 11, 2004