May 1, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Humble faith needs the nourishment and fortification of prayer

I extend a last-minute invitation to our 175th Jubilee celebration at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this coming Sunday at 3 p.m.

It will be a grand celebration of God’s blessings on our local Church over many years.

As we enter the month of May dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, I am reminded that our founding missionary bishop, the Servant of God Simon Bruté, had a special devotion to our Blessed Mother Mary.

He had wanted to be consecrated a bishop on the feast of the Holy Rosary in October of 1834, but it couldn’t be worked out.

Our Jubilee is a good time to refresh our devotion to our Mother Mary. We don’t worship Mary, but we do venerate her as our Mother.

I often think about a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland a few years ago. It is the third most-visited Marian shrine in Europe.

On that visit, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass before the treasured icon of our Lady. Two things struck me at this shrine.

First was the fact that the face of Our Lady is scarred from having been attacked with a sword by an enemy of the Church. Because of that incident, the sacred icon is protected behind a decorative silver screen except for certain hours of the day.

Before our Mass, the screen was raised with musical fanfare. It was riveting to see, encased next to the sacred icon, the sash that Pope John Paul II was wearing when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square by his would-be assassin. His sash is blood-stained, and there are visible bullet holes.

It is as though the image of Our Lady and the sash of Pope John Paul II are, in effect, a catechesis telling us the cost of living the message of the Gospel of love.

While I was celebrating Mass and while I was preaching, off to my left pilgrims were approaching the sanctuary on their knees. Elderly people, young adults and children were shuffling on their knees. Some had come from a great distance.

In the shrine, there were long lines of people waiting to go to confession. Some years ago, I had witnessed the same devotion at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

At first, I was distracted and tempted to think that I wish they would wait until the end of Mass. Then I thought, no, these devout folks are also a witness to us and cause us to strengthen our faith.

Clearly, the pilgrims that I observed are humble people of deep faith and hope. They were approaching the holy Mother of Jesus Christ, whose own humility went as far as the Cross. These folks have a sense of what is true.

There is still a wonderful sense of the sacred in the Catholic culture of the people in Poland and in Mexico. But we would be mistaken to dismiss this sense of humble faith as something that is unique to the Polish and Mexican culture and not applicable to ours.

A humble faith and a deep reverence for sacred mystery and for the Mother of God is not a matter of national enculturation.

Depth of faith in divine Providence and the place of the Mother of God is a good point for our reflection at this jubilee time. With God and through Mother Mary’s intercession, all things are possible.

There is something else about this lesson in faith. Where did the late Holy Father get such faith that would support him when there was an attempt on his life? I think of his telling that one night when he woke up he saw his father kneeling bedside praying. He never forgot that witness of his father.

Humble faith needs the nourishment and the fortification of prayer. If we don’t live close enough to Jesus and His Mother, we can lose the strength of our faith. Unless we keep close contact with God by prayer, we lose that living power of faith that can make great things happen.

Secondly, we lose humility. What we should see and do for the glory of God we forget. I encourage us to seek the truth of our humanity on our knees before Christ and His Holy Mother.

Our ancestors who followed Bishop Bruté to the territory that became the state of Indiana were courageous pioneers of our Catholic faith and, not surprisingly, like our founding bishop, they brought with them a devotion to the Blessed Mother.

In 1846, St. Theodora Guérin established the Sisters of Providence at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods and, through the influence of her teaching sisters, a special devotion to Mary was infused in the Diocese of Vincennes and beyond.

Our Lady of Providence, pray for us. †

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