One of the greatest problems of these times was the lack of foresight by Church leaders and their total lack of comprehending the human psyche. We say this because, despite all the problems in Northern Italy with the Duke Bernabo Visconti of Milan who, slowly but surely, turning the papal states one by one against the Holy See. To counteract this the Popes sent French cardinals and papal legates to govern over the Italians. Big mistake for naturally this didn't go over well at all with the Italian people who had always resented French intervention and blamed everyone in France for the Avignon exile. While Gregory's policies mirrored Urban V's in respect to reuniting the Eastern Church with the Western Church, returning the papacy to Rome, and bringing the 100 Year War to a peaceful conclusion, the 201st successor of Peter never totally comprehended the psychology and cultural differences between France and Italy. Bernabo capitalized on this by capturing one Papal State after another capturing his biggest plum in the influential Florentine region. With the fall of Firenze other Papal States fell like dominos, feeling betrayed by the Holy See. In the Spring of 1373, to counteract this collapse of the Papal States, Gregory excommunicated Visconti who laughed at the Pope and forced the papal legates who conferred it on him to consume the bull of interdiction by chewing it in humiliating Gregory's men. When Gregory realized this had no teeth, no pun intended, he decided to take stronger measures by issuing a Papal Bull of Interdiction for all of Florence. That had an effect for an excommunication of this sort forbids all who are still in union with Holy Mother Church to have any dealings with the excommunicated ones, including commerce. This hurt the pocketbooks of the Florentine bankers and merchants who responded to this strictest of punishments by recruiting the holy nun Sister Catherine from nearby Siena to plead with the Pope. She had gained much reknown for her devoted care of the sick during the plague and had become famous as a peacemaker. Thus dispatched her to Avignon to meet with Gregory XI, but the Pope would not compromised for he realized he was finally gaining the upper hand militarily. With nominal help from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, Gregory had appointed Cardinal Robert of Geneva to command a powerful group of mercenaries to regain the rebellious Papal States. Robert would later become the antipope Clement VII. With Gregory having the upper hand he did not have to negotiate with Catherine, but he was moved by her piety, sincerity and holiness. He realized the truths of what Catherine had imparted about reuniting the Holy See in Rome and Gregory felt the only way would be through a strong military presence in Italy to stabilize the situation there. He did learn one very important lesson from this holy nun and that was, when dealing with Italians, send Italians. From that time on he recalled all French cardinals and papal legates back to France, supplanting them with loyal Italian ones. Combined with Robert's decisive victories in Northern Italy, slowly but surely the Papal States returned to the fold, including Florence.
Many historians say Gregory was "bull-happy" for he issued a record number of papal bulls and excommunications with no particular favorites. He sent five bulls to the king of England Edward III alone as well as the Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury plus the University of Oxford warning them of the growing heresy of John Wycliffe. Gregory, fearing insurrection from the rank and file, utilized the Inquisition to rein in the heretics. He enlisted the help of France's monarch King Charles V who complained to the pontiff that his jails were overflowing with dissenters. Meanwhile Gregory's efforts to preach a crusade in coming to the aid of the Eastern Church against the Turks fell on deaf ears because of the problems in Italy and the war between England and France. The only help Gregory could give was to dispatch a band of brave men to rescue a Latin Rite Dominican monastery in the east. Other than that, he realized the only way he could gain power in dealing with the Turks was to be headquartered in Rome. This paralleled with a second visit of St. Catherine in the early summer of 1376. She was not afraid to berate the Supreme Pontiff for his many mistakes and poor judgment in dealing with Italy. At first the Pope was incensed but during her extended three month summer stay at the Avignon palace he realized in time she was right and the more the two talked the more he realized her words were true and it was time to return to Rome. Thus, on September 13, 1376 the Holy Father said goodbye forever to Avignon and journeyed to Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast where he sailed on October 2nd. Normally a voyage like this would have taken maybe a week, but because of storms he did not reach Corneto on the coast of Italy until December 6, 1376. Many liken it to the great sea portrait of the barque of Peter envisioned by Saint John Bosco. Because of weather conditions and political matters that had to be "cleaned up" militarily before the Pope could reenter Rome, he did not return to the eternal city until January 17, 1377 when he sailed from Ostia triumphantly up the Tiber to debark at Castel Sant'Angelo. Shortly after his return Catherine paid him a visit at the Vatican where he greeted her warmly, realizing she was truly a messenger of God. But he was also stubborn and though she pleaded with him to relax his severe stipulations on Florence as the Pope's conditions for lifting the interdict, he resisted. This did not sit well with Catherine or her people for she placed all the blame on Gregory for allowing this travesty to continue. Adding to this was the fact that Cardinal Robert unnecessarily ordered a slaughter of the people at Cesena as a show of force. This unmerciful act did nothing but rile the people and once again the situation in Rome reached such a fever pitch that Gregory had to flee Rome for Anagni.
Whether he had intentions of returning to Avignon only Gregory knew, but by now he was weary of it all as well and longed for peace. Many believed this weariness, his knowledge -through Catherine's Heavenly words - of a coming schism, his failure to accomplish all he wanted to do, and the great pain of not uniting Italy and have the people love him contributed to his early death for he died on March 27, 1378. His and Catherine's dreams of peace would be realized a few days later when Bernabo Visconti, also tired from all the warring, agreed to a peace treaty at Sarzana. How long the peace would last was anyone's guess at that time, but one thing was sure. Gregory XI would be the last French Pope to rule the Roman Catholic Church and the Babylonian captivity at Avignon. The exile was finally over, but what would follow was far worse for the Church would be thrown into turmoil with the Great Schism of the West when Queen Joanna I of Naples would encourage the election of Robert of Geneva as the antipope against the 202nd legitimate successor of Peter as we shall see in the next installment: Pope Urban VI: Out of the frying pan of the Avignon Exile, into the fire of the Great Schism.
Another sign we have is the Sign of the Cross, one we repeat constantly throughout the day no matter where we are for we too are signs. How we conduct ourselves in public is a sign of our conviction of faith. Should we be afraid to be living, walking, talking signs? No, we should never be ashamed to make the sign of the cross before each meal whether we're at home or in a restaurant. Another sign of our faith is how we react to others' abuses of the Commandments. We can't be a very strong sign for others if we're afraid to stand up to someone when they cuss or mouth a profanity or dirty joke. We have to have the conviction of our faith to speak out and say, "that's not appropriate." But too often we all are too intimidated by our peers to "rock the boat." This is especially true of our younger generation who place so much importance on acceptance of their friends that they disregard the advice of their parents and teachers. How then do we convey the values of our faith to them? That, folks, is the million dollar question. It's not easy and that's where we have to rely on the signs of the Sacraments to guide us. Just as we have road signs that keep us legally on the road and prevent collisions and confusion, so also the Church has road signs that prevent confusion and collisions of the soul. From the time of Moses until now we have a code of conduct to follow. Today the only enforcement of civil laws is through the police and court procedures. That's sad that so many thwart the system for by not complying we are stuck with the gridlock of more police, more laws, more lawyers, more legislation, more legalese and more loopholes. It has reached the point that we spend more time trying to get out of something than putting our nose to the grindstone and getting a job done fairly and squarely.
Kids today spend more time watching the clock than their mouths; they concentrate more on MTV than emptying the trash or making their beds; they have no concept of the future and few are willing to make sacrifices anymore. Sounds like this editor is getting senile with that kind of talk, but it is a very serious problem and we are to blame. Why? As we point out today in SIMPLY SHEEN the good Bishop Fulton J. Sheen coined the phrase, "There is no such thing as a juvenile delinquent; only delinquent parents." So that means we're all delinquent parents? Not really, but we could be delinquent in Purgatory for quite some time if we don't start emphasizing the signs of the Church to our little ones - whether they're one-year-olds or in their late teens. That translates to all of us living our faith and expressing it outwardly. That is a sign of love. There is a great musical by Steven Sondheim entitled "Into the Woods" which is a whimsical moral tale wrapped around favorite "Mother Goose" tales. One of the most inspiring songs is his rendition of "Children Listen." The lyrics relate, "Be careful what you say; children listen. Be careful what you do; children see." As we launch into this final year of the millennium, we are being bombarded ever more by the world, the flesh and the devil in every media outlet and children do listen; they do see. We might think it won't harm us, but be careful, that's satan's master plan. Think about it. Had we known ten, twenty, thirty years ago how the evil one would infiltrate our lives through the media and outside influences we would have guarded our homes and hearts like it were Fort Knox. And that analogy doesn't do justice to our hearts and families for anything created by God is priceless - worth more than all the gold in the world. Are we guarding it with our full arsenel of commitment and dedication or, like the sleeping guards, are we not taking our duties as parents seriously enough? We ought to realize by now how immune we have all become to violence and sex in the media. Where we would have been scandalized thirty years ago, we don't even give it a thought today. We just dismiss it, failing to realize how deep it penetrates the minds and souls of the children. Whether we believe it or not, 90% of what's broadcast today is unfit for our children - or for that matter ourselves as well. We have to realize it can hurt God's little ones - all of us, and that is why He has sent His Blessed Mother Mary to remind us in her loving, but firm maternal way. Two years ago Our Lady said in her August 25th Message, "Teach your children because if you are not an example to them, children depart into godlessness." That is the sad reality of our times and we have the august accountability to do right by them. That doesn't mean contracting with every program the Clintons propose because "it's for the sake of the children." That is merely a smokescreen and we have to realize the false agenda. Our Lord couldn't have expressed it more succinctly when he said in Matthew 18: 6, "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his nec, and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." If the Hand of God's Justice had not been held back, largely through the intercession and pleading of His dear Mother, Clinton would be twenty thousand leagues under the sea by now and who knows where we might be. Most of us might be pretty wet! But we still have a chance to stay dry because His Mercy is still available.
But before we start blaming others, we should all look in the mirror for subconsciously and by our inaction we are causing scandal to the little ones. God means business. He's not pulling any punches when He tells us to straighten up and drive right! But He realizes what the world offers and all the distractions, luring us onto the false highways paved by the seven deadly sins. That is why He has given us His Holy Church and that is why He has sent His very Own Mother in these times to remind us, to steer us back to the main road. We call these apparitions and messages from His Mother "Signs and Wonders" which we are looking for constantly, sometimes at the expense of our families and spiritual life. We have to be careful that we don't get too wrapped up in the signs and wonders and come away wondering what they say because we failed to heed them ourselves or didn't convey the correct meaning of God's signs to others. In this time of abundant signs and wonders, we can't afford not to heed the signs for that would cause all to wonder before they wander away. That's not what Our Lord and Our Lady meant by the wonder of signs and wonders!
Little children of my Immaculate Heart, I weep because I see how lost you are. You are filled with fear. But your fear is of satan. It is not holy fear (reverence) for God. Thus, you do not open your hearts, but rather remain closed.
Little children, all of my messengers have been chosen for a specific mission. The words they convey are but a minute piece of the plan God initiates for the salvation of His people. Look closely at the messages with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then you shall see that in all I speak to you of God's love and mercy, and I warn you of the trials to come if mankind does not change and return to God.
I call each one to a renewed faith. I am calling you to holiness, to live virtuous lives centered on my Divine Son in the Blessed Sacrament. I ask you to awaken from your slumber and to recognize the spiritual malaise which pervades the world.
Therefore, I again say: Pray! Pray! Pray! God loves you. You are called to be with Him for all eternity. Therefore, wait, watch and pray for God shall direct you along the sure path.
I love and bless you. Thank you for responding to my Call!
Little children, are you listening? Do you seek to be little, nothing? This is why I tenderly call you 'little children' in order that I, the Mother of God, might cradle you in my arms.
You are frightened, my little ones. Everywhere satan reeks confusion upon mankind. Go into prayer, asking for my Son's Peace and the Enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. This will cast aside all doubts and confusion.
So many of you do not wish to hear about chastisements. You prefer to go along, believing God shall not exact Justice for the sins of your godless world. But I must tell you of these coming events so that you might be prepared and not be swept away by evil forces which are as tidal waves.
Dear children, there is too much talk and not enough prayerful living. If you believed and trusted in God, you would rejoice, and not feel saddened by the chastisements.
I, the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, say to all of my children. My words spoken through my chosen visionaries and other messengers are not calling you to be separate from one another. I am not asking you to "move" to the left or the right, as you understand your own conversion in the face of the Great Apostasy. No! Little children of my Immaculate Heart, God does not move! He does not change! He is One God in Three Divine Persons, infinite and unchanging. It is you, my little ones, who have moved away from Him. By His Authority I am among you to call you back.
Because of your human nature, your finite minds, this call requires movement on your part. Spiritual movement of your soul until it is once again centered directly upon the Divine Will. Mankind, by nature, restlessly, ceaselessly changes all around them. They have tried to change God, to make Him fit their finite needs. But my call for you is to open your hearts and be united in mind and heart through the Grace of the Holy Spirit. This movement is neither to the right, or left, but to the center - the fulcrum of the Divine Will.
Therefore, I solemnly tell all of my little ones that God is pleased by humility, obedience and all honor and reverence due Him. When you fail to do this it is you who have moved, and God, in His Mercy, calls you back.
Seek first the spiritual refuge of my Son's Most Sacred Heart and allow my Immaculate Heart to guide you. All places of refuge must be, first and above, entirely spiritual refuges. Then they can and will become physical places of refuge, for then you will allow God to direct everything. In my places of refuge all human will and ego must be totally surrendered to the Divine Will. Seek to do this, my children. Already many have heard the call of the Holy Spirit. Now is the time of total abandonment and absolute detachment from all material goods which, like weights, tie you to earth and satan's kingdom.
Prepare well your souls by Faith, Prayer, Fasting, Penance, Reconciliation. Go to Mass daily if you can. Worthily receive my Divine Son, and give Him all honor and respect. All else shall be given you as you need it.
Peace. God does not abandon His faithful ones. I love and bless you. Thank you for responding to my Call!