The idiom "you're not getting older, only better" surely applies to the Blessed Virgin Mary who is busier than ever as we celebrate tomorrow her liturgical birthday - the last chance to do so in this millennium. We are now on the eve of the third millennium, the millennium foretold in Sacred Scripture as that time of peace the "New Eve" has been preparing us for. It promises to be a great celebration of mass conversions when countless of her children will return to her Divine Son Jesus and His Church. What a celebration it will be! But we must be prepared for the "party." You can't throw a party if you're not prepared, if you don't have the facilities or "goodies" so to speak, or the participants. In this case the facilities are the parishes and the "goodies" are the knowledge of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith both catechetically, scripturally, and doctrine-wise. The participants are Catholics who are well-versed in their faith to evangelize and minister to others - the millions of others who, like the prodigal son, will return to the fold. There will be great rejoicing, but there is plenty of hard work to pull it off and God depends on us to be His legs, His arms, His mouth, and His ears to help make it the great success expected. One other thing He depends on us to have - His heart, which means giving ourselves heart and soul to fulfilling His Will. Help of Christians, pray for us.
No wonder Our Lady constantly harps on praying with and from the heart! She has been doing this since her first apparition to Saint James in Zaragoza, Spain quite possibly when she was in her "fifties" or "sixties." Since that time she has been appearing all over the earth. For a young girl born near Bethsaida, she has been quite the world traveler! There is likely no country in the world she has not visited over the past two millenniums and her message is always the same: Pray from the heart and come home to her Divine Son. And yet, for nearly 2000 years we still haven't gotten it right. Either we argue amongst ourselves preferring our own wills over what she asks - to adhere to the Divine Will, or we argue over Mary's role - Protestant vs. Catholics - and the sad, sad fact is that over these 20 centuries more people have died over the "cause" of religion than any other cause. That's not what God wants, that's not what the Blessed Mother wants, and, in truth, that's not what mankind wants. Yet all faiths have gone into battle from the early Romans to the Crusaders to the Papal State armies to the wars during the Protestant Reformation to the French Revolution to present time where peace is non-existent in so many regions of the world today. Mary is not the "Queen of warriors" but rather the "Queen of Peace" and that peace cannot be achieved without prayer from the heart, without totally submitting our will to God's will. Virgin most faithful, pray for us.
Our dear Holy Father Pope John Paul II has been criticized and misunderstood by many for his recent announcement of a universal penitential pardon for Ash Wednesday next year for all Catholics. Some cardinals feel it will weaken the Church and cause the world to think that Holy Mother Church is admitting she was wrong and the syllogism would then be that the others were right - the Saracens, the Protestants, the Huguenots, etc. That is the farthest thing from the truth for the Pope is not afraid of the scrutiny of history. He realizes the Church has made mistakes in the past; after all those in the hierarchy are only human. But he also remembers Christ's words to seek forgiveness and ask pardon. Even Protestants know that from the Our Father. "...forgive us our tresspasses, as we also forgive our tresspassers" (Matthew 6: 12).
The Holy Father is confident that when the wheat is separated from the chaff, the Church will be absolved by a world that points its finger at the one institution that still stands for moral values and virtue, the dignity of man and Sanctity of Life. The key word is "cleansing" and that is what the Pope seeks, to fulfill Christ's command that we forgive and ask forgiveness in order to be worthy of Him. That is the virtue of humility which Jesus asks. That is Mercy. If we expect God to have mercy on us, we must have mercy on others. Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. A good example is Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, Nobel Laureate prelate from East Timor whose people have greatly been persecuted and martyred and his own residence attacked over the weekend. His response is to forgive. Virgin Most Prudent, pray for us.
Mercy is the watchword of John Paul II's pontificate. Recall his forgiveness of his attempted assassin in May of 1981 - on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. This Pope is totally consecrated to Our Lady - Totus Tuus and he carries her immaculate banner to the world...a world at war. Today there is turmoil throughout the world as we stand on the brink of an even greater world prophesied in Scripture and by Our Lady to so many visionaries over the years. There is no continent where there is peace save for Antartica and even there natural disasters are present. Africa is in shambles as Moslems and Christians are engaged in bitter fighting from Sudan to Rwanda to numerous provinces there with thousands perishing. Asia is reeling from persecution in East Timor, China, India, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan not to mention the rest of Southeast Asia. Australia continues to be embroiled in fierce name-calling between factions as the gay-rights and abortion advocates infiltrate the culture down-under as the bishops fight to preserve the truth while they themselves bicker with each other. Europe is crumbling in moral decay. The Holy Father has warned so many countries of this - from the guerrilla tactics in Northern Ireland between militant Protestants and Catholics, to the disregard for the culture of life in Scandinavian countries and Germany to the disregard for the faith and concession to modernism in France and Italy. In fact, possibly the only country still strong is Portugal which Our Lady also foretold at Fatima, but even there abortion is trying to take hold as the culture of death spreads like a deadly cancer over the entire globe. Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
In the "new world" things aren't much better, in fact possibly worse. In South and Latin America there is so much fighting in practically every country that no one knows if there will be a coup the next minute. Governments that have come to power this way are fighting with the Catholic bishops over abuses and practices as Catholics weigh the delicate balance between caring for our fellow man and liberal theology as thousands die from senseless massacre and even more from starvation. Bishops and priests are being murdered and paramilitary governments are involved in ridiculous cover-ups. Two examples are human rights champions Bishop Juan Gerardi of Colombia and El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero who is featured today in the countdown of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY. In North America Mexico is in dire straits and Canada is treading the economic waters as the Canadian dollar loses its value in a very unstable market while the bishops of Canada reveal an even more liberal bent than their neighbors to the south. Comforter of the Afflicted, pray for us.
Ah, yes, the United States - the country dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, the land more blessed with material possessions than any other in the history of mankind. What about America? While there are no formal military wars within our boundaries the war for life has been going on for over thirty years on the front lines of the abortuaries; faiths have fueded longer; and the most revered position in the country - that of President, has been made into a mockery because of the commander-in-chief's total denial of God's will in favor of his own selfish wants. Mother of Good Counsel, pray for us.
As we have mentioned so many times on these pages, the moral fiber of America is spreading so thin that it will unravel soon unless we return to her Divine Son and heed all Our Lady asks. But there must be unity for this to happen and even as we prepare to welcome the countless souls back into the Church, there is still too much in-fighting amongst ourselves; not only between the conservative and liberal elements of the Church but within the Marian movement itself. How can we heed the messages if we are not willing to listen to them? Too many hold the messengers up for scrutiny without truly hearing what Mary is saying. We judge too quickly and pay more attention to the messenger than the message. The majority of messages this century have been the same and yet so few truly hear and even fewer heed what Our Lady asks. And so there is misery throughout the globe. No wonder the Blessed Virgin weeps so. With all the efforts she has put out one would hope for better results. One would think Mary is more deserving of a better birthday present than this sad, sorry mess the world is in. But Mary is not dismayed and, as the Mother of Mercy and Refuge of Sinners she perseveres. Vessel of Honor, pray for us.
Liturgically her birthday is the beginning of a week that includes the feast of The Holy Cross, formerly the Triumph of the Cross, and then the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. We begin joyously and lead up to two feasts that connotate much sacrifice and suffering, but without which we would not have the graces we have been afforded by God today. Without the Cross and Mary's fiat think where we would be! It's not a nice thought and it's not a nice thought to think of the countless souls who could lose out if we do not intensify our prayers and evangelization efforts immediately. We must be ready for the onslaught. Mother of Sorrows, pray for us. The only way for that to happen is by beginning at home - in our own hearts by living all Our Lady imparts - living her messages for those messages are exactly what her Divine Son gave to His Church and have been handed down from the Apostles, who we cover today in our GIFT OF FAITH series, to our present Bishops who need to realize their legacy and act accordingly in curtailing the dissident elements and liberal ideas permeating parishes today. They need to rethink their policies and return to a more orthodox mode in accord with Rome. It begins with each one of us in prayer for prayer can move mountains. Maybe that's why Mary has chosen so many mountain vicinities for her apparitions over the years. Gate of Heaven, Queen of Prophets, pray for us.
Our readiness, our willingness to submit totally to God's will in order to be part of God's "volunteer faculty" in teaching others as the Holy Father has requested is the best present we can give our Blessed Mother tomorrow for her birthday. What mom wouldn't love that? Especially one who is more experienced than anyone else in history. After all Blessed Mary, by historical estimates, was born thirteen years before her Divine Son, which makes her well over 2000 years old and as young as ever! With her fiat to the Blessed Trinity as the Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Queen of Angels and All Saints can also add to her list of titles Mother of the Third Millennium, pray for us!