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Thankfulness will put a smile on your face during Lent and after Lent, too. Smiling during fasting is recommended by Jesus: "When you fast you are not to look glum as the hypocrites do. They change the appearance of their faces so that others may see they are fasting. I assure you they are already repaid. When you fast see to it that you groom your hair and wash your face. In that way no one can see that you are fasting but your Father who is hidden; and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
When you see on TV those pitches to lose pounds, remember that there is a better way!
Once the great sinner, the scandal of the family, the Magdalene rushes across the room and falls at Jesusí feet!
"Arise, Mary," Jesus tells her lovingly. Let us sit together in the last of the sunshine."
Drawing her to her feet, I can clearly see that Mary of Magdala is indeed a beautiful woman. She is tall and slender, her face spotless, her long, thick hair pulled back and kept in place by very plain combs and hair pins.
She is without any adornment, no make-up whatsoever, yet her beauty is all the more real. She has large eyes which see much, which contemplate much and ponder, but the very essence of her soul, now transformed into holiness because of Jesus, is a pure light which gazes at Jesus with intense pure, spiritual love.
"The time has come for You, for all of us. I do not fully understand how, but I feel it here in my heart. It is like a sword, or a very heavy weight."
"It is the time of sorrow, Mary, for all who must be obedient to the Father. Then shall come the triumph, the victory."
"I believe and my heart understands your words."
"Mary, my beloved child, a true conquest for My Kingdom, you must not be sad. This is Godís victory and the fulfillment of My earthly Mission."
"Master, it is just that now, at this time, I seem to see all my past life - my life of hideous sin - rise before me as a hideous monster. And at night when I seek to pray, my prayer does not come because this monster from my past curses me, calls me a fool and condemns me."
Jesus looks at her intently and He is searching her heart, which gives Him such joy because it overflows with the pure love He seeks from all His lost sheep.
"Mary! Mary! This is not the time of the evil one. Satan seeks to strike at each heart. He seeks to blind, confuse and through confusion he leads to doubt and despair. Look at me, Mary!"
Mary, who has lowered her head now looks strongly, steadfastly into the eyes of her Lord and God, and upon her features a renewed courage appears.
"Do you believe that you are forgiven? Do you believe in My love for you, and how your repentant heart gives Me, the Man, courage and strength?"
"Yes, Lord, I believe." Jesus rises from His chair and places both hands upon her head. He raises His eyes to Heaven and His lips move in silent prayer.
"From this moment on, Mary, you shall no longer be victim of the evil oneís lies. You possess pure, holy love. This shall sustain you and you shall be strong in the face of the multitude which shall insult and ridicule and threaten all who love Me. Mary?"
She is weeping now, but gently, quietly."Yes, Master!"
"I want you to remember this time. Let it, and all that I have said and done for you, be ever in your mind and upon your heart. Mary, when the dreadful hour comes you will have courage, and fro you many, in future generations, will find hope and trust in Me."
"I will be strong, Jesus, for I love you so."
"You will shine as a star of love in My kingdom, and at the end of all time you will know all those souls who, by your life and example, have believed in Me and won eternal life. I bless you, My dear, loving daughter. Stand by your family. Be an example even to My Apostles, for the moment of their real strength is yet to come. Do this, My child of love. And I shall return to you, to re-confirm to you all I have spoken."
Mary now leaves her chair and falls to her knees. She bends low and, in perfect humility, bestows a kiss upon the feet of her Savior. Then, she takes first His right hand and kisses the palm, while Jesus gazes with ardent love and constant blessing. She does the same to His left palm, each kiss placed upon the pure, holy, spotless flesh that will in a few days be bruised, lacerated and pierced by cruel spikes.
Her tears do not cease, nor are any more words spoken. She bows low and hiding her face beneath her veil, she withdraws.
Jesus appears saddened, and does not sit but looks out upon the peaceful garden of Lazarusí estate, drawing from The Fatherís creation yet more solace as His hour draws near.
"Son!" His Motherís greeting. A voice made in Heaven, from Heaven. Quickly Jesus turns to see Mary, His most holy Mother, already near Him. She moves without sound, always meek, humble, gentle and so aware of Her Sonís increasing anguish.
"O! Mother!" It is a sigh. A prayer.
"Dear Son, I am here now. I will not leave You until you instruct me to do so." Her eyes behold Him, drink in every aspect of the Son of God, Whom she has born in her virginal womb.
"The hour is so close. I have said nearly all I must say to fulfill the Divine Will."
"I know, Son."
"They shall need you, O good, holy Mother!"
"I know, Son. I will not fail You. I will be whatever God wants me to be for them."
"Mother, with each passing moment The Son grows closer to His hour, and the awesome burden increases. Yet, together, We must exhort all to faith, to hope and to love."
"Yes, my Son. We will do that. The Father will hear my poor prayer."
"OI sorrowful mother, the world will one day recognize that you, also, have suffered the most hideous tortures, and have remained without the slightest blemish of sin. This is a font of strength for Me, Mother, because I shall have before Me in My deepest anguish, your virtues so beautiful before the Trinity."
"I am the handmaid of the Lord, Son. I have never sought other than His Will."
"Pray now with Me, Mother, for the strength needed to fulfill Our Mission. Pray to the Father for all mankind, that all that is yet to be suffered shall not be in vain."
They kneel, their heads lifted to Heaven. Together they pray, "Our Father, Who art in Heaven..." and the sun sets upon their prayer.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Part Four of Lesson 2: Our Lady's meditation on FAREWELL TO THE HOLY WOMEN AND THE MOTHER
The concordat, originally negotiated by the Vatican and the Solidarity-dominated government of Poland in 1993, became endangered when that regime lost power to a new ruling coalition dominated by former Communists. But the Solidarity bloc regained control of the national legislature last year, paving the way for final approval of the pact.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, himself a former Communist, has given his final approval early this year, overcoming earlier misgivings. After giving the pact his final approval yesterday in Warsaw, Kwasniewski predicted that the agreement would promote the further development of "good and friendly relations between Poland and the Vatican." He expressed the hope† that these relations would "not lead to arguments" within Poland, but rather would encourage "peace and reconciliation, which are necessary and welcome, as His Holiness has said."
The Vatican, too, issued a formal statement voicing the "hope that the corcordat will reinforce the cordial relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Poland, leading to a new rapport between Church and state, in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the new Code of Canon Law."
The concordat's 29 articles provide, among other things, for legal recognition of the Church and her institutions in Poland, freedom for Catholic apostolates, the teaching of religion in public schools, recognition of civil and canonical marriage, the Church's right to use the means of public communication, and government support for Catholic university faculties in Krakow and Lublin."
In a break with tradition, Pope John Paul II personally signed the agreement at the Vatican today. (Ordinary the Vatican Secretary of State signs such documents.) The Pope's gesture was taken as an indication of the high importance he attaches to this particular agreement.
The treaty which governs the Polish states relationship with the Catholic Church has undergone a troubled ratification process since the fall of Communism in 1989. The ex-Communists blocked the concordat while it held power in Parliament between 1993 and 1997, but the ruling Solidarity alliance quickly ratified the document after it won national elections last fall.
The Holy Father called the Polish ambassador to the Vatican on Monday to witness the signing, which ANSA said was probably meant as a gesture of courtesy toward his homeland and a sign of the importance he attaches to the treaty. The concordat stipulates that church marriages are legally binding and provides for religious education at the earliest levels of education.
"We had a peaceful conversation," the Russian president the Patriarch, according to a report in the Itar-Tass news agency. "We avoided hot topics like his visiting Russian and the relations between the two [Catholic and Orthodox] churches."
The Itar-Tass report indicated that Patriarch Alexei said he was interested not in mounting a crusade but in "finding some reciprocal understanding," so that the tensions between Rome and Moscow might be resolved. He reportedly added that the Moscow Patriarchate and the Holy See are engaged in "very difficult" negotiations regarding "certain points which make our relations very delicate." He was referring to the conflicts between Ukrainian Catholics and their Orthodox neighbors over the distribution of Church property confiscated during the Stalin era.
Zizola, who covers the Vatican for the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, pointed out in yesterday's edition that Italian cardinals will no longer hold one-third of the votes in a conclave-- the margin which he said would be necessary to control a papal election.† While the February 21 consistory saw 7 new Italian members added to the College of Cardinals, Zizola pointed out that this number could be misleading, since the proportion of Italian cardinals is dropping; it is now roughly one-fourth of the total body. He added that Pope John Paul, the first non-Italian pope of the 20th century, has overseen "the national dispersion of the College," which now includes representatives of 56 different countries.
Zizola pointed out two clear indications of the overall trend. In 1958 there were only 15 non-European cardinals, among the 51 members of the College; today there are 66, out of 122 cardinals. And there are now 54 cardinals from the southern hemisphere-- among them, a sizable bloc of 23 from Latin America.
Although 85 percent of the current cardinal-electors have been chosen by Pope John Paul, Zizola cautioned against the assumption that a future papal conclave would produce a "photocopy" of the Holy Father's wishes. He observed that in the past, many conclaves have confounded all expectations, overlooking highly favored candidates and electing relatively unknown cardinals for the papacy. He mentioned in particular the elections of Popes Pius X and John XXIII- - each of whom was elected despite widespread assumptions that a different cardinal would emerge victorious from the conclave.†