Monday, October 8, 2012

Twelve Years Earlier

Not just a lady and not just a mother, but a queen! Wisconsin has bragging rights it has never capitalized on. A real queen came to visit a young Wisconsin girl named Adele Brice in October of 1859. It was the Blessed Virgin Mary who appeared to her. But she referred to herself- not the queen of any particular nation –but the “Queen of Heaven.” And if she is queen of heaven, she has to be the queen of all of those who reside on the earth as well.

Just as Our Lady of Guadalupe came to confirm the preaching of the Gospel by Franciscan missionaries in Mexico in 1531, Our Lady of Good Help came to fulfill a similar calling one hundred and fifty-five years after the Jesuit missionaries and explorers visited Wisconsin. Indeed, she came to water the seeds of life that had already been planted by the Church.

Long after Jean Nicolet, the French explorer, and an entourage of Jesuit missionaries landed on the shores of Green Bay in 1634, this mysterious Lady came to give “good” help to the settlers of Northeast Wisconsin. Some people have good intentions in lending their assistance, but it does not always prove to be beneficial. But the Queen of Heaven is a lady who came to give “good” help…indeed, the best kind of help. But it can be asked, “Did the people from Wisconsin ask for help?” The answer: “No. Not yet anyways!” But they would twelve years after she first appeared to Adele in Robinsonville, Wisconsin; that is, twelve years after her first appearance on October 9,1859. Evidently, she seemed too know something that the Wisconsin settlers did not know. She knew there was something special about October 9th.

Sometimes the more important things in life can easily escape our notice. As such, losing the less important things in life, such as material belongings and even human life itself, can serve as valuable reminders about the more important things we can lose. But first things first! The Queen of Heaven spoke to Adele about the welfare of souls, the most important thing of all. She said,

“I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”

Praying for the conversion of sinners! From heaven’s vantage point, to “live and let live” is not one of love but indifference. The Queen from heaven came to change people. She seemed to be saying that evangelization and religious education, if it is to have any success at all, has to be seasoned with prayers for the conversion of sinners; not only with prayers but also with spiritual sacrifices.

Just as the road to sin is comprised of pleasure and convenience, so too the road to recovery- that is, the road back to Christ -is comprise of and must be forged with sacrificial love. Just as sin can incur an infinite debt because of God’s justice, our prayers and spiritual sacrifices can be filled with merit in God’s eyes because of his mercy. As such, the “good help” the Lady from heaven came to give requires, at least on our part, to do more than just fulfill our own religious duties. We have to go beyond that! We have to confess our sins and receive the Eucharist on behalf of a spirit of reparation!

“If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” Consequences! How seldom do we speak to those consequences that come about from spiritual inactivity or neglect?! In fact, when moral and spiritual consequences are rarely spoken about, is it not the case that the incentive for living the life of Christ is weakened? And yet, Catholics are pretty good when talking about what we "should convert to." But as it pertains to what we need to "convert from," we have never been worse. The sins that are killing Western civilization rarely get mentioned from pulpits, pastoral letters and religious curriculums. We need to relearn that the same Good Shepherd that goes out into the wilderness to search for the lost sheep is He who disciplines. The One who builds up also tears down!

Notice that Our Lady of Good Help, as she is referred to today, wanted Adele to make a general confession so that she could be free from the stain of sin as much as possible. Being an effective instrument for the conversion of sinners is to be, at the same time, not only a pleasing aroma to Christ but a pleasing aroma to souls who are seeking God. A Christian is one who wears the wedding garment of purity and repentance. With this, Adele's witness would give credence to whatever words she spoke in teaching the Faith to others. And the Communion she would frequently receive for the purpose of converting souls would make her into a walking tabernacle of Christ’s presence. Not on truth alone are people saved but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation comes through truth and grace!

Knowing the content of the Faith, therefore, is only the beginning of catechesis and evangelization. This is why Our Lady of Good Help said to Adele,

“Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation…Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

To sign ourselves with the Cross is a testament to people, angels and demons that we belong to Christ. Furthermore, the Sign of Cross is a reminder of our baptism when we first received the Life of Christ. It also reminds us of the price Christ paid on the Cross so what he could have a share in His life.  Hence, this sign accompanies us as we enter into prayer and when we conclude prayer. It is our passport.

Being properly disposed towards the Sacraments is also important. Indeed, approaching the Sacraments is to approach the Life of Christ. In large part, our approach to Christ in the Sacraments will give shape to how we will respond to him in our daily lives. Our disposition towards the Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation trains us to see the presence of Christ in our family members, in our neighbor, in the poor and in the events and circumstances that unfold each day. After all, the Lord uses the ordinary things of life to reveal himself to us.

This kind of good help is the best kind of help. And it is the kind of help that the Queen of Heaven came to give the settlers of Northeast Wisconsin. But the best kind of help is not wanted if people do not perceive what they need help from. To repeat, sometimes the more important things in life can easily escape our notice. As such, losing the less important things in life, such as material belongings and even human life itself, can serve as valuable reminders about the more important things that can be lost such as our souls. Enter the greatest natural disaster in North American history: The Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

The greatest and most pivotal events in history often go unnoticed for years and hence receive little public attention. For instance, in October of 1871, a fire raged across the plains of Wisconsin known as the Peshtigo Fire. It covered a geographical area as big as the State of Rhode Island. And worse yet, it killed approximately 2,500 people. But on October 9th of the same year the blazing furnace had reached the chapel and the five acre piece of land where Our Lady of Good Help had appeared exactly twelve years earlier. In a panic, Catholics in the region took refuge in Our Lady of Good by praying the rosary while processing around the property. It just so happened that a downpour of rain deluged the area and ended up quenching the fire, thus putting an abrupt end to the massive devastation. Our Lady of Good chapel and the grounds were spared. But more importantly, lives were saved.

The apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help starting on October 9, 1859 and the Peshtigo Fire miracle on October 9, 1871 is a dramatic illustration of great spiritual truths. As for the fire, it speaks to the fact that God often gets the attention of His people through adversity. In this case, adversity came by way of the greatest natural disaster in North American history, the Peshtigo Fire. And under the protection of Our Lady of Good Help human lives were saved from this massive fire.

But the Queen of Heaven came to save something even more important than the body. On behalf of her Son, she came to save lost souls; to retrieve them from a fire that can never be quenched! To claim them for her Son and for the joys of eternal life! And if Adele were to be a servant of this Queen by carrying out this mission, she would need courage. Perhaps this is why the Queen's parting words to her were, "Go and fear nothing." That is to say, fear no evil, whether it be man-made or from hell itself. And even if death and destruction should encompass you, fear nothing. "I will help you."

"I will help you!" To be sure, help came on October 9, 1871 when human lives were spared from the fury of the Peshtigo Fire. But the real help came- the really good help came! -on October 9, 1859 when the Queen of Heaven asked Adele and her children to join her in praying for the conversion of sinners exactly twelve years earlier!