Conferences given at the MMP International Clergy Retreats
Fr. Francis Geremia, c.s.
THE HUNCHBACK AND THE QUEEN
THE HUNCHBACK AND THE QUEEN.
“Guard in your heart the precious pearl of a personal call to live in profound intimacy of life with your heavenly Mother.” (# 346 a) Each of us is puzzled to learn that the Queen of Heaven has chosen us to be priests “especially beloved of my Immaculate Heart” (# 64 g) and to share such a close and privileged friendship with her. We wonder why we would be of any particular interest to her and what exactly are the “great designs” she has for us.
But when we hear this majestic Queen go on to say that she is going to bring us “to a great summit of holiness” (# 295 g), and that she is going to make us into “a most pure transparency of God” (# 133 f), we feel a certain uneasiness. We readily admit that we are far, far from such a high state of perfection. In fact, are we not at times painfully aware of the “deformity” we carry within us because of our defects, failings, infidelities, and those beastly dark shadows of our sinfulness?
There is this “hunchback” in us which stands in stark contrast to the immaculate elegance of the beautiful Queen. Perhaps we might even go so far as to say that, in our turbulent priestly lives, there are those “low moments” when Satan, with his irrefutable arguments, reasoning and accusations, thoroughly persuades us that we have, on the contrary, taken on the likeness of Judas, if not Lucifer? “so effectively does he convince you of your wretchedness.” (#128 d) Even Our Lady says, “How many are those priests who weep over their falls”. (# 515 L)
Indeed, we know exactly what St. Philip Neri meant when he said to God, “O Lord, keep your eye on Philip, else he will betray You!”
So who are we, spiritual hunchbacks, to be the object of such overflowing affection from this flawless Queen – “ the Father’s masterpiece of beauty” ? (# 111 b) “Gaze upon me…in the splendour of my superhuman beauty… I am ‘ all- beautiful’ – tota pulchra”. (# 394 cd)
Do we not feel completely unworthy of such delicate favour? And yet, in spite of our deformity, how the “Beauty” loves us! “If you only knew, my son, how much I love them, how much I clasp them to my heart, one by one!” (54 Aa) “You are the greatest joy of my Immaculate Heart.” (237L)
This enchanting Queen continues to surprise us and make us nervous when she further reveals what she has in mind for us: “Your mission is sublime”. (#205 g) “I have chosen you and prepared you for the triumph of my Immaculate
Heart in the world.” (#29 e) “Through you I will gain my great victory”. (#23 s) “My priests…will bring back many of my children from death to life.”(#21 k) “Through them I will save an immense number of souls” (#13 k) “Through them I will act to strike at the heart of my enemy and to crush his head with my heel” (#25 f)
Through us? We wonder how this can possibly be so. For besides being hunchbacks, are we not also her “misfit” priests, incompetent and more inclined to failure than to victory? How will she do this? Perhaps the answer can be found in the “tilma” of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In the year 1531, the “Perfect and Perpetual Virgin” appeared to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, Mexico. But in spite of her apparition, there was no shrine built in her honour, and there were no great conversions. Not until the miracle of the “tilma”. When the beautiful, perfumed Castilian roses, gathered from the frozen December soil on Tepeyae hill, came cascading down from Juan Diego’s cloak (tilma) onto the floor at the feet of the Bishop of Mexico City, he was amazed! Then there suddenly materialized, right before his eyes, the exquisite image of the “Ever Virgin Mary” imprinted on the inside of the tilma! The Bishop fell to his knees in astonishment, speechless before the “sign” he had requested. It was this image that convinced the Bishop to build the church which Our Lady had asked for. It was this image that resulted in the conversion of 9 million Aztecs, as news of the miraculous picture spread like wild fire throughout the country. One priest testified that he baptized 6000 people in one day. (“The Wonder of Guadalupe”, by Francis Johnston, TAN BOOKS, 1981)
Could it possibly be that we are the coarse cloth on which the image of the Ever Virgin is imprinted, and that it is through this image in us that Our Lady intends to bring countless souls back to God? Could it possibly be that we are the “tilma” of the “Ever Virgin” in these new pagan times? Listen to the words of the Madonna to us: “Your hearts will be truly transfigured because I myself will imprint my image upon them… through you, the priests of my Movement, I will give
the Church of today a sign…of my presence.” (63 i j) “I am sharing with you my beauty and reproducing in you my image.
(177 f) I “make you ever more like myself and…transform your soul into the
image of my own soul” (290 e) “I want to bring you all to reproduce in your life the perfect image of your heavenly Mother. For this, I am causing you to become …ever littler, till each of you reaches the point of utter nothingness of his own
self. I turn all your misery into a thing of value, because it is this alone which irresistibly draws down upon you all the merciful predilection of my Immaculate Heart… When I see my image reproduced in you, I will be able to give each of
you my spirit and fill you with the fullness of my love. I will clothe you in my immaculate garment and embellish you with all
my virtues.” (152 h i l) “The time has come when I wish to… manifest myself to all through you” (227q)
To this day, art experts and scientists are unable to explain how this delicate , subtlely-coloured and multi-hued picture of the Virgin could have been imprinted on the rough uneven fibres and loosely woven fabric of Juan Diego’s cloak. It remains simply inexplicable. Similarly, we are not able to understand how Our Lady is able to imprint the refined loveliness of her image on the coarse fibres of our rugged hearts. It is likewise inexplicable. Somehow, Our Lady makes use of our haggard inelegance. Strange as it may sound, this Heavenly Artist requires the “utter nothingness” of a “blank canvass” to create her celestial artwork. “It is your emptiness which draws my love.” (115 i) “It is this nothingness which attracts God’s pleasure.” (64 h)
This is why we need not fear our own worthlessness, misery and brokenness. Of ourselves, we will bring no one back to God. It is only the supernatural, transforming action of “the Beautiful One” which will cause to appear on our priestly hearts the captivating image of Herself. It is this image of Mary that will possess a magnetic power to attract souls and a certain irresistible charm to touch hearts and draw them to God. Was this not exactly the case in the life of Pope John Paul II, consecrated to Our Lady from his early years? Was it not the Virgin who was the source of his charism and his magnetic image, attracting to holiness everyone, even the youth, in a most powerful and unexplainable manner?
It is She who will accomplish everything in us, in a way too mysterious and surprising for us to know. Today there takes place in us too, the miracle of the tilma”!
These are the timely and deeply comforting words of Our Lady of Guadalupe spoken to Juan Diego on December 12, 1531:
“Listen, my son, to what I tell you now and let it penetrate your heart. Do not be troubled nor disturbed by anything. Do not fear illness, nor any other distressing occurrence, nor pain. Am I not your Mother? Am I not life and health? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Have I not placed you on my lap and made you my responsibility? Do you need anything else?”
A few practical conclusions result from all of this: We must do everything “through” Mary
(6 a-d) “Why do you become troubled? Why are you worried? To be consecrated to me means to let yourself be led by me. It means to entrust yourself to me, like a child who lets itself be led by its mother.
You must therefore accustom yourself to a new way of thinking, to a new way of acting. It is not your place to think of what is best for you; do not be making plans or building your tomorrow, for, you see, I upset everything and then you feel bad. Why do you not wish to entrust yourself to me? Let it be I who build – moment by moment – your future. It is enough for you to say just as a little child: ‘Mother, I trust you. I let myself be led by you. Tell me: what must I do?’
And also, let it be I who act through you. For this, how necessary it is for you to die to yourself!”
In order to cover us with Jesus, the Immaculate Heart must first free us from “our old selves” with all our passions, sins and bad habits. (21 m,q,t,u) “But mine is also an Immaculate Heart, that is to say, a motherly heart that has never been tarnished by any shadow, by any sin, limpid as a spring, clear as light. The priests of my Movement must restore purity in souls and fight firmly against the Demon of Lust in all its manifestations. To those who have fallen I will give a new purity; I will call them to a second and more beautiful innocence of repentance and love. I want it to be the Movement of my priests which will bring back the fragrance of purity to the world: for it is only on the billow of this perfume that my Son Jesus will once again become the King of hearts and of souls”.
In order to do this, Mary doesn’t replace the means of grace that are the sacraments, especially Confession, prayer and penance which we must practice; instead she makes them more effective by her grace, when we allow her to do so by trusting in her, abandoning ourselves to her maternal care and consecrating ourselves to her. “We must do everything through Mary, that is, we must obey her always and be led in all things by her spirit, which is the Holy Spirit of God (TD, 258)”. “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God (Rm 8, 14)”.
7. We must do everything “with Mary”
The Second Vatican Council teaches us: “The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, who while leading the life common to all here on earth, one filled with family concerns and labors, was always intimately united with her Son and in an entirely unique way cooperated in the work of the Savior. Having now been assumed into heaven, with her maternal charity she cares for these brothers of her Son who are still on their earthly pilgrimage and remain involved in dangers and difficulties until they are led into the happy fatherland. All should devoutly venerate her and commend their life and apostolate to her maternal care” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 4). Consecration leads the soul to the most filial union with the Immaculate so that Jesus may live perfectly in it.
(27 a-d) “They must no longer think of themselves; I want to take care of them myself. I will grant all their requests and satisfy their deepest desires. They must no longer live for themselves, not even as regards their priestly activity, which absorbs them so much, tires them and consumes them, but leaves them empty and far from me. On the contrary, they must live only for my Son Jesus, carrying out the Gospel to the letter. For this, they must live only for me, with me. I alone will be able to form them to an ever greater unity of mind and of heart with my Son Jesus; I will have them act solely for Him, as though led by the hand by me and under the sweet influence of my inspiration. They will then be still doing the same things, but in how different a manner! And because these same things will be done by them in union with me, I will manifest myself in them, and through them I will be able to carry out my great plan of salvation”.
Montfort said: “We must do everything with Mary, that is to say, in all our actions we must look upon Mary, although a simple human being, as the perfect model of every virtue and perfection, fashioned by the Holy Spirit for us to imitate, as far as our limited capacity allows. In every action then we should consider how Mary performed it or how she would perform it if she were in our place”. (TD, 260)
Abbot Pollien writes: “I know how much I am in need of grace and how weak I am of myself… It is also comforting to see, at the summit of holiness, a Mother beyond compare, who bows down to me to sustain me with her hand, encourage me with her heart and lead me with her glance! Mary is up there, very close to God; she is the Queen of humility, the Mother of Divine Grace, the Mother of my God and my Mother. She bows down to me to tell me: “I am the Mother of pure love and of fear, that is, of the knowledge of mercy, because these things constitute mercy. I am also the Mother of holy hope, because mercy, which as a Mother I form and nurture in you on earth, will fully blossom in Heaven… Come to me therefore, all you who desire me, come and I will fill you with the fruit of my womb. My spirit, which will give you life, is sweeter than honey and the inheritance I will give you is sweeter than a honeycomb”. Yes, be my Mother…”.
3. We must do everything “in Mary”
(327 c) “I do not want to let you go down from this mountain, without telling each and every one of you of my motherly gratitude. During these days you have entered into the heavenly garden of my Immaculate Heart. Look at my Heart; enter into my Heart; live always in my Heart and a spirit of joy and of consolation will come upon you”.
(8 September 1997) “You are all gathered around my cradle, sons of mine, called by Me to consecrate yourselves to my Immaculate Heart, in order to be part of my victorious cohort. Learn from Me to be little. Let yourselves be formed by Me in order to become servants. Enter into my cradle, so that you may experience together with Me the beauty and sweetness of littleness and humility. Today you must all walk along the way of littleness”.
Monfort wrote: “We must do everything in Mary. To understand this we must realize that the Blessed Virgin is the true earthly paradise of the new Adam and that the ancient paradise was only a symbol of her. There are in this earthly paradise untold riches, beauties, rarities and delights, which the new Adam, Jesus Christ, has left there. It is in this paradise that he “took his delights” for nine months, worked his wonders and displayed his riches with the magnificence of God himself. This most holy place consists of only virgin and immaculate soil from which the new Adam was formed with neither spot nor stain by the operation of the Holy Spirit who dwells there. When we have obtained this remarkable grace by our fidelity, we should be delighted to remain in Mary. We should rest there peacefully, rely on her confidently, hide ourselves there with safety, and abandon ourselves unconditionally to her”. (TD, 261, 264)
(27 efg) “But it is necessary for me that these priests become ever increasingly mine: in silence, in prayer, in humility, in equanimity. How beautiful it is when they speak of me, but it is even more pleasing to my Heart when they live me.
I want to live again in them so as to be once again as a Mother in the midst of my children. Let them be docile, humble, and kind toward all, especially toward those who are furthest away, who are lost, who are despairing. I want to give them my heart; for this they must accustom themselves to live always in my motherly heart. Let them worry about nothing. For the rest, for all the rest, I myself will provide so that my great and loving plan may be realized”.
In order to do everything in Mary, we must go through an increasingly radical purification, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit who, after freeing us from all that weighs us down and tempts us, makes us faithful to God’s plan. The servant of God Angela Sorazu wrote: “If Mary hadn’t intervened in my spiritual life I would still be lukewarm, in the desert. I must thank Our Lady’s protection for the strength I had during my purification to correct my faults and go against the tide of my passions, to overcome and order my passions to God, to overcome the influence of the evil one, to bear its painful influence and to merit the divine embrace”. And Father Edward Poppe: “Oh Mary, my good Mother, I place myself under your maternal protection, bless me and defend me today from all evil, especially mortal and venial sin and from all resistance to grace. No, I am not unhappy and I have never been! I am ill, it’s true, but I am the happiest man in the world: I desire whatever you desire!”.
4. We must do everything “for Mary”
(21 pquv) “This veil of death is spread out over the world and souls are being defiled, even before they awaken to the knowledge of life. The priests of my Movement must restore purity in souls and fight firmly against the Demon of Lust in all its manifestations… I want it to be the Movement of my priests which will bring back the fragrance of purity to the world: for it is only on the billow of this perfume that my Son Jesus will once again become the King of hearts and of souls.
This, my beloved Priests, is what it means to be consecrated to Me: it means to live for Me, it means to perceive things as I do, to love and to suffer with Me in preparation for the great moments that are awaiting you”.
When God gave his Son to Mary, he gave everything. This is why we must desire Jesus alone: in him is everything, in him we can never want for anything. And it is always Mary who gives us Jesus. It is she who wants to give him to us, who makes us discover him, who teaches us to love him, choose him, follow him and offer ourselves to him so that he can use us for the good of our brothers. It is Mary who forms Jesus in us and makes us one with him, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we want to belong to Jesus, through the hands and through the heart of the Immaculate Mary.
(148 b-f) “With humility, you have accepted the invitation to entrust your lives to me, and now at every moment I myself will be your defense.
You have also consecrated your priesthood to me: I take upon myself the duty of making it daily more and more conformable to the loving design of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. You have given me your hearts. I will put in the place of your hearts, filled with sin, my Immaculate Heart, and thus I will draw down upon you the power of God which will form in each one of you my Son Jesus in all his fullness. To this end, accede to whatever your immaculate Mother now asks of you. I ask of you docility, prayer and suffering”.
From the Treatise on True Devotion: “As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all God’s creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus. That is why perfect consecration to Jesus is but a perfect and complete consecration of oneself to the Blessed Virgin” (TD, 120).
(461 d) “I am the Gate which opens upon your salvation because every one of you must pass through it to arrive at your personal encounter with the Lord. For this, my Son Jesus has constituted me true Mother of all humanity. Only if you pass through this, my Gate, can you gain entrance into the heavenly garden of mortification and penance, of faith and prayer, of humility and purity, of charity and sanctity. And in this, my maternal estate, Jesus has, each day, the great joy of meeting you. Jesus communicates Himself to you with his grace; He enlightens you with his word; He assimilates you through his real Eucharistic presence; He fills your soul with his divine splendor; He brings your hearts to the fullness of joy and peace”.