Saturday, August 3, 2013

Devotion for today: “We Want God”...John Paul II's gift to Poland

Luke 11:9-13: And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

“As a bishop does in the sacrament of Confirmation so do I today extend my hands in that apostolic gesture over all who are gathered here today, my compatriots. And so I speak for Christ himself: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’
I speak too for St. Paul: ‘Do not quench the Spirit!’
I speak again for St. Paul: ‘Do not grieve the Spirit of God!’ Blessed John Paul II, June 10, 1979, Poland

While I was in Poland, I was awed at the people's love for John Paul II. It wasn't the kind of national pride in a "home town boy makes good" nature. It was pure love, thankful love, emotional love. I have done some research to try and understand this feeling, and I think I have found something that "says it all".

I would like you to take time today to read this article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on April 7, 2005. Written by Peggy Noonan, it is a tribute to John Paul II which she wrote the day before his funeral.  In this article, Ms. Noonan beautifully captures what John Paul II accomplished in his 1979 trip to Poland: how even the powerful force of communism could not stand up to the faith of the people, now aroused by this charismatic leader.  Read, and learn. Ponder the end statements, and pray for our country, that we too may be roused out of our slumber to stand up for our religious liberty. Let us learn from the example of the Polish people, and proclaim as loudly as we can, "WE WANT GOD"!

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Devotion for today: From wood and salt come gifts to the glory to God… Poland Pilgrimage surprises

 Colossians 3:23-24: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

One of the greatest joys in a pilgrimage is the surprise that awaits you in unexpected ways. When I heard that we were headed to the Tatra Mountains and the town of Zakopane nestled there, I envisioned a day of hiking the trails that Blessed John Paul II used for his relaxation and meditation. To begin with, the day was very cold and wet. I felt a bit disappointed as I realized we would be touring churches instead. Don’t get me wrong, I truly loved all the churches we had seen, but I had my heart set on my picture of how my pilgrimage should go. I learned a valuable lesson. Never underestimate the surprises Our Lord has for us, and the lessons we can learn from them.
 Jaszczurówka Chapel photo (0)

We began the tour with a visit to the amazingly beautiful Holy Heart of Jesus Chapel, built entirely of wood and containing two marvelous stain glass windows of the Black Madonna and Our Lady of the Dawn. A young seminarian explained how John Paul II visited this chapel and loved to hike on the trails which surround it. It was built by the Highland people as their gift to God and His mother. Taking the abundant wood and using their skills as craftsmen, they fashioned a church where every inch of architecture, furnishings, and lighting fixtures are made of wood and tooled to a beautiful work of art and love.  After a good lunch and stroll on the famous Krupowki Street, known for its colorful bazaar, we headed to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Krzeptowki. 

The Sanctuary was created in gratitude for saving Pope John Paul II’s life in the unsuccessful assassination attempt on 13th of May 1981. Built by local people between 1987 and 1992, the Sanctuary was consecrated by John Paul II on June 7, 1997 during his 6th pilgrimage to Poland. The woodwork is an amazing gift of love to Our Lady of Fatima for sparing the life of Pope John Paul II. The pews, altars, confessionals, and even the chandeliers are all made of wood and carved with intricate, delicate designs. We saw the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Fatima and the stain glass window depicting the assassination attempt on the late Pope’s life. We were able to venerate a relic of John Paul II, and had Mass in a side chapel which housed an image of John Paul as well as the Divine Mercy. Although the entire day was rainy and dismal, our hearts were filled with the light and joy of sharing in the love of the Polish people for their special Pope. As Pope John Paul II said at the dedication of this shrine:

This shrine of yours, which today is being consecrated to God, must serve the Church - the community, living men and women… the Apostle speaks of the Church as a house built of living stones. We ourselves are this house; we ourselves are these living stones which make up the whole spiritual temple. Its cornerstone is Christ: Christ Crucified and Risen. He himself became the cornerstone of the Church, as the great community of the People of God in the New Covenant. Looking at your church, so beautifully decorated, I have before my eyes those wooden churches - increasingly rare nowadays - which used to rise throughout Poland…authentic treasures of popular architecture. All of them, like your own, were built with the cooperation of the pastors and faithful of the individual parishes. They were built by a common effort, so that the Holy Sacrifice could be celebrated there, so that Christ in the Eucharist would be together with his people day and night, at times of great joy and elation, and at times of trial, suffering and humiliation, and even on plain grey days. CONSECRATION OF THE CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL IIZakopane - 7 June 1997.

Saturday found us in the Salt Mines of Wieliczka, one of the best known tourist attractions in Poland. For us pilgrims, however, it was a place of great spiritual wealth. Deep underground (as far as 1000 feet), miners risked their lives every day, and placing their trust in God, they built underground chapels where they heard Mass every morning. These magnificent structures are all made of salt, carved into walls of salt, and contain statues and reliefs composed entirely of salt. 

The most opulent and impressive of these chapels is St. Kinga’s Chapel, which is two levels high, houses an altar, statues, and a beautiful cross made of various types of salt from all over Poland. There is even a statue of John Paul II carved out of salt (Salt was mined in Wieliczka from the Middle Ages until 1996).  Again, the miners were not afraid, and spread their faith by having it come alive in the walls of their work. In this particular chapel, Mass is still said every Sunday morning.

(Salt sculpture of John Paul II and Our Lady of Fatima)

 So what was my lesson? I learned that all talents, all gifts and all efforts, directed to the glory of God, will inspire and evangelize humankind for many years to come. Never underestimate the talents God has given to each of us. They are different, and they are necessary to spread His word and love among His people. Salt sculpted into altars and statues, wood tooled into chapels and shrines, trails not traveled but churches visited, all combined to teach me that the glory of God is found in the ordinary, everyday lives we lead, and in the surprises He has for us in our disappointments. They may just hold the lessons we need to advance in our faith!!

Visit this website for  more information on the chapel made in salt:'s%20Virtual%20Field%20Trip/Wieliczka%20Salt%20Mines/St._Kinga's_Chapel.htm

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Devotion for today: Proclaim to the whole world My unfathomable mercy: continuing Poland Pilgrimage musings

Hebrews 4:16: Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Excerpt from the Diary of St. Faustina: Apostle of My mercy, proclaim to the whole world My unfathomable mercy. Do not be discouraged by the difficulties you encounter in proclaiming My mercy. These difficulties that affect you so painfully are needed for your sanctification and as evidence that this work is Mine. My daughter, be diligent in writing down every sentence I tell you concerning My mercy , because this is meant for a great number of souls who will profit from it. (Diary, Marian Press, 2012)

“On August 17, 2002, Pope John Paul II entrusted the world to The Divine Mercy when he consecrated the International Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, a suburb of Krakow, Poland.  ‘In this shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy” he said in his homily. “I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made 
known to all the peoples of the earth.” (ibid) This is the altar in the Shrine where Blessed John Paul II dedicated the world to the Divine Mercy. It is a beautiful chapel with the Image hanging above a tabernacle in the shape of the world, which rests at the feet of Mercy. The sculpture is of a wind-swept bush – a metaphor of man struggling with his own weakness and sinfulness; of man who can only find peace with the Merciful Jesus. (guide book description). We visited this beautiful Shrine in Poland on the second day of our pilgrimage. It sits next to the convent of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, the order which Sister Faustina joined in 1925 at the age of 20, and it was in this convent that she died. We stood beneath the window of the infirmary where she passed onto glory, viewed the cell where she lived in the convent, and then entered the breath-taking chapel, where the grace-filled image of Jesus the Divine Mercy, painted by  Adolf Hyla, is displayed above a small gold casket which houses St. Faustina’s remains.
Originally, this chapel was the only site of pilgrimage veneration, but the crowds became so large that the Shrine had to be built to accommodate the throngs of pilgrims (over 2,000,000 a year!) who come to venerate the image, kiss the relics of St. Faustina, have Mass said on the beautiful altar, and spend time in reflection in the upper church of the shrine, where a relic of Blessed John Paul can be venerated. 

It is difficult to walk in the footsteps of St. Faustina without reflecting on the impact of her life on the world today.  At this stop on the tour, where St. Faustina died, I came to realize another important message of our pilgrimage. First, John Paul II taught us to “Be Not Afraid.” Once we are not afraid, however, we must move into the next stage, which is demonstrated in Faustina’s life: “Here I am Lord, and I come to do your will.” Her yes to being Jesus’ secretary and recording His message for the generations to come, the generations that would see the horrors of World War II, the generations that would see the rise of secularism and the decline of Christianity, the generations who would “buy the lie” and live in sin, and the generations that would exist side by side in societies with people who would kill babies because it was their “right” to do so, her yes to spread the message, have the image painted and record Jesus’ words came at a great price. She was ostracized, thought mad, criticized and suffered great physical pain, yet she never wavered in her mission to be Jesus’ messenger to the poor souls who were unaware of His great love and mercy. If we want to be thrilled in the message of “Be not afraid” we must be willing to step into the “Yes” of St. Faustina. The world will not like us very much – even the Church buried the message and the image for many years - yet we must not waiver from the mission God gives to each of us.
 As we walked through the town of Glogowiec where she was born, stood in the tiny two room house where she grew up, visited the church where she was baptized and received her sacraments, and even knocked on the same door in Warsaw at the convent where she first entered her order, I could not help but be impressed with the simplicity and ordinariness of St. Faustina's life. She only worked as a gardener, a door keeper, a baker.  Such a simple life, such a simple soul, yet she served as the messenger of the greatest message of the world today: there is mercy for all sinners. We can never think we are too small or too weak or too insignificant: God tells us in the above passage that He can use those very qualities so that the world knows it is Him and not us. Be not afraid, and say yes to God. In a world filled with choice, Choose God.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Devotion for today: “There was a man…” continuing thoughts on a pilgrimage to Poland

John 1:6-8: There was a man sent by whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Above the door of the museum in Niepokalanow (a monastery Maximilian Kolbe founded which means “City of the Immaculata” and which housed over 700 friars), where the story of Maximilian Kolbe is told through photos, paintings, documents and even the actual Franciscan habit he had on the day the Nazis came and took him to Auschwitz, is the quote, “There was a man….” Obviously linked to the above Bible passage, the comparison to John the Baptist is clear. St. Maximilian Kolbe had a prophetic mission. It began at the age of 14 when he had a vision of the Virgin Mary offering him two crowns, one red (martyrdom) and one white (purity). She asked him which one he wanted in his life, and he told her that he wanted both. He was granted his wish. He entered the minor seminary of the Conventual Franciscans in Lvív (then Poland, now Ukraine), near his birthplace, became a novice at age 16 and was ordained at 24. He was profoundly devoted to Mary, and used her intervention to help him combat “indifference” which he saw as the “deadliest poison of the day.” History proved him correct, and we can all learn from this. Bemoaning the condition of the world today is not enough. If we do not act decisively to change current events, they will change us. My visit to Auschwitz, which I will write about later, confirms that idea with no room for doubt.

Maximilian founded the Militia of the Immaculata, people who were determined to fight evil by living lives of witness to the good life, work and suffering. He then founded the magazine “Knight of the Immaculata” which he placed under Mary’s protection and which he used to preach the Good News to the world. Between his militia and magazine, Maximilian had over 1,000,000 people in his army. When the Nazis overran Poland in 1939, they bombed his beloved monastery and took him prisoner. We were able to view his habit because the Nazis made him strip it off before they took him away to Auschwitz where he offered his life in exchange for that of a man who had a family. After two weeks of starvation, he was still alive, singing and praising God in the cell we were able to view, and so the Nazis injected him with carbolic acid. The man whose life he saved lived for about 50 more years and spread the faith wherever he went.Here is a picture of John Paul II embracing him!
In the museum are paintings of Maximilian’s  life in Auschwitz, showing him hearing confessions, being beaten in the work field, praying in his starvation  cell, being injected while singing God’s praises, and then, in the most profound picture in the series,depicts him crucified in his prison uniform. At first glance it looks as though he is on the cross alone, but upon closer examination, the face of Christ appears over his shoulder, and you realize He is on the cross with Maximilian, holding him, embracing him, loving him. The final picture is of Maximilian and many prisoners ascending to heaven from the crematorium, arms outstretched, faces aglow, soaring to God in heaven. The message is quite clear: after the crucifixion comes the resurrection. What a powerful testimony to “the man” and what a lasting message to us all!
There is a Basilica to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Niepokalanow (pictured above) which totally surrounds the visitor in peace and tranquility. Focus centers on a beautiful statue of Immaculate Mary, 

and a side altar honors St. Joseph and little Jesus, which are surrounded by two huge mosaics of Divine Mercy and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Even the doors contain 24 bas relief images of Mary taken from around the world. The Basilica honors St. Francis, St. Anthony, and St. Maximilian Kolbe in statues and side altars.

St. Maximilian Kolbe teaches us to be not afraid, to accept the challenge to change the world, and to be willing to give up one’s life, either physically, spiritually, socially, financially, or however God’s asks us to do it, and then face the resurrection of our soul with joy! The days of comfortable discipleship are over. If we are only willing to serve God and His people on our terms, telling God the limits on our service, we are of no use to Him. We need bold witnesses today, filled with the love of Mary and the strength of the Holy Spirit, to bring the world back to God. Pray for strength and fortitude and openness. St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

Read more:

Novena Prayer to
St. Maximilian Kolbe

O Lord Jesus Christ, who said, "greater love than this no man has that a man lay down his life for his friends,"
through the intercession of St. Maximilian Kolbe whose life illustrated such love, we beseech you to grant us our petitions . . .
(here mention the requests you have).

Through the Militia Immaculata movement, which Maximilian founded, he spread a fervent devotion to Our Lady throughout the world. He gave up his life for a total stranger and loved his persecutors, giving us an example of unselfish love for all men - a love that was inspired by true devotion to Mary.
Grant, O Lord Jesus, that we too may give ourselves entirely without reserve to the love and service of our Heavenly Queen in order to better love and serve our fellowman in imitation of your humble servant, Maximilian. Amen.

(Say 3 Hail Marys and a Glory Be)

Read more:

World Youth Day 2016 will be in Krakow, Poland!!!!! Praise God!!