OUR LADY AS STAR OF EVANGELIZATION



 

Editorial Note:  The following address by James Likoudis is published in memory of Mrs. Lois Pusateri, who for many years was the dedicated secretary of the CUF Chapter in Dubuque, Iowa.


 

"Who is She that cometh forth as the Morning-Rising,
fair as the Moon, bright as the Sun, terrible as an Army set in battle array?"

We Catholics know of whom this marvellous passage in the Canticle of Canticles speaks. It is She to Whom an Archangel of the Lord, the Archangel Gabriel, appeared crying "Hail, full of grace"; Whom the holy Elizabeth greeted as "Blessed among women" and "Mother of my Lord"; the Woman bequeathed to all of us at the foot of the Cross as "Mother". Indeed the Holy Scriptures speaks of this "Woman" and "Mother" from beginning to end: the Woman in Genesis Who would crush the head of the Serpent is the same as the Woman of the Apocalypse Who would confound the Red Dragon seeking to devour Her Divine Son.

Of Herself, the Woman would prophecy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "Behold henceforth, all generations shall call me Blessed."

We too may, with the Archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, and Powers and all the Heavenly Court, similarly salute the Most Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Angels and Saints, Mediatrix of all graces, Daughter of Zion immaculately conceived from all Original Sin, Temple of the Holy Spirit and gloriously assumed into Heaven both body and soul, our most loving Intercessor before the throne of Christ Our King, and Mother of the Church. The rich teaching of the Second Vatican Council as found in Chapter 8 of the Constitution on the Church – concerning the place of the Mother of God in the Christian economy of salvation – serves as an inexhaustible treasure of profound inspiration for Christians in our day. As Pope Paul VI was to later note:

"This is the first time... that any Ecumenical Council has taken the Catholic doctrine on the place that should be accorded to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mystery of Christ and of the Church, and has brought it all together in a single very extensive body of doctrine."

The Council explained how from all eternity God foresaw the Fall of man from the state of original justice (the fall of Adam and Eve, our first parents, from holiness). Man however, was not to be abandoned by a loving and merciful God. He fore-ordained a divine plan for man's Redemption. In His marvellous Love, He decreed that "in the fullness of time" His Only-Begotten Son would take to Himself our human nature and offer Himself in sacrifice, as a pure Victim, to satisfy and atone for man's dreadful betrayal of God's infinite goodness. To this end He preordained the most beautiful of all human creatures to be the all-pure instrument of His Son's Incarnation. From Her the All-Holy Divine Son of God would take His human flesh. An astounding miracle of grace, this:

The Son fashioning the Mother Who would bear Him in the womb for nine months! Mary was Our Lord's greatest masterpiece: to preclude the possibility of the faintest taint marring the birth, life and mission of Our Divine Savior, She was preserved from that blight which has fallen on all other souls since the Fall of Adam – i.e., Original Sin.

The Holy Trinity preserved Her, moreover, from all those faults and imperfections to which fallen human nature is heir as the result of Original Sin. All this was accomplished by and through the infinite merits of Her Divine Son, the Innocent Lamb of God, whose atrocious and bloody death on Calvary would rescue mankind from the awful consequences of Adam's fall from grace.

In truth, therefore, Mary is "our tainted nature's solitary boast" (as the Protestant poet Wordsworth called Her), and it is with prophetic understanding that the Catholic Church has attributed to Her the full import of such texts as these in the Song of Songs:

"You are all fair, O My Beloved, and there is no spot in You."

"Who is She that comes forth as the Morning-Dawn, bright as the Sun,
fair as the Moon, awe-inspiring as an Army in battle-array?"

In the words of the Byzantine Greek Liturgy, Mary is "more honorable than the Cherubim, more glorious than the Seraphim". She is gifted with a holiness beyond compare by our Divine Savior, and Her place in the universal scheme of salvation "was and IS utterly unique." While still on earth, She was the sacred instrument and intermediary from Whom the Second Person of the All-Holy Trinity was to take human flesh and blood, and be both God and man. Scripture presents Her to us as a type of the Church itself in as much as She is the Church's model.

The Church "contemplates Mary's hidden sanctity, and imitates Her charity", and "by imitating the Mother of Her Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit", the Church "keeps with virginal purity an entire faith, a firm hope, and a sincere charity."
(Constitution on the Church, #64)

"The followers of Christ... turn their eyes to Mary Who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues."
(Ibid., #65)

Lastly, this chapter of the Constitution on the Church reminds us – if there were need – that imitation of the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an essential part of true devotion to Our Lady:

"Let the faithful remember moreover that true devotion consists neither in sterile or passing emotion, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love toward Our Mother and to the imitation of her virtues."
(Ibid., #67)

The Voice of 2,000 years of Catholic History rings out loud and clear – whether in the Latin tradition of the West or via the Byzantine Greco-Slav, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian traditions of the East:

<<< Through Mary to Jesus >>>

A French Saint of the 18th Century, St. Louis de Montfort merely capsuled the teaching of the greatest Marian Fathers and Doctors of the East and the West when he wrote:

"let us not imagine, as some do who are misled by erroneous teachings, that Mary, being a creature, is a hindrance to our union with the Creator. It is no longer Mary who lives, it is Jesus Christ, it is God alone Who lives in Her. Her transformation in God surpasses that of St. Paul and of the other Saints more than the heavens surpass the earth by their height. Mary is made for God alone; and far from ever detaining a soul in Herself, She casts the soul upon God and unites it with Him so much the more perfectly as the soul is more perfectly united to Her."
(The Secret of Mary)

We can say that this close link between Mary and the Church was dramatically highlighted when Pope Paul VI announced the following to all the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council – and thereby the world – at the close of the 3rd session of the Council:

"For the glory of the Blessed Virgin and our own consolation, we declare Mary Most Holy to be the Mother of the Church, that is of the whole Christian people, both the faithful and the bishops, who call Her a loving Mother."

How the hearts of those who were aware of Mary's incomparable role in the Incarnation of the Savior and Her intimate share in the redemption and salvation of souls – must have rejoiced at this singular tribute granted Her Who is ever solicitous for the honor and dignity of Her Divine Son, and ever concerned for the members of His Mystical Body, namely, the members of His Church.

Christian History is filled with examples of the Holy Virgin's maternal care for the Church of Christ, but it is particularly fitting that on this 59th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady at Fatima and the 445th anniversary of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, we should briefly recall those two astonishing historical interventions of the Mother of the Church in periods of history when the Church of Christ appeared on the verge of being utterly swamped by two of the most violent cataclysms humanity had ever faced – historical cataclysms which so endangered the Church of Christ's salvific mission that terrified Christian souls could only cry out: "Lord, save us, we perish."

It is during these two historical cataclysms which tried the faith of the "modern men" – of those periods as never before – that the Mother of the Church literally intervened personally in this "vale of tears" to bring consolation and help to the Mystical Body of Christ and its suffering members.

"Who is She that cometh forth as the Morning-Rising , fair as the Moon,
bright as the Sun, terrible as an Army set in battle-array?"

In the year 1546 Martin Luther died of apoplexy. By the year 1570 about 7/10's of the people of Germany had left the Church to embrace Lutheranism. Beyond Germany, Lutheranism spread into the Baltic countries, and soon established itself in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. From the University of Wittenburg, students brought the new gospel of the Reformers into the very vitals of Poland. By the same time, 1570, 1/3 of the Nobility of France and about 3% of the entire population of that "Eldest Daughter of the Roman Church" – mostly business, bankers and traders had become enrolled among the fiercest Huguenot disciples of Jean Calvin. By 1570 the followers of John Knox had induced Parliament to make Protestantism the State Religion; Catholic worship was abolished, and those who continued to assist at the celebration of Mass were threatened with exile and death.

Assuming the throne of England in 1558, Queen Elizabeth I followed in the footsteps of her father Henry VIII, declaring herself supreme head of the Church and ordering the English Prayer Book of Edward VI to be mandatory in all Church services. All were compelled to attend Anglican services, and it became an act of treason to return to the "Old Religion". It was declared a crime to celebrate or attend Mass, to go to confession, or to dare harbor a priest.

It was during the dreadful Elizabethan persecutions that such British Martyrs as St. Edmund Campion suffered the horrible fate of being hanged, drawn, and quartered. The destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588 sealed the fate of English Catholicism for 2 centuries. In Ireland, Elizabeth began the attempted extermination of Irish Catholicism, putting 6 bishops and hundreds of priests and religious to death. It was she who seized one hundred thousand acres of land in Ulster, in the north of Ireland, to first bring in Scottish and English settlers. Thus, the rapid spread of Religious Revolt and the destructive consequences of savage Religious Wars between Catholics and Protestants was to assure the loss of Northwestern Europe to the Catholic Church.

This terrible blow suffered by the Mystical Body of Christ was to be repaired in part by the great Saints who would appear on the scene at this time and who would by their noble lives do much to renew the spirit of the Church and make good the losses She had suffered among some of the most active, vigorous, prosperous and progressive peoples in Europe.

To name but a few of the great Saints (holy bishops and priests, monks and nuns and laity) – there were: St. Charles Borromeo and St. Ignatius Loyola and that holy Pope St. Pius V; then there were St. Francis de Sales, St. Philip Neri, St. Angela Merici, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross. The new Jesuit Order gave to the Church St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Borgia, St. Peter Canisius, and St. Robert Bellarmine, as well as those noble patrons of Christian youth: St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. John Berchmans. The holy Capuchin, St. Fidelis of Simaringen, was a distinguished martyr and yet another Capuchin St. Lawrence of Brindisi would become a Doctor of the Church renowned for his Marian theology. In England the martyrdoms of St. Thomas More and St. Margaret Clitherow would sow the seeds of a future "Second Spring" of English Catholicism.

The same 16th century which saw the hemorrhaging of the Mystical Body of Christ by the Protestant Revolt, also saw – in the words of St. Robert Bellarmine – a new "Century of Saints".

This marvellous vigor of a renewed Church in the "Counter-Reformation" – these wonderful manifestations of sanctity amidst the ravages of a religious and social revolution threatening the very existence of the Catholic Church would be incomprehensible without noting them as effects of a renewed Marian devotion in the Church. The loss of Northwestern Europe to Catholicity (with the exception of a few pockets of resistance such as Ireland and Belgium) was more than compensated for by the addition of all of Latin America to Catholic Christendom.

And surely it was Our Blessed Lady as the instrument chosen by Divine Providence (as on so many other occasions) who guaranteed the expansion of the Catholic Faith among the countless tribes and peoples of Central and South America. It is no exaggeration to say that it was Our Lady of Guadaloupe Who prepared the way for the success of the heroic Spanish and Portuguese missionaries who would carry the faith to the natives of the New World.

We are all aware of the beautiful account of the manner in which the Mother of the Church was to play Her inestimable role in the spiritual life of the peoples of the Americas.

"Who is She that cometh forth as the Morning-Rising, fair as the Moon,
bright as the Sun, terrible as an Army in battle-array?"

On December 9, 1531, the Immaculata deigned to appear at Tepeyac, Mexico to a humble indian native, Juan Diego, and told him She wished a temple to be built in Her honor at that place. She later commanded him to communicate Her wish to the bishop. Juan Diego obediently carried out Our Lady's instructions, but met with some resistance from the new Bishop of Mexico City, Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga. He refused to accept the message as authentic without some proof. On December 12 the humble indian native brought the bishop such proof: on the Indian's tilma or cloak was an image, of the Immaculate Virgin – miraculously imprinted.

That same day, Juan Diego's uncle who was seriously ill, was restored to health. This uncle, Juan Bernardino, testified before the Bishop that it was the "Ever-Virgin Mary of Guadaloupe" who had revealed Herself to him in the same manner as to his nephew. After examining the entire affair carefully, the good Bishop was convinced that Juan Diego had spoken the truth, and agreed to the building of a little chapel without delay. It took only two weeks for the Spanish and Indians to construct the chapel, and on December 26, the Bishop transferred to it the miraculous image in a colorful procession. It was installed over the altar to be beheld with wonder and amazement by all the people.

Thus, but 14 years after the Augustinian Friar, Martin Luther, posted his 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenburg to set all Europe aflame with Religious Revolution (challenging the hold of the Church on the life of nations), – the Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the Church, prepared the way for a prodigious new expansion of Catholicity from California to the Argentine. In the words of the Church historian Philip Hughes:

"The end of the 16th century saw Catholicism everywhere established in this new world, and everywhere fighting the evils it had fought so long in the old world. And with the fight came the first American saints, the heroic Archbishop of Lima; St.Turibio de Mongrovejo (1538–1616); the great Franciscan missionary St. Francis of Solano (1549–1610), whose preaching, marked by a renewal of the miracle of Pentecost, converted the Indians of the Chaco by thousands; and the Dominican nun St. Rose of Lima (1586–1617), who was actually born on American soil, as was also her contemporary the half-caste son of a noble Spanish debauchee, St. Martin de la Porres a Dominican lay brother."
(A Popular History of the Catholic Church, Page 245 – Image paperback)

From the very beginning of their missionary labors in Mexico (1522) heroic Franciscan missionaries taught their Indian converts the most tender love of the Holy Virgin. How fitting it was that precisely at a time when the Catholic Faith was threatened with extinction in large parts of Europe, the Mother of the Church should assure the Mystical Body of Christ a new surge of spiritual conquest in the New World. Within seven years of Our Lady's appearance at Tepeyac, 8 million souls received baptism to make of Mexico a Catholic nation! This was indeed Our Lady's spiritual harvest of souls – She Who had identified Herself to Juan Diego as:

"I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through Whom everything lives, the Lord and Master of all things near and far, the Master of Heaven and earth."

Our Lady of Guadaloupe's appearance to a humble Indian layman who was baptized at the age of 51 and Her prodigious outpouring of miracles and favors among the new faithful of the New World – has, ever since, stamped Latin American Catholicism with its unique qualities and characteristics, including a profoundly warm and lyric devotion to the Mother of God.

It perhaps should be recalled that when Our Lady of Guadaloupe appeared to Juan Diego in 1531, no Englishman had yet settled in North America. Under the loving protection of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, an army of missionaries Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Jesuits, and secular priests – spread the Gospel among the peoples of Latin America. On October 12, 1945 (the occasion of a symbolic coronation of Our Lady of Guadaloupe), Pope Pius XII acknowledged the role of the Mother of God in this remarkable expansion of the Faith, and gave Her the title of "Queen of the Americas":

"We place today on Your temples the crown which puts forever under Your powerful protection the purity and the integrity of the Holy Faith in Mexico and on the entire American Continent; for we are certain that as long as You are acknowledged as the Queen and Mother, America and Mexico will be saved."

"Who is She that cometh forth as the Morning-Rising, fair as the Moon,
bright as the Sun, terrible as an Army set in battle array?"

The Immaculate Mother of God would not abandon her suffering children during another terrible period of history which would see the veritable destruction of Christendom – a Christendom which had begun to emerge in the days of Charlemagne and which later blossomed forth in the great Gothic Cathedrals, Universities, Cities and Guilds, and Chivalry of the 13th Century. When all Europe was drenched in the blood of 10 million victims of a Nationalism gone mad in World War I, it is safe to say that a Christendom lasting 1100 years was, in effect, wounded unto death.

We today live in a world that has become almost totally de-Christianized. Secularism has been the bitter fruit of Christian divisions, together with the steady denial of the Church's authority as a moral guide in public affairs. This Secular Liberalism in the West rests upon the public rejection of Christian dogma, and the relegation of religious belief to the privacy of one's home or personal conscience. Religion today has become for millions of de-Christianized people an affair of mere 'good will to men', a humanitarian cult of morality and benevolence – all that is left following the denial of the supernatural and the divine authority of the Church of Christ.

World War I revealed the tragic consequences of the weakening of Christian belief among the peoples of Europe. In the German Empire, the Austrian empire, the French Empire, Italy, the Russian Empire, the British Empire, governments were hell-bent on pursuing policies of colonialism, Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism – the latter fed by the evil of Conscription. Among those who ruled, religion was a private affair, and the interests of the Imperial State or of race were paramount.

Prophetically, Pope St. Pius X told his Secretary of State that a war would break out in 1914 because the nations in their pride and greed – boasting of their science and progress and glory, had despised the yoke of Christ the King. When he heard that the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinated, the holy Pontiff cried out:

"Oh my poor children! This is the last affliction which the Lord is sending me! Willingly would I sacrifice my life to ward off this terrible scourge!"

When Austria declared war on Serbia, the German Empire of Kaiser Wilhelm II struck at France through hapless Belgium and also became locked in mortal combat with millions of Russian troops on the Eastern Front. As more nations (Portugal, the United States, etc.), and millions of men were caught in the carnage and slaughter of World War I, and yet others – a mere handful about Lenin – were plotting the Bolshevik Revolution for Russia, it was evident that Christian Europe was committing suicide and laying the foundations for yet another more horrible war, World War II, which was to see 20 million killed and another 20 million wounded and which would give birth to our own post-Christian secular world with its new forms of slavery.

It was in the midst of World War I, May 1917, that the Mother of Our Lord appeared to three shepherd children of Fatima:

a Lady "dressed all in white, more brilliant than the Sun, shedding rays of light, clearer and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water, pierced by the burning rays of the Sun."
(words of Lucia)

What an astonishing spectacle in that natural depression among the hills called the "Cova da Iria!" As vast armies languished in the dreadful trenches of France after scenes of the most horrible carnage, a gentle voice reassures three small Portuguese children: "I am from heaven". It is the voice of Her Whom we have encountered in the words of the Canticle of Canticles:

"Who is She that cometh forth as the Morning-Rising, fair as the Moon,
bright as the Sun, terrible as an Army set in battle array?"

Her message is a compendium of the Gospel itself, and, interestingly, it was given after a terrifying vision of Hell.

"You have seen Hell", said the Lady, "where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, Our Lord wishes to establish throughout the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If people will do what I tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace in the world. The war is coming to an end, but if the offenses against God do not stop, another and worse one will begin in the reign of Plus XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that it is the great sign that God gives you that He is going to punish the world for its crimes by means of war, of hunger, and of persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come back to ask the Consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If My requests are granted, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. But in the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me; it will be converted, and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world. In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will be kept always. Pray, pray a great deal and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to Hell because they have no one to sacrifice and pray for them. People must continue to say the Rosary every day. The war will end soon, and the soldiers will return to their homes. Men must offend Our Lord no more, and they must ask pardon for their sins, for He is already much offended."

As we know, the great "Miracle of the Sun" witnessed by 70,000 people – placed the seal of divine approval on the message of Our Lady to a sinful humanity. Men, however, did not stop offending God, as Our Lady begged them to do at Fatima, and the horrors of World War II and post-war Communist aggression (threatening Portugal itself) were to befall us as a result of our sins.

It is concern for our salvation which prompted the visit of Our Blessed Lady to a War-torn-world. She came as the "great sign in the heavens" which always precedes the coming of Her Son in evangelization – an evangelization which must be preceded by our atonement, our response to God's call to holiness of life. Our Blessed Mother at Fatima emphasized all those major themes of the Gospel of Christ which choke the throats and minds of modern pagans:

  • the existence of God,
  • the reality of sin,
  • the necessity of prayer and penance and sacrifice,
  • the existence of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory,
  • obedience to the Vicar of Christ on earth,
  • the honored place in Christian life of the devotions blessed by the Church,
  • the centrality of the Mass and Eucharist, etc. etc.

Pope Paul VI in his remarkable "Evangeli Nuntiandi" (Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World – a document indispensable for the laity in our time) put the message of Our Lady in these succinct terms:

"We say to all : our evangelizing zeal must spring from true holiness of life."

As always in the past 2,000 years of the Church, it is Our Lady Who leads us to Christ Jesus. The conversion of Russia and the world – "evangelization" – as it is called today – She has pointed out to us, depends on our own holiness – making proper use of the immense graces Christ has confided to His Church. From the very first moment of the Church all Christians who have sought the love of God – that love revealed in Jesus Christ – have encountered Our Lady and experienced Her motherly care. She is truly the Mother of the Church, the Mother of Christians. We need not fear that in this so-troubled-period when both Church and Society are reeling from the attacks of the devil and the enemies of Christ, She will not be equally ready to console us and to help us remain faithful to Her Divine Son.

From this brief account of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadaloupe and Our Lady of Fatima we can now perhaps see why Pope Paul VI has referred to "the Woman clothed with the Sun, the Moon under Her feet, and a crown of 12 stars on Her head" (Apocalypse 12:1) – as:

"The Star of Evangelization"

"On the morning of Pentecost She watched with Her prayer the beginning of evangelization prompted by the Holy Spirit."

We have seen something of the role She has played in the past and present history of the Church and we can well conclude our address this evening with the words of Pope Paul VI:

"May She be the Star of the Evangelization ever renewed which the Church, ever docile to Our Lord's command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope."

 


About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage