This smiling Dominican stigmatist loved children and became a patroness of catechists by: Larry Peterson |


This smiling Dominican stigmatist loved children and became a patroness of catechists

Larry Peterson |

When she insisted on God’s help for the “black sheep” of her family, Jesus came to her and said, “I cannot refuse you anything.”

Magdalen Panettieri was born in Trino, Italy, in 1443. Her mom and dad were very devout Catholics, and their deep faith inspired their daughter. Even as a toddler, Magdalen exhibited a spirituality that was recognizable. When she was still a youngster she made a vow of virginity, and before her 20th birthday she became a Dominican Tertiary.

This was very unusual because the Tertiaries were generally widows and older women who tended to the active charities within the Dominican ministries. Nevertheless, the young Magdalen fit right in and brought to the chapter a new spirit of penance and compassion that was an example for all of the others. She was most notable for a disposition that was cheerful and happy, and an outgoing attitude that was infectious. People enjoyed being near her because she made them smile. It was a gift she had that she was not even aware of.

Magdalen had a natural love for children, and the kids could sense it. They gravitated to her, sensing how genuine she was. The young, joyful woman began teaching the children their catechism and was remarkably good at it. She had a natural way of describing things and made the teachings of the Church clear and understandable. The kids loved to sit and listen to her. Her classes began to grow, and people from the neighborhood started to attend. The Dominican friars even had to open a large room next to the church for her to use as a classroom.

Magdalen lived at home with her relatives, and any spare time she had, she devoted to the poor and the sick. Her ability as a captivating speaker became known, and both nuns and priests began to come to hear her talk. Her mornings consisted of attending Mass and then Eucharistic Adoration. She was noted for her simple way of life and for her austere existence. She wore a rough, woolen shirt and fasted often in acts of penance.

Magdalen’s youngest brother was always in trouble and had become an embarrassment to the family. It had gotten to the point that he had worn out his welcome at home, but Magdalen refused to give up on him. She fell down on her knees in front of a crucifix and refused to leave until Our Lord assured her that He would help reform the “black sheep” of the family. Jesus came to her and said, “I cannot refuse you anything.”

Raymond da Capua, a man who initiated needed reforms within the Dominican Order (he was beatified in 1899 by Pope Leo XIII), was highly respected by Magdalen, and she promoted his reforms. She was quite successful in her endeavors, and through her efforts the well known Dominican homilist from Milan, Sebastiano Maggi (he was beatified in 1760 by Pope Clement XIII), came to Torino and had a profound effect on all who heard him preach.

Magdalen Panattieri was also a mystic and recipient of the Stigmata. She had predicted that Raymond da Capua’s reforms would be implemented, and she also saw the French invasion of Italy that was about to tear apart her country. She begged God for mercy for her people, and during the war with its horrors and bloodshed, the only town that was continually spared was Magdalen’s home town. The people of Trino always gave credit for this mercy to Magdalen’s close relationship with Jesus.

As for the stigmata, Magdalen never told anyone about her having it. It was discovered after her passing as they prepared her body for internment.

Blessed Magdalen Panattieri, please pray for us

Are Guardian Angels Real? Father MICHAEL KERPER

Are Guardian Angels Real?



 Dear Father Kerper: A friend of mine, who is a very devout Catholic,always talks about her so-called Guardian Angel. I heard about these angels when I was a child. Now that I’m an adult I regard them as legends or myths made up to make children feel safe. Are Guardian Angels real? Is there anything in the Bible about them?

 As we grow into adulthood and become more sophisticated, we tend to dismiss some religious beliefs we learned as children. Guard­ian Angels fall into this category of “childish beliefs” that seem nice but also far-fetched. Rather than tossing them out completely, I suggest that you consider a deeper and more mature interpretation of what Guardian Angels really are. Let’s begin with their existence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly affirms their reality. It repeats the words of Saint Basil the Great: “Beside each believer stands an angel protector and shepherd leading him to life” (no. 336). The Catechism uses this brief text to show that belief in Guardian Angels is both ancient (Saint Basil lived in the fourth century) and espoused by a highly reputable and holy theologian (Saint Basil is called “the Great” precisely because his works are considered of the highest quality).More important, of course, is the biblical background. Accord­ing to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus once gathered children to Himself and said, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:10–11). In the Old Testa­ment, the book of Tobit has a scene in which Tobit spoke of the “guardian angel” of his son Tobias. The old man said: “For a good angel will accompany him; his journey will be successful, and he will come back in good health” (Tob. 5:22).

  • While the Catholic theological tradition, especially in the Middle Ages, has extensive speculation about angels, the Church’s official teaching is remarkably reserved. It affirms just two succinct points: first, God’s creation includes a multitude of noncorporeal personal beings; and second, these beings somehow share in the beneficent works of God.

Drawing upon these two points, we see that Catholic belief in Guardian Angels is not exclusively — or even primarily — about angels. Rather, the teaching beautifully expresses our Catholic understanding of the human person and the way God generally acts in the created cosmos. We learn three things here.

Belief in Guardian Angels strongly reaffirms the Catholic belief in the infinite value of the individual human person. In a world of anonymity and depersonalized service, God refuses to of­fer “generic” care from the anonymous angelic ranks. Rather, God provides each human person with specialized care from one specific being. By doing this, God tenderly affirms that every person is unre­peatable, unique, and deserving of individual and personal attention.

This article is from A Priest Answers 27 Questions You Never Thought to Ask.

Second, Guardian Angels reflect God’s “style” of dealing with created reality. Rather than acting unilaterally, God forever invites and enables other beings — human and angelic — to share in God’s own vast work. God, of course, needs no help. But God’s intense desire to share the divine life with created beings leads God to create and enlist others in guiding creation to fulfill its proper end.

Third, the mystery of the Guardian Angels reminds us that creation is essentially good and that the general direction of the universe is toward the fulfillment — not the frustration — of God’s plan. Unseen by the human eye, goodness in the form of invisible angelic beings abounds everywhere, advancing God’s design in ways we can scarcely imagine.

Saint Bernard, whose words are quoted in the Office of Read­ings for the memorial of the Guardian Angels, said this of the Guardian Angels: “Brothers, let us love God’s angels with sincere affection: they will be our co-heirs at some future time. . . . They cannot be vanquished, nor led astray, still less can they lead us astray. . . . They are faithful, they are wise, they are powerful; what have we to fear?”

Your childhood belief in Guardian Angels probably gave you a sense of safety. Now, as an adult, this same belief should fill you with wonder about God’s creation, appreciation for your own role as a coworker with God, and joyful hope that the vast goodness of God will ultimately prevail.



By Fr. Michael Kerper

Father Michael Kerper grew up in Philadelphia, attended Catholic schools as a boy, and then studied politics and economics at La-Salle University, labor relations at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and moral theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Ordained in 1985 for the Diocese of Manchester, Father Kerper has worked as a parish priest throughout New Hampshire.

God is passionately in love with you, according to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Philip Kosloski |

He cannot contain his love and desires to pour it out upon us all.

When we think about God’s love, we don’t always use the word “passion.” Yet, those were the exact words Jesus used when describing his love for humanity in a private revelation to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a religious visionary of the 17th century.

It was during the first revelation about devotion to Jesus’ Sacred Heart, and this is how the vision began. The saint recounts:

Once being before the Blessed Sacrament and having a little more leisure than usual, I felt wholly filled with this Divine Presence, and so powerfully moved by it that I forgot myself and the place in which I was. I abandoned myself to this Divine Spirit, and yielded my heart to the power of His love. He made me rest for a long time on His divine breast, where He discovered to me the wonders of His love and the inexplicable secrets of His Sacred Heart, which He had hitherto kept hidden from me.

Then Jesus spoke to St. Margaret Mary as she lay near to his heart.

My Divine Heart is so passionately in love with [humanity] that it can no longer contain within itself the flames of its ardent charity. It must pour them out by thy means, and manifest itself to them to enrich them with its precious treasures, which contain all the graces of which they have need to be saved from perdition.

This is one of the reasons why Jesus revealed himself with his heart outside of his body. This symbolizes how Jesus could not contain his love for us and his heart literally burst through his chest, a symbol of his passionate love.

Many saints have similarly reflected on Jesus’ love, connecting it to the book in the Old Testament titled the Song of Songs. In it lovers unite in rapturous delight and represent the intense love that God has for each one of us.

The revelation of Jesus’ Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary is a great reminder to us, dispelling any false images of God we may have. He is not an angry Zeus looking to destroy us, but a lover, who desires our souls, hoping to fill them with his joy.

End of Article Quoted

Newman and the Grace of Simplicity

Newman and the Grace of Simplicity

The most prevalent false Newman is still the false Modernist Newman—posited by those who wish to argue that Newman’s thinking can be cited to reconcile the Church to the modern world’s most egregious moral errors.

Edward Short

Detail from “Portrait of Newman” (1881) by John Everett Millais [Wikipedia]

Now that the canonization of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman nears, we have seen a good number of articles from different quarters telling us what Newman thought and did not think. Of these, the piece I found most tell-tale was the July 22, 2019 essay by Ryan Marr that appeared on the Witherspoon Institute site in which Marr claimed, apropos the Biglietto Speech, that Newman had not opposed liberalism, as he explicitly stated he had “for thirty, forty, fifty years”. No, he had opposed what the author ingeniously called “religious indifferentism,” a claim reminiscent of the old Groucho Marx joke, in which the man caught in bed with his neighbor’s wife, turns to the cuckold and says, “Who are you going to believe: me or your own eyes?”

Here is the passage to which I refer from the Witherspoon post:

Of course, we should be careful not to conflate the “liberalism” that Newman opposed with the word as it is commonly used today. Certainly, there are errors intrinsic to contemporary political liberalism that need critiquing, but that conversation is distinct from the struggle against the spirit of liberalism in religion, which demands unqualified resistance. In the Biglietto Speech, Newman specifically described this strand of liberalism as “the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another.” This outlook teaches that “[r]evealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and [that] it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.” As his words indicate, the preeminent object of Newman’s concern was religious indifferentism.

As his words indicate? Newman’s words indicate nothing of the kind. He never mentions “religious indifferentism” in the speech. Marr has not written a gloss of the speech: he has bowdlerized it.

If we believe our own eyes, pace what the misguided author of this post claims, we will see that Newman did oppose liberalism. We will see that the liberalism he opposed has everything to do with our own liberalism, grounded as they both are in the calamitous arrogance of rationalism. And we will see that his opposition to liberalism was not restricted to religious liberalism. As Matthew Schmitz astutely pointed out the other day in First Things: Newman may have “insisted that he opposed political liberalism only insofar as it sought ‘to supersede, to block out, religion,’ but he had an expansive definition of what this meant. …Teetotalism was one example. He mistrusted the temperance movement because it sought to promote virtue ‘without Religion . . . on mere principles of utility.’ Better to be a drunk [in other words] than a Benthamist.”

For those who might have missed Schmitz’s piece, he rightly deplored the fact that leading up to the canonization there will be two camps disputing the meaning of Newman’s legacy:

On one side will be those who venerate Newman as the patron saint of liberal Catholicism. They believe that his writings authorize dissent from, and revolutions in, Christian doctrine. In their eyes, his canonization will be a sign that what is denounced as error in one age may later be embraced as truth. On the other side will be those who have read ­Newman’s stinging denunciations of theological and political liberalism, and therefore imagine that he favored the illiberal and ultramontane form of Catholicism that flourished during the nineteenth century. Both these images of Newman are false.

This is true as far as it goes, though one has to keep in mind that those who wish to claim that Newman was liberal and Modernist far outweigh those who claim that he was illiberal and unduly ultramontane. (Of course, he was ultramontane, though not excessively so.) The most prevalent false Newman is still the false Modernist Newman—the Newman, that is to say, posited by those like Marr and his friends at the Pittsburgh Newman Institute who wish to argue that Newman’s thinking (especially with regard to the development of doctrine) can be cited to reconcile the Church to the modern world’s most egregious moral errors.

What I should like to speak of in this essay is another Newman, one who often goes missing in such unreal debates, and that is the Newman who steered clear of the Charybdis and Scylla of liberalism and illiberalism to enter into the genuine simplicity of what he called “the one true Fold of the Redeemer.”

In the sermon he placed last in his 8-volume Parochial and Plain Sermons (1834-43), entitled “Ignorance of Evil” (1836), Newman took pains to remind his readers that there was a profound point to God’s forbidding those in paradise from eating from the Tree of Knowledge. “Our happiness as well as duty lies in not going beyond our measure—in being contented with what we are—with what God makes us,” he wrote. “They who seek after forbidden knowledge, of whatever kind, will find they have lost their place in the scale of beings in so doing, and are cast out of the great circle of God’s family.”

In the increasingly barbarous order that has taken shape in the wake of the collapse of Christendom, knowledge, of course, is everywhere adulated, even though it is shown repeatedly to be not only evil but factitious. For Newman, this adulation was an expression of our exile from God’s divine purpose, since it shows “how different is our state from that for which God made us.” However, if in reading that, anyone is inclined to suppose that Newman was speaking in easy generalities, he will be quickly disabused of the notion by Newman himself, who illustrates what he means with a terrible specificity.

[God] meant us to be simple, and we are unreal; He meant us to think no evil, and a thousand associations, bad, trifling, or unworthy, attend our every thought. He meant us to be drawn on to the glories without us, and we are drawn back and (as it were) fascinated by the miseries within us. And hence it is that the whole structure of society is so artificial; no one trusts another, if he can help it; safeguards, checks, and securities are ever sought after. No one means exactly what he says, for our words have lost their natural meaning, and even an Angel could not use them naturally, for every mind being different from every other, they have no distinct meaning. What, indeed, is the very function of society, as it is at present, but a rude attempt to cover the degradation of the fall, and to make men feel respect for themselves, and enjoy it in the eyes of others, without returning to God. This is what we should especially guard against, because there is so much of it in the world. I mean, not an abandonment of evil, not a sweeping away and cleansing out of the corruption which sin has bred within us, but a smoothing it over, an outside delicacy and polish, an ornamenting the surface of things while “within are dead men’s bones and all uncleanness;” making the garments, which at first were given for decency, a means of pride and vanity. Men give good names to what is evil, they sanctify bad principles and feelings; and, knowing that there is vice and error, selfishness, pride, and ambition, in the world, they attempt, not to root out these evils, not to withstand these errors;—that they think a dream, the dream of theorists who do not know the world;—but to cherish and form alliance with them, to use them, to make a science of selfishness, to flatter and indulge error, and to bribe vice with the promise of bearing with it, so that it does but keep in the shade.

That the world and the Church should somehow not be at odds is, of course, one of the basal convictions of the Modernists. For them, the only way the Church can hope to flourish in the modern world—or the ‘post-modern’ world, if one insists—is for the Church to accommodate the errors of the world, especially as they relate to sodomy, concubinage, contraception, and abortion. Newman, as anyone knows who has read him with any attentiveness, would never have shown the least sympathy with such an impious project. As he said in another sermon, “Nature and Grace” (1849), with his accustomed perspicuity:

Behold here the true origin and fountain-head of the warfare between the Church and the world; here they join issue, and diverge from each other. The Church is built upon the doctrine that impurity is hateful to God, and that concupiscence is its root; with the Prince of the Apostles, her visible Head, she denounces “the corruption of concupiscence which is in the world,” or, that corruption in the world which comes of concupiscence; whereas the corrupt world defends, nay, I may even say, sanctifies that very concupiscence which is the world’s corruption. Just as its bolder teachers, as you know, my brethren, hold that the laws of this physical creation are so supreme, as to allow of their utterly disbelieving in the existence of miracles, so, in like manner, it deifies and worships human nature and its impulses, and denies the power and the grant of grace. This is the source of the hatred which the world bears to the Church; it finds a whole catalogue of sins brought into light and denounced, which it would fain believe to be no sins at all; it finds itself to its indignation and impatience, surrounded with sin, morning, noon, and night; it finds that a stern law lies against it in matters where it believed it was its own master and need not think of God; it finds guilt accumulating upon it hourly, which nothing can prevent, nothing remove, but a higher power, the grace of God. It finds itself in danger of being humbled to the earth as a rebel, instead of being allowed to indulge its self-dependence and self-complacency. Hence it takes its stand on nature, and denies or rejects divine grace.

What is striking about this uncompromising assessment of matters is how much it animated Newman’s own reading of England’s worldly rejection of the ancient faith. Surveying the history of England before and after the English Reformation, Newman saw a people, who, after a thousand years, “grew tired of the heavenly stranger who sojourned among them;” a people who “had had enough of blessings and absolutions, enough of the intercession of saints, enough of the grace of the sacraments, enough of the prospect of the next life. They thought it best to secure this life in the first place, because they were in possession of it, and then to go on to the next, if time and means allowed. And they saw that to labour for the next world was possibly to lose this; whereas, to labour for this world might be, for what they knew, the way to labour for the next also. Anyhow, they would pursue a temporal end, and they would account any one their enemy who stood in the way of their pursuing it. It was a madness; but madmen are strong, and madmen are clever . . .” For Newman, this worldly madness was of a piece with England’s new “temporal end.”

And so with the sword and the halter, and by mutilation and fine and imprisonment, they cut off, or frightened away from the land, as Israel did in the time of old, the ministers of the Most High, and their ministrations: they ‘altogether broke the yoke, and burst the bonds.’ ‘They beat one, and killed another, and another they stoned,’ and at length they altogether cast out the Heir from His vineyard, and killed Him, ‘that the inheritance might be theirs.’ And as for the remnant of His servants whom they left, they drove them into corners and holes of the earth, and there they bade them die out; and then they rejoiced and sent gifts either to other, and made merry, because they had rid themselves of those ‘who had tormented them that dwelt upon the earth.’ And so they turned to enjoy this world, and to gain for themselves a name among men, and it was given unto them according to their wish. They preferred the heathen virtues of their original nature, to the robe of grace which God had given them: they fell back, with closed affections, and haughty reserve, and dreariness within, upon their worldly integrity, honour, energy, prudence, and perseverance; they made the most of the natural man, and they ‘received their reward.’ Forthwith they began to rise to a station higher than the heathen Roman, and have, in three centuries, attained a wider range of sovereignty; and now they look down in contempt on what they were, and upon the Religion which reclaimed them from paganism.

As we all know, ‘making the most of the natural man’ has served England very poorly indeed, though this would not be entirely evident until after Newman’s death. He certainly would have goggled at the spectacle of England’s continuing to surrender her sovereignty for what Shakespeare nicely referred to as “inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.”

Nevertheless, despite his being something of a Dutch uncle with his own English contemporaries, an uncle never averse to telling them the truth, even when it was least palatable, the English always respected him. He might, as Dean Church pointed out, have broken “with England and all things English in wrath and sorrow,” but he was still “recognised by Protestant England as one of its greatest men.” When Newman was given his red hat by Leo XIII in 1879, Church made an incisive point about the newly made cardinal and his relationship with his fellow Englishmen when he wrote in the Guardian, the Anglican paper of the time:

In a crowd of new Cardinals — men of eminence in their own communion — he is the only one about whom Englishmen know or care anything. His words, when he speaks, pass verbatim along the telegraph wires, like the words of the men who sway the world. We read of the quiet Oxford scholar’s arms emblazoned on vestment and furniture as those of a Prince of the Church, and of his motto — Cor ad cor loquitur. In that motto is the secret of all that he is to his countrymen. For that skill of which he is such a master, in the use of his and their “sweet mother tongue,” is something much more than literary accomplishment and power. It means that he has the key to what is deepest in their nature and most characteristic in them of feeling and conviction — to what is deeper than opinions and theories and party divisions; to what in their most solemn moments they most value and most believe in.

What the English “most value and most believe in” today may be anyone’s guess, but surely it is not only the English who should be moved by Newman’s mastery of his “sweet English tongue” to heed what he has to tell us of the primacy of holy simplicity in the exercise of our faith. “Let us, finding ourselves in the state in which we are, take those means which alone are really left us, which alone become us,” he writes in “Ignorance of Evil.”

Christ has purchased for us what we lost in Adam, our garment of innocence. He has bid us and enabled us to become as little children; He has purchased for us the grace of simplicity, which, though one of the highest, is very little thought about, is very little sought after. We have, indeed, a general idea what love is, and hope, and faith, and truth, and purity, though a poor idea; but we are almost blind to what is one of the first elements of Christian perfection, that simple-mindedness which springs from the heart’s being whole with God, entire, undivided. And those who think they have an idea of it, commonly rise no higher than to mistake for it a mere weakness and softness of mind, which is but its counterfeit. To be simple is to be like the Apostles and first Christians. Our Saviour says, “Be ye harmless,” or simple, “as doves.” And St. Paul, “I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” [Rom. xvi. 19.] Again, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.” [Phil. ii. 15.] And he speaks of the “testimony of” his own “conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God,” he had his conversation in the world and towards his disciples.

Here is Newman’s signature eloquence in all of its biblical authority and moving sincerity. Yet, curiously enough, Marr has difficulties with this eloquence, claiming in his oddly philistine way that “Newman’s Victorian rhetoric can sometimes sound foreign to our ears, and the density of his prose means that it can prove difficult to wade through.” (That anyone capable of such a sentence should be put in charge of what calls itself a Newman Institute is a puzzler, but then there is a good deal that is puzzling in Pittsburgh.) Nevertheless, those who delight in Newman’s work will know that he does not write, like so many other prose stylists, to parade his mastery of style: he writes to speak ‘heart to heart’—to cure souls. And consequently, it is fitting that he should end this sermon—a most apposite sermon for our own ruinously sophistical contemporaries—with a prayer.

Let us pray God to give us this great and precious gift; that we may blot out from our memory all that offends Him; unlearn all that knowledge which sin has taught us; rid ourselves of selfish motives, self-conceit, and vanity, littlenesses, envying, grudgings, meannesses; turn from all cowardly, low, miserable ways; and escape from servile fears, the fear of man, vague anxieties of conscience, and superstitions. So that we may have the boldness and frankness of those who are as if they had no sin, from having been cleansed from it; the uncontaminated hearts, open countenances, and untroubled eyes of those who neither suspect, nor conceal, nor shun, nor are jealous; in a word, so that we may have confidence in Him, that we may stay on Him, and rest in the thoughts of Him, instead of plunging amid the thickets of this world; that we may bear His eye and His voice, and know no knowledge but the knowledge of Him and Jesus Christ crucified, and desire no objects but what He has blessed and bid us pursue. End Quoted

About Edward Short  18 Articles

Edward Short is the author of Newman and his Contemporaries and Newman and his Family, both published by Bloomsbury, and Adventures in the Book Pages, published by Gracewing. His most recent book Newman and History has just been published by Gracewing. He lives in New York with his wife and two young children.

How Jesus Makes Our Burdens Lighter by: JEANNIE EWING

How Jesus Makes Our Burdens Lighter



“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Ever since I was a young child, this popular Gospel verse has baffled me. I learned in grade school what a yoke was — that wooden beam that allowed a team of oxen to pull a heavy load on a cart. How was it possible, then, that Jesus, using this same metaphor, could have a light and easy burden?

All of us have gone through periods of our lives when we are heavily laden with burdens and understand that “all you who labor” includes not just our daily work schedule, but the interior labors of hardship and difficulties we also carry. It’s why this verse is so beloved and a comfort to many during their struggles.

As obvious as the meaning behind finding rest in Jesus may be for some, I never got the part about a burden being light or a yoke being easy. Yes, God is God, which means He is all-powerful and can do anything. But why use that image to say a heavy load is not actually heavy at all?

Recently, I’ve gone through another very dark spell that has affected every facet of my life: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical. My burden has been beyond heavy, my onus unbearable and suffocating at times. I have found no rest or solace – not in prayer, not in the desperate lamentations I sigh heavenward, not in Scripture or conversations with friends or hymns or Mass. Nothing.

Then, I went to Confession. It is a constant on our family’s monthly schedule, but I’d gone about six weeks before dragging my weary body to church in the early evening hours. I was more than ready to give Jesus my burdens and lay them down at His feet.

Our Labors and Burdens

What are those labors and burdens referenced in these verses? The footnotes in the New American Bible state that they are about the scribes and Pharisees, who were burdened by the law. Could it be that some of our rigid religiosity actually binds us, rather than frees us to natural conversation and meditation with God?

Sometimes our burdens are self-imposed. Sin does this to a soul, and it afflicts the mind and body, too. Looking at the totality of our lives, when one aspect is out of sync, the rest will suffer alongside it. We can’t escape the truth that living an authentic Christian life means that we will struggle with the burden of our tailor-made crosses. They will be heavy, and at times, we will be crushed under their weight. When it seems that God has, indeed, given us more than we can handle, we beg Him to send us a comrade that will make it more bearable.

Finding Rest

Most people I’ve met have shared that they long for more rest in their lives. The word they often choose is peace. I think what modern-day Catholics are desperate for is a pace that is slower, a way to maintain the spiritual serenity gifted by the grace of God. We need to be refreshed. Because of our finite nature, we must take regular periods of restorative sleep to revitalize not only a weary body but a stricken soul, too.

In these verses, Jesus wants us to find rest by acquiescing to His will by way of holy obedience. It is when we are constantly fighting against Him, unrelenting and without any resolution, that we wear ourselves out. While it can be healthy to wrestle with God in times of uncertainty and in the aftermath of loss, we can’t stay in a state of constant resistance to His will. Obedience may just mean surrendering to the mysteries we all face. That is where true rest begins.

Jesus Lightens the Load

I was brutally honest in my most recent Confession. I told the priest I was angry with God, that I felt in some ways I was losing my faith. I had taken a huge risk in this openness, because I have had confessions in which the priest interrupts me or constantly reprimands me. It can be shaming. I knew that was a possibility this time, but my desperation and inner pain were bursting to be acknowledged.

I could not hide from myself, and especially not from God.

Thankfully, the priest was a true reflection of Christ in his gentle demeanor, his nonjudgmental responses, his kind and tender tone of voice. My penance was to pray for strength, which I did immediately. I let the tears cascade down my face as I openly sobbed in front of a handful of strangers.

The sense of finding rest or having my load lighter didn’t happen that day. But when I awoke the next morning and began my daily routine, I noticed my heart did not feel as crushed. I wasn’t constantly sighing. I could see life through the lens of gratitude, and God’s peace was awash in my soul.

As I prayed while the sun peeked through the silver maples in our backyard, I instantly thought of this verse and realized that Confession lightens the load. When we come to Jesus with the humility that honesty demands, He does not hold back from us. He grants us the reprieve we need, even if it is just barely enough to give us strength to carry on for one more day.

Sometimes that is all we need.

By Jeannie Ewing

Jeannie Ewing is a Catholic spirituality writer who writes about the moving through grief, the value of redemptive suffering, and how to wait for God’s timing fruitfully. Her books include Navigating Deep Waters, From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore For Those Who Grieve, and Waiting with Purpose. She is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic periodicals. Jeannie, her husband, and their three daughters (plus one baby boy) live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website  Follow Jeannie on social media:  Facebook | LinkedIn |Instagram

Will the Lord Find Faith on Earth? By GAYLE SOMERS

Will the Lord Find Faith on Earth?



In Sunday’s Gospel, after Jesus tells His disciples a parable about prayer, He asks one of the most haunting questions ever to leave His lips.  What was it?

Gospel (Read Lk 18:1-8)

As Jesus continued His journey toward Jerusalem and the fulfillment of His earthly mission, St. Luke tells us He wanted His disciples to understand “the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”  The parable is about a “dishonest judge,” who “neither feared God nor respected any human being.”  As an example of his dishonesty, the judge refused to render a just decision for a widow against her adversary.  The judge’s indifference to the widow’s distress was a violation of Jewish law (see Deut 27:19).  This is what made him “dishonest.”  Ultimately, however, the judge realizes it is in his own best interest to deliver a decision, because the widow’s insistent perseverance will give him no rest and might even bring harm to him.  Jesus says, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.”  The point of the parable, therefore, is not so much the widow’s perseverance as it is the comparison between the judge and God.  If even an unjust judge will do the right thing in the face of such perseverance, how much more will God, the perfectly just Judge of all the universe, “secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night?”  (See also Lk 11:13)  Jesus says God will not be “slow to answer them … He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”  Now come the questions.

The first question ought to be ours:  If God will answer our cries for justice (reward for goodness, punishment for evil) “speedily,” why did St. Luke describe this parable as being about “the necessity to pray always without becoming weary?”  Why would we need the great perseverance of the widow if God will not be “slow to answer” us?  If God is more just than the dishonest judge, why would we need to keep praying and waiting for His answer?  Why won’t we see it immediately?

The second question is the one Jesus asks, and it actually answers ours:  “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”  This is the question that penetrates deeply into the mystery of time and into our own souls as well.  If we really have ears to hear it, we will recognize that our notion of “speedily” differs dramatically from God’s.  By asking this question, Jesus tells us that we cannot decide if God has answered our prayers until “the Son of Man comes,” meaning the Second Coming of Christ.  This is seriously important to know, isn’t it?  It will only be at the consummation of history that we will recognize definitively that God has kept every promise He has ever made to us to be the just, loving Father that Jesus revealed Him to be.  This is why we must persevere in our prayers.  When He returns, Jesus will be looking for the kind of faith that never doubted God’s goodness and faithfulness in hearing us, no matter how long it takes for Him to prove it.  It is for this reason that we confess “the mystery of faith” during the Mass.  Over and over again, we acknowledge that ours is an unfolding story:  Jesus has died and risen—and He will come again.  Until that Return, it is always too soon to conclude that God hasn’t answered our prayers for justice.  No wonder Jesus wanted us not to grow weary in them.  Something wonderful lies ahead when human history ends.  Can we keep the faith?



Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me to grow in confidence that my prayers always reach God’s hearing and call forth His love.

First Reading (Read Ex 17:8-13)

This story from Exodus gives us a living picture of why it is a “necessity” for us to “pray always without becoming weary,” as St. Luke told us in the Gospel.  In a battle with the Amalekites on the Israelites’ way to the Promised Land, Moses went high up on a hill to lift up “the staff of God” during the fight.  Recall that this staff was what enabled Moses to work many miracles in Egypt and even to part the Red Sea.  It was the sign of God’s presence and power.  Moses, of course, got tired as the battle raged on.  However, whenever he lowered the staff, the battle went against the Israelites.  So, Aaron and Hur “put a rock in place for him to sit on … and supported his hands, one on one side and once on the other, so that his hands remained steady.”  Their perseverance in publicly trusting the outcome of the battle into God’s strength, not their own, meant the enemies of Israel were “mowed down.”

We have here a foreshadowing of the victory of the Cross over all God’s enemies.  Moses must have held the staff in a horizontal position, if Aaron and Hur each supported one arm.  This would have created the outline of a cross on the top of that hill.  As long as it remained high and visible, all went well.  If, through weariness, it was lowered, trouble overcame God’s people.  So it is with us.  As we make our way through history toward Christ’s Return, it is only the Cross that will keep us strong and safe and full of hope.  The victory for which we long has already been won.  We have only to keep faith, just as Jesus told us.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me keep my eyes on the Cross when battles rage without and within.  You are my only, best hope

Psalm (Read Ps 121:1-8)

If today we are thinking about our need to persevere in our prayers, confident that our trust in God’s goodness will be not be disappointed, we will want to sing this psalm with gusto:  “Our help is from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”  See how the psalmist assures us of God’s constant loving attention to our every need:  “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade; He is beside you at your right hand.”  When difficulties press in on us, and our prayers seem to be falling on deaf ears, we need to remind ourselves “the Lord will guard your coming and going, both now and forever.”  If this psalm becomes the constant song in our hearts, Jesus will find us full of faith when we see Him face to face.

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 2 Tim 3:14-4:2)

St. Paul, in his letter of encouragement to St. Timothy, urges on him exactly what Jesus urged on His disciples in the Gospel:  “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed.”  St. Paul reminds him that the Scriptures, which he had “known since infancy,” taught him stories of faith in God’s promises of salvation that were all fulfilled in the First Coming of Christ, although that took thousands of years.  See how St. Paul uses the Second Coming of Jesus “in His kingly power” (and we don’t know how long that will take) as motivation to “proclaim the Word; be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”  St. Timothy, as Bishop of the Church in Ephesus, was to fulfill his vocation in the confidence that Jesus, through His Church, is winning the battle that must be fought until all is accomplished.  The Church, like Aaron and Hur in our First Reading, must help to keep the Cross lifted high.  This truth will keep us from growing weary.  It keeps faith alive until Jesus’ glorious Return.  He will not be disappointed when He comes.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, build up Your Church so that we will not grow weary in doing what You have asked us to do until You come back to us.


By Gayle Somers

Gayle Somers is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Phoenix and has been writing and leading parish Bible studies since 1996. She is the author of three bible studies, Galatians: A New Kind of Freedom Defended (Basilica Press), Genesis: God and His Creation and Genesis: God and His Family (Emmaus Road Publishing). Gayle and her husband Gary reside in Phoenix and have three grown children

Where is the Fides – and the Ratio? by Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Where is the Fides – and the Ratio?

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Later this week, we will be celebrating the anniversary (14 September) of the issuing of Fides et ratio (“Faith and Reason”) by St. John Paul II. That encyclical is a concise but comprehensive explanation of the close interrelationship between authentic faith and authentic reason. It’s a good moment to look back and see how this contribution to the Church by a modern saint has been used since it first appeared.

At the time, it seemed odd (to unbelievers and even some believers) that the Roman Catholic Church was the institution in the modern world teaching about and advocating for reason, properly conceived.

It was, to be sure, not the universities. In a way, this was not surprising because, with a few exceptions – very few – most universities today are determined to use, at most, agnostic and rationalist methods of reasoning in all departments. At worst, universities no longer have much of a commitment to reason’s ability to reach the truth at all. The whole modern complex of accreditation and peer review is trapped in this reductive framework.

This is essentially true of almost all “Catholic” universities as well. Their academic departments – including Scripture and theology – still struggle along in agnostic, rationalist forms of reasoning.

What Fides et ratio did, and did spledidly, was remind people, including Catholics, that Catholicism knows the true context of things because proper reasoning is more than “natural.” It ultimately involves divine wisdom. This is not a matter of ecclesial chauvinism, but an affirmation that the Church affirms not only the simpler and more practical uses of the intellect, but is the custodian of the truths given to us by divine revelation.

The Church “brings to mankind light kindled from the Gospel and puts at its disposal those saving resources which the Church herself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receives from her Founder.” That notion appears in the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, but few are the enthusiasts of the Council who have take it to heart.

The question thus arises: why academics would be at a Catholic university if they do not believe that Catholicism has something superlative – and necessary – to offer in the academic realm. That dead-end approach seems to result from embracing the imagined romance of “diversity” or from a false sense of what constitutes professional work.

Fides et ratio. showed people what proper faith and what proper reason are. And yet there was not much of an effort to make sure that they are applied even in the Catholic Church. The attitude was “ho-hum another text from John Paul II,” or “we don’t have a clue what it means,” or most often, “we like the status quo because Catholicism isn’t the whole truth.”

Wishy-washy adherence to Catholicism has a certain comfort to it for many people. Being wishy-washy is easy and it is politically correct. It doesn’t rock the boat with our colleagues in non-Catholic institutions. As long as everyone thinks equally badly there’s no conflict.

Fides et ratio also showed up the inadequacies of many of our bishops. They are supposed to ensure that teaching is going on and that it is of the best quality possible. But they themselves would have first to understand what the encyclical says, and that is already asking a lot. Requiring bishops to have doctorates is not a solution. It certainly does not work in Germany. People can have doctorates in wrong-headed thinking too.

The real problem for the episcopate is that bishops often do not recognize the full scope of their obligations to the truth. After the nadir in catechetics right after Vatican II, the Church, under John Paul II, made a surprising recovery and developed a solid Catechism. (1992)

Unfortunately, this did not translate into a revision of the Church’s work in the remaining realms of knowledge. Bishops who have Catholic universities in their dioceses should really hang their heads.

Even Fides et ratio did not wake them up. It was mostly business as usual, leave the universities unchallenged and assert – by omission – that Catholic thinking really does not measure up to the glorious fruits of the Enlightenment.

If Catholicism is not true enough for you to implement, then whatever your position, please resign. Get another job, one that does not involve truth.

The bishops are not the only ones, however, who should be embarrassed. Diocesan clergy and religious all received the same encyclical. The deep problem is that reasoning poorly, for example, ignoring the data of faith, impairs you from operating as a fully human person.

In John Paul II’s words: with faith and reason in concert, “men and women have at their disposal an array of resources for generating greater knowledge of truth so that their lives may be ever more human.”

Ignoring Fides et ratio has meant that most people in the Church have not been pushed to develop their full humanity. Preaching does not strive to present the best combinations of faith and reason. Instead preaching keeps on getting pre-occupied with homespun thoughts or simplistic nostrums from psychology or sociology.

Congregations were not helped to contribute more to the mission of the Church, which “makes the believing community a partner in humanity’s shared struggle to arrive at truth.” (JP II) Did we do more of that after Fides came on the scene?

It’s time to re-read that astounding document and embrace the power of the truth it proclaims.

Happy birthday Fides et ratio and God bless St. John Paul II!

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The Cross and True Discipleship by:(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the September 9, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper in a slightly different form.) End QUOTED

The Cross and True Discipleship

Writing about a prominent televangelist, I once half-jokingly observed that the “only” topics the preacher in question never discussed for fear of offending his listeners were “Jesus, sin, salvation, hell, Cross, Satan, and the Final Judgment.”

Although some televangelists are associated with “conservative” forms of Christianity, their pandering and sensational versions of pseudo-Christianity are similar in content—or lack of content—to the theologically liberal Christianity described seventy years ago by Protestant theologian H. Richard Niebuhr. He dryly described the mushy message of Christianity-lite in this way: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

The appeal of this spirituality without reference to sin, salvation, hell, and the Cross is understandable, even if the use of the term “Christian” to describe it is indefensible. Scripture, not to mention Tradition, contradicts such “easy believism” and “cheap grace,” to borrow a term from another Protestant author, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by Nazis for refusing to renounce his belief in Jesus Christ. Every Christian who has died rather than reject Jesus as Savior and Lord gives concrete witness to the words spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

This passage from Luke’s Gospel is difficult, even unnerving. St. Augustine wrote that Jesus’ statement about hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters seems contradictory, not the least because Jesus elsewhere exhorts His followers to love their enemies. So now He demands that they hate family and friends? How should this be understood? Much like His shocking command to tear out an eye “ that causes you to sin” (Matt. 5:29), Jesus’ command to “hate” one’s family is not about emotions—He is not telling His disciples to feel hatred or disdain for those we do and should love—but with right relationships and priorities.

Those who follow Christ have entered into a new family and participate in the life of the Kingdom of God. To put anything before the King, including our own life, indicates that we are not as committed as we should be. “Christ is the center of all Christian life,” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social” (par. 1618). When our love for the Master is our top priority, then we are able to love family, friends, neighbors, and even our enemies with a godly and sacrificial love.

This teaching would have been especially troubling to most first-century Jews, who placed a high value on strong family ties and derived much of their sense of belonging, both in social and religious terms, from their ethnicity. But as Jesus made increasingly evident, the new covenant and the new family of God have no use for social or ethnic distinctions. “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” wrote Paul to the Galatians, “there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Today’s reading from Paul’s short letter to Philemon regarding the runaway slave Onesimus is a demonstration of the love that Christians should have for one another. The Apostle is unable to overturn the institution of slavery, but he asks Philemon to no longer consider Onesimus a slave, but a brother in the Lord.

Paul, along with the other apostles, is an example of true discipleship. Although he could have been a respected and established rabbi, he counted that position to be worthless in the light of following Jesus. Instead of social respect, he took up the cross that was given to him and endured persecution, beatings, and, finally, martyrdom. Possessing talent and abilities that could have brought financial comfort, he renounced possessions so he could preach the fullness of the Gospel. Paul was not a televangelist, but a true evangelist who did not avoid the difficult words of Jesus, but heard them, loved them, and lived them.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the September 9, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper in a slightly different form.)  End QUOTED

A conversation with Bishop Ricken about the Apparition of Our Lady of Good Help

A conversation with Bishop Ricken about the Apparition of Our Lady of Good Help

“The apparitions and message here in Champion were very easy to evaluate. It was not difficult to ascertain the soundness of doctrine of Mary’s apparition here.”

October 9, 2019 Father Seán Connolly FeaturesInterview 2Print

As was detailed in Part I of this report, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a 28-year-old Belgian immigrant woman named Adele Brise on October 8 and 9, 1859 in Champion, Wisconsin. The Mother of God instructed Adele to pray for the conversion of sinners, to receive the sacraments of Holy Communion and confession, and to teach the children of this country the Catholic faith. Shortly thereafter, Adele told what she had seen and heard, and dutifully began her teaching mission. Her sincerity and commitment to teaching the catechism inspired many, and a church and school were built at the site of the apparitions. The shrine in Champion has been a place of devotion ever since, and a place of many reported miracles of healing and conversion. The most famous miracle was when the grounds of the sanctuary and the lives of the many gathered there in prayer were spared from the ravages of the Peshtigo Fire on the 12th anniversary of the apparitions, in 1871.

I was able to visit the shrine on pilgrimage and was touched by its simplicity. It is located 17 miles northeast of the city of Green Bay in a very rural area. The Gothic shrine church built in 1942 is smaller that my own parish church; it seats only 300. Beneath the sanctuary of the church is the Apparition Oratory, where a statute of Our Lady of Grace stands surrounded by devotional candles and flowers on the exact spot where the Mother of God appeared to Adele Brise between a maple and a hemlock tree. Just outside the oratory entrance is a little cemetery where the visionary is buried.

I was impressed to see at the shrine a relic that is De arboribus—“from the trees”—that is, from the maple and hemlock trees Our Lady stood between when she appeared to Adele. Also, I will never forget the fervency of prayer I saw in a young wheelchair-bound woman in the Apparition Oratory. When I left the oratory to walk the grounds of the sanctuary, I overheard a young man speaking on his cell phone to doctors. When I returned to the oratory for one last moment at the hallowed site, the man came to me to ask for my prayers for his wife who, I learned, was the woman in the wheelchair. They had come to the shrine together praying for a miracle. The many crutches left behind in the Apparition Oratory are a testament to those who have come before them seeking the same.

There are many clear instances like these which reveal a local cult of devotion in the Diocese of Green Bay to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Good Help. Upon being named the bishop of Green Bay in 2008, David Ricken took a keen interest in the shrine’s history. In January 2009 he followed through with the intention of his predecessor, Bishop David Zubik, and initiated a canonical process to investigate the authenticity of the apparitions to Adele. As a part of the process, three experts in Mariology submitted to him their findings on the supernatural character of the apparitions. Taking them under consideration and after much prayer, Bishop Ricken formally approved the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help. His decree stated that with moral certainty they “exhibit the substance of supernatural character” and are to be considered “worthy of belief.” He issued this decree while visiting the shrine on December 8, 2010, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the United States of America.

After my visit to the shrine I was able to meet with the bishop in his office at the diocesan chancery in Green Bay, where he was kind enough to answer my questions.

Father Seán Connolly, for CWR: Your Excellency, I would like to know when it was that you first learned about the story of Our Lady’s apparitions to Adele Brise. Was it before you were appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to be the bishop of Green Bay in 2008, or was it upon assuming this office?

Bishop David Ricken: After I was appointed here before my installation, I took a little trip with some of the staff members, just to see the major highlights of the diocese, and they were telling me about the story behind the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. I was deeply impressed by what I heard and by the sense of peace that I felt at the modest shrine. It was the first time I ever heard of the story, a beautiful discovery for me just before I was about to assume the position as shepherd of this diocese. I was curious as to why I had never heard about the apparitions before and why more don’t know about it. It was explained to me that there was great devotion to the shrine in the diocese throughout its history, but that it has remain localized within the northeastern area of Wisconsin.

CWR: What made you consider an investigative process to determine whether the claimed apparitions were authentic?

Bishop Ricken: After my installation, when “clearing the desk” of matters I needed to address as the bishop of Green Bay, I reviewed a letter left for me by my predecessor, Bishop David Zubik, who had actually already begun an investigation process into the claimed apparitions. It was Bishop Zubik who was the originator of the study, and he had just gathered all the necessary information over the course of his final year as the bishop of Green Bay. In his time here he came to understand the sensus fidelium—“faith of the people”—that the people of Green Bay were devoted to Our Lady of Good Help, believed strongly in her apparitions and message, and received many graces from their time in prayer at the shrine in Champion. So now having read Bishop Zubik’s letter I began to witness for myself the people of this diocese’s devotion to Our Lady of Good Help, and upon my own visit again to the shrine, I began to wonder why the process was never carried out by my predecessors until Bishop Zubik began it. The fact is, however, there was no formal process established by the Vatican until 1967. For instance, the bishop of Lourdes—to approve the apparitions that took place there to St. Bernadette—devised his own process, and did an excellent job. When I was there on pilgrimage I was able to see the document of his approval and was impressed by his thorough process of gathering information before he declared the apparitions of Our Lady there to be authentic. But I suppose it can be said that in a way, my predecessors did approve of the apparitions at Champion, at least tacitly, because every bishop always had Mass at the Shrine on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, and thousands of people would come. To this day, two to three thousand come, depending on the year, for this feast.

CWR: Tell us a bit about the process you oversaw to declare these apparitions authentic.

Bishop Ricken: Not until 1967 did the Church present to local ordinaries a formal process to follow in discerning the authenticity of supernatural occurrences such as these. I wrongly assumed that it was the responsibility of the Holy See to conduct this study, but learned that they won’t make a step until the diocesan bishop declares his approval, which really shocked me. So I felt I had a responsibility to, at last, formally investigate the alleged apparitions because so many of the faithful in my diocese were devoted to them. I spoke with Cardinal Burke about it. He had visited the shrine several times and encouraged me to go ahead and do the study. So we followed through that process issued by the Holy See, step by step. We had to remain in close contact with the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which has the competence over such matters. We presented to them all our findings and each step of the way they replied with a letter that in essence would say: “Thank you for informing us of the process, continue on.” A case like the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje are very complex. There is so much material to review, lots of controversies.

The apparitions and message here in Champion were very easy to evaluate. It was not difficult to ascertain the soundness of doctrine of Mary’s apparition here. It is traditional and orthodox. The message is very solid, it doesn’t mislead people, and there are no suspicious or strange phenomena surrounding the shrine. There are no bad fruits associated with it. It’s a beautiful message needed for our times. We had three Marian experts, theologians, who evaluated all of our documents, and all the history, and it took them about one year to complete and provide an executive summary for me to review. Two of them were very positive, and the other played the “devil’s advocate.”

CWR: How long did the process last?

Bishop Ricken: It took 18 months. We began by gathering all of the historical documents and records, and presented this evidence to the theological experts. They took about a year to evaluate it. It is important they remain anonymous, but I remember one saying to me: “You know, I read a lot of cases like this. Many of them, most of them, are fraudulent, but this one is not.” And then he said, “Good luck.” Because in the end, the final decision rests with me in my capacity as shepherd of this diocese. Can I, should I, in conscience, declare these events to be authentic? Is is true? Would declaring them to be [authentic] help or hinder people’s faith and the mission of the Church? In the end, I had to make this decision.

CWR: What was the greatest hurdle, if there was one, to your affirmation that these apparitions were authentic?

Bishop Ricken: The expert who was in the position of the “devil’s advocate” focused on an incident that is certainly no secret in the history of the events surrounding the occurrences in Champion. One year when the large crowds arrived for the Feast of the Assumption, along with them came unscrupulous vendors. This sullied the reputation of Adele, her claims, and her teaching apostolate. It didn’t help that in the carnival celebration-like atmosphere, some got drunk and behaved scandalously. Priests began to doubt and the first bishop of Green Bay placed the shrine on interdict. All pilgrimages were forbidden; Adele was forced to tun over the keys to the shrine, and was told not to speak about the apparitions or even to receive Holy Communion or go to confession.

When the bishop attempted to close the school, this made Sister Adele indignant. Now she had to speak up. If the bishop’s commands remained focused on her, she would gladly offer the suffering to God as a sacrifice in humility and obedience. But now the bishop’s decrees were obstructing the will of the Mother of God that the “children of this wild country” be taught “what they should know for salvation.” Apparently her words to the bishop warning him that he would be responsible before God for the damage done to the souls of her school children caused him to reconsider. Soon the interdict was lifted, the school was reopened and the keys to the shrine were returned. Not long after that, under the next bishop, pilgrimages were allowed to resume again, and steadily grew. Before the interdict, it was estimated that 1,500 pilgrims would come to the shrine for the Feast of the Assumption (Sister Adele’s favorite of the year), but after the interdict was lifted that number grew to 3,000.

CWR: What made you go ahead and finally issue the decree on the authenticity of the apparitions?

Bishop Ricken: After the evaluations of the experts were submitted to me I took about six months to pray about it. I wanted to give it the proper attention such a declaration deserves. I didn’t consider it automatic. But as I kept thinking about the evidence and these expert’s assessments, I thought: this is something the Church needs, this is something the world needs. And I certainly didn’t want to stand in the way of what the Blessed Mother wants. So it’s a big step, and I was really nervous about it at first, because I knew it was very important, and I didn’t want it to be about me, at all. This is about the Blessed Mother and the mission of the Church. In the end, I view the events of 1859 in Champion as entirely reasonable. It makes sense that Heaven would want this message to be given to the world, especially in the direct context of pioneers in the American Midwest at risk of losing the Faith in a new country without parish structures established near them yet. There is nothing in the message that is contrary to the Deposit of Faith. It is simple yet profound, and I believe the world needs to hear this message, especially in our own day.

CWR: Was there a personal attraction to this story and the message of Our Lady’s apparitions in Champion that drew you to take this project on?

Bishop Ricken: Yes. What struck me were the consistency of people’s belief in her, the simplicity of the location, and the reports of miracles that have consistently been attributed to prayer at the shrine through the years. Even when I arrived as bishop of this diocese in 2008, people were reporting miraculous healings, which was to me an encouragement to go forth, because this could be something that Mary wanted to use to bring people to her Son. That’s her whole mission: to bring people to her Son. Before I affirmed the authenticity of these apparitions in 2010, the shrine averaged about 10,000 pilgrims a year. Now it’s up to 160,000 a year, so it’s definitely meeting a spiritual need.

For instance, Guadalupe is very sophisticated theologically. This is not that. The message and significance of Our Lady of Good Help is very simple: “Catechize the children. Teach them the sign of the cross. Teach them what’s necessary for faith. Prepare them for the sacraments, etc.” These are the bare basics of the Catholic faith, very simple, basic things. As I was reflecting on this message, it became clear to me that this message of the Mother of God given at Champion is what our country and the Church throughout the world really need.

CWR: Given what you just said, do you see it as providential that it took 151 years for this apparition to be declared authentic so that maybe, Our Lady’s message would become more widely known in our day and age?

Bishop Ricken: The need for evangelization and good, sound catechesis is so critical for the Church today. I think it is a real possibility that the Blessed Mother interceded so the decree on her apparitions’ authenticity could be saved for this day, when so many families need many basic, simple explanations of the Faith. America has become mission territory again. We have to re-evangelize even our own. We have to start start all over. The Blessed Mother’s simple but direct message is a call for the conversion of sinners, and even for the offering of the reception of Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners. Our Lady of Good Help is calling our society back to her Son. [Mary] said, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” [Adele] went and did just that. Adele went from home to home to home, and she would exchange her chores during the day, for the children to be able to be free in the late afternoon and evening so she could catechize and teach them. The pedagogy that she used was clever. At first, she taught in the homes, which were very small, so the parents were able to hear the lessons as well. In that way she was actually evangelizing the whole family. And I think that’s a beautiful insight that was confirmed by Vatican II. The parents are the first catechists of the children in the ways of the Faith. They are the first teachers. So that’s another thing I thought: this is a timely message (it was always timely but it is especially timely for today). There has been a strong emphasis on Catholic education in Diocese of Green Bay. I think most of that is attributable to her and to those apparitions; it just kept growing and growing. Now we’re coming on some tough times, because the schools are kind of faltering, but we have a new strategic plan now, new ways of praying about these schools, getting them more engaged, connecting them to the parish more. … The good Catholic education that’s existed here in our diocese, I think, is a fruit of the Blessed Mother, but also she’s here now to help us in a new way: to do the basic, fundamental catechesis and evangelization.

CWR: What do you think is the most important element of Our Lady of Good Help’s message for our times?

Bishop Ricken: [Unlike] at Guadalupe or Lourdes, she didn’t call for the building of a shrine. Here in Champion, she wants us to do this with our lives. Through evangelization and mission, Our Lady wants us to build up the Catholic faith within souls. In our time, when there is so much ignorance about basic teachings of the Church, the Mother of God issued a call here in Champion for us to go out and teach what souls need to know for their salvation. We should take up this call with zeal.

CWR: Are there any plans for expansion and making Our Lady’s message given at Champion more widely known?

Bishop Ricken: We’re looking to purchasing land around the area [of the shrine]. We want to keep that primitive feeling about it, so we’re going to have to build a larger church, a welcome center, maybe a catechetical center someday, because we’re going to need that, just to take care of the parishioners there and the pilgrims that are coming. So we do have a plan. I learned, though, that we were trying to come out of the gate too quickly, and the Blessed Mother doesn’t like that. So the principle I learned from her, is: to take the step when the need is there. We don’t want to anticipate things too much. This is not a case of “If you build it, they will come.” Our Lady doesn’t work that way. We will always wait to see what the need is. If people are responding, that’s a fruit. If they keep responding, then we’ll take that very seriously. So we are going to build. We are having the groundbreaking this week for a multipurpose building to help us for the next few years, until we are able to acquire more land and make more solid the campus plan, and that sort of thing. This should help us for the next several years. We will build a larger church when the need is there. That’s what I feel Mary has taught me in prayer—not go out ahead of her. To let the need present itself, and once it presents itself, then take the next step.

CWR: The figure of the visionary, Adele Brise, is very compelling. She lived a try holy life in courageous obedience to Our Lady’s call. Has there been any consideration of pursuing her canonization? Is there a local cult of devotion to her as a saint here in Green Bay?

Bishop Ricken: You asked the perfect question to understand this. What I love about Adele Brise was that she was a young adult, and this is the age group that we really need to reach today. She was a young adult who was very obedient to the Holy Spirit and to the Blessed Mother, and she responded. We are indeed, definitely, thinking about canonization. I don’t hear a lot of people saying that they pray to her and have received answers to their prayers through her intercession. I think that will come, but it’s not my position to push this. There is already a message from Our Lady that we are trying to foster among the faithful. But I am certainly open to the possibility of a canonization process beginning for Adele. At the same time, however, I think Adele wouldn’t want people praying to her. As she did in life, she would always direct attention to the Blessed Mother. Similar to Saint Andre Bessette in Montreal—he was always giving credit to Saint Joseph for a favor received. I think that was a challenge with his own canonization process, because it wasn’t always clear as to whether the favor was granted through the intercession of Saint Joseph, or the now-Saint Andre.

CWR: What is a final message you would like to give to all who will read this interview regarding the events that occurred in your diocese in 1859?

Bishop Ricken: God has tremendous love for his creation, for all human beings, of every generation. The Mother of Jesus has said yes to him her whole life, and she constantly says yes to him from Heaven. Here in Champion—I don’t know why, but this place was chosen. It is similar to Lourdes and Fatima; it is rural. Beautiful nature surrounds it. The people here are simple farmers and faithful. Our Lady appeared here with this simple message, because she really wants to bring people to her Son. She wants them to know the catechism and to be prepared for the sacraments. This is the same mission of the Church throughout the generations. In every generation it is done a little bit differently, but the message is always the the same. Salvation comes through the Catholic Church, which guides us in growing in our relationship with Jesus through Mary.

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About Father Seán Connolly  23 Articles

Father Seán Connolly is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He attended Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, where he received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology as well as a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts. He currently serves as parochial vicar at the Parish of St. Joseph in Middletown, New York.

Only 26% of US Catholics under 40 Believe in the Real Presence, and That’s No Accident (OMG!!!!!) Steve Skojec

Only 26% of US Catholics under 40 Believe in the Real Presence, and That’s No Accident

Steve Skojec


New research from Pew published this month indicates that only 26% of US Catholics under the age of 40 believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

In his book, Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, Kenneth C. Jones cites a 1994 poll conducted by the New York Times/CBS that placed the number of Catholics in the 18–44 demographic who believe that the Eucharist is “merely a symbol” at 70%. (Jones, p. 80)

So, not taking into account variances between the two polls, that’s roughly a drop of 4% in belief over a span of 25 years. Not a dramatic decline, but not certainly an improvement, either. And this continuing downward trend has occurred despite a younger generation of priests who have embraced the “reform of the reform.”

I believe, though I do not have the data to prove it, that this embarrassingly low figure is a direct result of the desacralizing nature of the Novus Ordo Paradigm.

I believe this because I experienced my own crisis of faith in the Real Presence as a teen in the 1990s, and it was directly related to my liturgical experiences.

In a draft chapter of a never-finished book I began writing over a decade ago about my discovery of Catholic tradition, I described how I wound up at a point where I literally asked Jesus how I could believe He was present in the Eucharist:

I grew up in the liturgical landscape of the Novus Ordo Missae. My young parents, who grew more conservative in their expression of the Catholic Faith as time wore on, were also detached from the previous liturgical tradition. Born in 1952 and 1958 respectively, both were fairly young when the liturgy was changed officially, and younger still when the experimentation began. My father, who had fallen away from the Church as a teen, had the benefit of longer experience with the pre-Vatican II Church, but his drift from belief had cost him much during that time, and his reversion was trying to find footing in an intellectual understanding of Catholicism he had never before possessed. In large part, he had left for being told not to ask questions. When he came back, the answers were in large part different than they would have been before.

The first parish I remember was St. Edward’s in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. We lived just a few blocks away, and we would walk to Mass as a family, my little brown shoes scuffing the sidewalks as my parents dragged my younger siblings and I along. It was an attractive church, with a stone exterior, and an architecture that spoke of the old days. The tabernacle was off in a separate area to the left of the sanctuary, and I remember that we always sat on that side, and I was careful to direct my intention to Jesus, whom my mother had informed me was there. I seem to recall that it felt out of place that the most important person in the room – the one we had come to see – was off in the corner, but perhaps hindsight colors the memory. Whatever the case, it was at St. Edwards’ that I received my First Holy Communion. The priest, the kindly Fr. Smith, was a no-nonsense man whom my parents liked for his willingness to say it like it was. Nevertheless, he taught our class to receive communion in the hand, something which I accepted in the same way I accepted all things taught to me by a priest. I recall that as we practiced for the big day, however, the polyester-clad nun who directed our class was forcing us to learn the words of City of God, which was to be played during our special hour. She kept playing the damnable song over and over on a portable tape recorder, and I mouthed the words without singing because I couldn’t bring myself to put voice to such an ugly piece of music. At the age of seven, the symptoms of my later condition were already showing.

As time wore on, those symptoms began to develop. Soon, I was making the walk to St. Edward’s on my own for the early Mass on Sunday, to hear the priest preach fire and brimstone from the pulpit and to skip all the music. (This also meant I would have a glorious hour at home by myself to watch cartoons while the rest of my family was at church.) When we moved from Connecticut to New York, I became an altar boy at our little parish just across the border in Pennsylvania. I befriended the priest there, and would take my lunches with him during my summer job at the local hardware store. I became a lector, too, then a CCD teacher with my dad. I started a youth group, and even wrote the manual for the program I hoped would continue in my absence. I was, in the glorious spirit of Vatican II, a participant in the life of the parish.

But something was missing.

In my teenage years, I discovered, through one of the Church’s new movements, liturgical and sacramental orthodoxy. It had come not a moment too soon, because the lack of seriousness with which I felt so many of the external trappings of the liturgy were contaminated had begun to threaten my faith. I remember kneeling there on the blue shag carpeting, in front of the hideous tabernacle (this time, off to the right of the sanctuary) and asking God that if He was truly present in the Eucharist, why didn’t we act like it? All the strumming guitars and torch songs and people dressed like they were going to the beach and ugly décor and nonchalance with which we approached the sacrament seemed to indicate a far less serious situation than one in which God became present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, right there on that altar that more closely resembled a really nice dining room table than a sacred space for sacrifice.

I came this close to giving up on the Church, and it was only through the grace of exposure to some elements of the “reform of the reform”; a late introduction to the practices of adoration, benediction, and Gregorian chant; and an awakening to the fight for the soul of the Church (rooted in my experiences at World Youth Day in Denver) that I was able to keep my eyes on the prize.

I can’t imagine I was alone in asking these soul-searching questions. How many other young people of my generation, with no connection to tradition whatsoever, and not even the option of attending the ancient Mass, were asking the same things? How many other young people didn’t find the answers I did and decided that it must not have been real after all?

For me, these considerations on how we treated the Eucharistic Christ as a reference point for faith — what I’d later come to learn fell under the maxim “lex orandi, lex credendi” — became a constant recurring theme. I revisited these ideas time and again as I made my way, stumbling and nearly blind, on my totally unexpected journey toward a tradition I had never heard of and knew nothing about.

And asking those questions didn’t always make me very popular.

During my senior year of college, with the common liturgical abuses that were a regular theme at Steubenville campus Masses fixed firmly in my mind, I used my usually frivolous column in the student newspaper to push this same theme. The Eucharist, I wrote (PDF), “is free to us, undeserved. It is the physical, palpable communion with the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ our God and redeemer. He is that stone the builders rejected that became the cornerstone — but he is being rejected again. Not simply by secularism or atheistic humanism, but by Christians who are placing our humanity above his divinity, shoving him further from the altar as we become more visible there.”

I talked about the loss of Eucharistic reverence within the liturgy, the emphasis on charismatic preaching over respect for the sacrament, the needless use of an army of lay Eucharistic ministers, the problem with non-sacred worship music, the non-central placement of tabernacles, and the general issue of non-sacred liturgical architecture. “I understand that many of these things occur with the best intentions,” I said, hoping to strike a conciliatory note. “On the whole, there is no conscious, malicious force under way to destroy the Catholic Experience. But regardless of intention, this IS happening.”

(Remember, I was still years away from discovering Catholic tradition at this point, and the truth of the malice behind much of what was done was not yet something I’d come to accept.)

All of these things, I argued, pointed our attention away from Our Lord, where it should be, rather than echoing the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Jesus my Lord, my God, my All — How can I love thee as I ought?”

I thought I’d written a good piece, and it was well received by many of my peers. But then I was blindsided by a letter to the editor (PDF)written by the campus chaplain in the final issue of the paper, to which I was given no opportunity of response.

The chaplain wrote, in part, as regards my piece:

I must say that I was shocked, not only by the confused and mistaken theology expressed, but mostly by the judgmental dogmatism of the author. He stated many things well, but then abrogated them by carrying them to erroneous conclusions. Above all, it was a very subjective article, devoid of sound specifics and filled with generalities and purely personal opinions.

In retrospect, I was probably more general in my criticism than I should have been. I was trying to avoid naming names, but I had the faces of certain priests in mind when I wrote. I was also only 23, and an inexperienced writer at the time. On the other hand, I think the chaplain was heavy-handed in his response. Imagine being a Catholic priest at an educational institution that prided itself on a reputation for “dynamic orthodoxy” and trying to shame a student who was asking for more Eucharistic reverence.

I graduated the week his response came out, very much feeling the sting of having my concerns so harshly rejected by the very university that had helped me to develop them.

But these were the two competing ideas of Catholicism that dominated my youth: the one that I came to, gradually over time, out of a desire to treat the Eucharist as though Jesus was truly present there, and the realization that everything we did in the liturgy either magnified or distracted from that fact; and on the other hand, the aggressive, unforgiving refrain that the post-conciliar changes were a good thing, and anyone who questioned them was guilty of “judgmental dogmatism.”

Those words, written 18 years ago, could just as well have been written today. My concerns at age 23 were very similar to those of the young men and women at last year’s youth synod, who felt ignored when they overwhelmingly asked for better, more reverent liturgy.

But the answer to this disturbing decline in fundamental Catholic belief appears simple to me: if you want people to believe in the Real Presence, treat the Eucharist as though it is God, and make sure you back that up with sound catechesis emphasizing the same. Do not distract from the central importance of the Eucharist by means of any human presence, practice, or device. Do all in your power to reflect the noble majesty of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar through word, deed, and gesture. Build churches that are redolent of this mystery. Compose music that draws the listener into it.

It’s literally that simple.

If, on the other hand, you don’t want people to believe that Jesus is truly present…well, just keep doing what you’re doing.

Steve Skojec

Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children