“Gather the children… and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

Last week, after my speaking engagement at the Diocese of Green Bay’s Adult Faith Formation and Catechetical Leadership Day, my family and I stuck around for a few days and enjoyed a short vacation. We went to the usual sites, including a visit to the National Railroad Museum (for the kids) and a tour of Lambeau Field (for my wife and me).

But the highlight of the trip was on the second day when we drove 20 minutes to Champion, Wisconsin, to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. This shrine is located at the spot of the only Church-approved Marian apparition in the United States.

In 1859 Adele Brise, a youth Belgian immigrant, saw a woman in white standing between two trees. She was frightened by the vision, which reappeared a second time the following Sunday as she was walking to Mass. She asked a priest for advice and he told her she should ask it, “In the Name of God, who are you and what do you wish of me?”

On her way home the lady appeared again and Adele did as she had been instructed. The lady replied, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” Adele was also told to “gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

Adele dedicated the rest of her life to catechizing the children of rural Wisconsin, walking from community to community and later founding a school at the spot of the apparition. (It was closed in the 1920s and is now a sandwich shop, but some of the original blackboards are still hanging up!)

Adele Brise is a wonderful example of the humility and perseverance needed for catechists today. The Blessed Mother’s call to œteach them what they should know for salvation  remains our calling whether as parents, catechists, Catholic school teachers, youth ministers, RCIA team members, or any number of other roles we play in our lives.

I pray that, during this month of Mary, the Queen of Heaven will pray for catechists everywhere that they may fulfill her son’s will to make disciples in his Church.

Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us!

Mary’s place in the Creed

A Protestant clergyman was visiting an orphanage, and the children were each reciting their prayers for him to hear. On little boy, who had previously been at a Catholic school, after finishing the Our Father began the Hail Mary. ‘No, no!’ said the clergyman. ‘We don’t want to hear about her — go on to the Creed.’ The little boy did so, but stopped suddenly when he came to ‘born of the…’ and said: ‘Here she comes again — what shall I do now, sir?’

Indeed we cannot have Jesus without Mary.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part I: the Creed (1939)

Mary, Humility and the Incarnation

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a day of reflection with other employees of my diocese. The day was led by Sr. Renita Brummer, OSF, from the Chiara Center here in Springfield.

The theme of Sr. Renita’s reflections was “pregnancy” and its relationship to the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary, in becoming the mother of the savior, bore him in the womb and gave birth to the physical form of God on earth (which is why she is honored with the title Theotokos, or “God-bearer”). In doing so, “God became Man,” lived on Earth, suffered, died and was buried. After three days he rose and his earthly body was taken into heaven.

But we would be mistaken if we assumed that this great mystery was confined to the 33 years of Jesus’ life on Earth, ending with the Ascension. The Incarnation is an ongoing mystery, one we encounter in the Eucharist, the Church (which is, after all, the Body of Christ) and in our own lives. Sr. Renita’s question to us was simple: how are we being called to make Christ incarnate in the world today, in our lives?

You would think that, for someone working for the Church, this wouldn’t be such a hard assignment. But the truth is that I felt uneasy about any answers that came to my head. I decided that I needed to step back and ask a more basic question: what do I need to do to prepare myself for the task at hand? This brought me to Mary’s example; the brunt of my reflection for the day centered on Mary’s answer to the angel Gabriel: “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)

To receive the Savior, Mary prepared herself through humility and submission to the will of God. In giving her scent she made herself smaller so that Jesus could entered into her (both physically and spiritually); that is, she made room for the Christ in her life by seeking nothing but to do the will of the Father. Through her humility she was made worthy to receive the greatest of blessings.

My goal for the rest of Advent (and beyond) is to seek humility through prayer — to ask God to renew my heart and bring it more into conformity with his will. Today, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, seems an especially poignant time to ask for humility through the intercession of the Mother of God and for the blessings of the Incarnation to be made more present in our lives.

Virgin of Guadalupe, pray for us!