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MARIAN APPARITIONS : OUR LADY OF GOOD HEALTH

Approximately 400 years ago, there was a small pond and on its bank was a huge banyan tree. A shepherd boy from Vailankanni used to carry milk everyday to a rich man in Nagapattinam which is ten kilometers away. On an unusually hot summer day, the boy, after quenching his thirst with the water from the pond, rested for a while in the shade of the banyan tree which stood beside the pond. Soon the boy fell into a deep slumber.

Suddenly he was startled by the vision of a Lady of celestial beauty holding a lovely child in her arms. The boy could not take his eyes off the Lady of unmatched beauty, so spell bound was he by this heavenly vision. The Lady greeted him with a motherly smile and condescended to ask him for some milk for her child. He joyfully gave her some milk for her child and seeing a bewitching smile spread over the face of the heavenly baby, the boy experienced deep satisfaction.

When he reached the home of the rich man he begged to be excused for his unusual delay and for the shortage of milk. But, when the lid of the milk pot was lifted, lo and behold!, the pot was brimming over with milk. The boy narrated to the rich man about the apparition he had of a Lady of uncommon beauty with a cherubic child and how he had given a portion of the milk he was carrying, to the child at the Lady’s request. He said that he had the unique pleasure of seeing that supernatural Lady feed the baby with the milk he had given. The master was fascinated by the extraordinary phenomenon witnessed by the boy and he hastened to the spot where the Lady had appeared with her child. With great reverence, the gentleman prostrated himself on the holy ground where the Lady had appeared to the boy.

The story of the apparition of the Lady and Child and the miraculous brimming over of the milk, spread like wild fire throughout the neighbourhood. The Christians in Nagapattinam were convinced that the vision was that of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus. Their hearts overflowed with joy at the thought of Our Blessed Mother deigning to choose such an unobtrusive place as Vailankanni to make her apparition. From that day onwards the tank has come to be known as ‘Matha Kulam’ (Our Lady’s Tank). A chapel now stands at the place where Mary appeared to the shepherd boy.

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The Seven Sorrows of Mary

Let us enter into the mind and heart of Mary and reflect on the seven major sorrows in her life. Our Sorrowful Mother can teach us much about the sanctity of suffering and be a source of consolation to all who suffer.

The Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15.

First Sorrow: The Prophecy of Simeon

“And you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35).

When Mary’s 40-day period of purification has almost ended, she goes to Jerusalem to fulfill the Mosaic Law and for the required offering to the Lord of every firstborn male. The law of purification does not bind Mary, always a virgin. Nor does Jesus, because of who he is, have to be redeemed. Yet Mary humbly obeys.

After the ceremony, imagine young Mary’s amazement when Simeon takes Jesus from her arms and acknowledges him as the Messiah! Only through divine inspiration can Simeon know this. Simeon blesses them and says to Mary, “And you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35).

Mary shudders and holds Jesus close to her breast, as Joseph gently leads her out of the temple. Although Joseph is deeply shaken, his primary concern is for his wife and son. They return to Nazareth in silence, where Mary ponders these things in her heart.

Second Sorrow: The Flight into Egypt

“The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him’” (Mt 2:13).

Joseph hastily awakens Mary and relates his dream. She feels the sword’s sharpness as Simeon’s prophecy echoes in her heart. There is no time to worry—only time to pack a few essentials—as they prepare to flee to Egypt under cover of darkness.

The lengthy journey across the desert wilderness frightens Mary, but she never voices her fears to Joseph. However, she can’t help but think, Will there be enough food and water? How will we weather the excessive heat? What if the donkey stumbles? What if . . . ? The “what-ifs” could have paralyzed a person of little faith. But Mary continues to trust that God will take care of her little family’s needs.

None of this is recorded, so we can only imagine the hardships that the Holy Family endured while in exile. One thing is certain: nothing can sway Mary’s trust in God. She never questions. She ponders, letting the things she doesn’t understand simply be there in her heart, in complete conformity to the divine plan. Mary is a model of cooperation with grace.

Third Sorrow: Search for the Child in Jerusalem

“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety’” (Lk 2:46, 48).

Terror seizes Mary’s heart when she discovers that her son is missing. On the third day, while walking by the temple, the anxious mother hears the sweet sound of Jesus’ voice. “Joseph, look! There he is among the teachers!” They run to Jesus’ side, and Mary, with mingled joy and sorrow, speaks words of gentle reproach to her son.

Mary and Joseph realize they have a very special son—one who amazes even the teachers in the temple with his intelligence. Sometimes they whisper in Aramaic at night, sharing their innermost thoughts and concerns. Often, young Mary ponders these things in her heart while performing her daily tasks: grinding grain into flour to make bread, milking the goats, and spinning yarn and weaving it into clothing for her family.

Sometimes, in the cool of the evening, she sits on the flat roof of their home, the pain of Simeon’s prophecy and of Jesus’ disappearance merging and lingering—a pain as widespread as the profusion of flowers trickling down the hillsides of Nazareth in that April of Jesus’ 12th year.

Fourth Sorrow: Mary Meets Jesus on His Way to the Cross

“And carrying the cross himself . . .” (Jn 19:17). “A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him” (Lk 23:27).

Mary’s life remains hidden—hidden in God. A widow now, she lives an inconspicuous life, pondering and accepting the mystery of her unique role and that of her son. When news of his miracles reaches her at Nazareth, she rejoices. But the disturbing news of the tension mounting in Jerusalem concerning an upstart named Jesus makes her apprehensive. She knows the sword is poised to pierce her heart more deeply. Yet she goes to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, hoping Jesus will be there.

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Mary helps prepare the Passover meal. Quickly she dishes out the bitter herbs and vinegar and carries them to the Upper Room. Here, Mary participates in the first Eucharist. She comprehends all too well the full meaning of his words. We can only guess at the sequence of events. Perhaps one of the holy women finds Mary and tells her that Jesus has been arrested. “I must go to him!” she cries.

Mary pushes her way through the shouting, cursing mob. At last, she sees her son carrying his cross. Mary’s heart breaks in unspeakable sorrow at the outrage committed against his precious body. She is powerless to minister to him, except by her presence. Their eyes meet and speak volumes of love in a frozen moment of anguished silence. “Trust, trust,” Jesus’ heart speaks to hers. His unspoken words echo in her hearing heart. With renewed strength, she walks the Way of her son.

Fifth Sorrow: Standing at the Foot of the Cross

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:25–27).

Finally they reach the hill of execution. The cruel soldiers stretch Jesus’ battered body upon the cross and, with heavy hammer blows, drive the sharp spikes into his hands and feet. Mary’s head pounds with each cruel blow. No one hears the silent scream that shatters her broken heart and echoes in the heart of God.

What now takes place is all according to God’s plan. Her son, the Son of God, has to suffer and die. John, the beloved disciple, puts his arm around Mary, steadying her. “My precious child,” she weeps, “heralded at Bethlehem, now suffering an ignominious and painful death!”

And then, through swollen, purple lips, Jesus speaks. Mary strains to hear his words. He looks tenderly upon his mother and, with great effort, says, “He is your son.” He looks at the disciple and emphasizes, “She is your mother.”

Sixth Sorrow: The Crucifixion and Descent from the Cross

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body” (Jn 19:38).

Saying, “It is finished,” Jesus bows his head and dies. Mary remembers his words at the Passover meal: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (Lk 22:20). The dreaded time is now: the precious blood of her son is poured out for all humankind. The covenant is sealed.

Jesus, her son, the Son of God, is dead. In her heart, Mary dies with him. Two broken hearts—one pierced with a spear, one pierced with sorrow—become one: Jesus and Mary, forever united for the whole human family.

Mary’s sorrow is all the greater because of the greatness of her love.

Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross and placed in her arms. Mary embraces her son with a love beyond words, beyond grief itself. For now, it is the grief of a consummate sorrow. She, who had given birth to divinity, now presses the bloodied and battered remains of his humanity close to her sorrowful and shattered heart. “Let it be done according to thy will, Lord,” she prays.

Seventh Sorrow: Assisting at the Burial of Christ

“The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils” (Lk 23:55–56).

The holy women quietly prepare the spices and ointments, and gather the winding sheet and the grave cloth, according to Jewish custom. Mary, the faithful disciple, insists on helping and returns to the tomb with the women. They go about their task of washing the body with great reverence and wrap it in long strips of linen, taking great care to pack the fragrant spices (including the myrrh and aloes Nicodemus had brought) between the cloth and the body, in order to reduce the stench of death.

Mary hesitates before placing the grave cloth over Jesus’ face. Tenderly, she kisses him one last, lingering time. John steps forward to take her hand and lead her to his home. Behind them, they hear the heavy round stone rolled forward to seal the cave. Mary’s pierced heart remains united to the stilled heart of the one they had pierced—the most Sacred Heart that was formed in her immaculate womb. With one languishing wail, she proclaims what others are just now beginning to believe, what she already knew: “My Lord and my God.”

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Feast day – September 15

Feast Day – Our Lady of Sorrows

For a while there were two feasts in honour of the Sorrowful Mother: one going back to the 15th century, the other to the 17th century. For a while both were celebrated by the universal Church: one on the Friday before Palm Sunday, the other in September.

The principal biblical references to Mary’s sorrows are in Luke 2:35 and John 19:26-27. The Lucan passage is Simeon’s prediction about a sword piercing Mary’s soul; the Johannine passage relates Jesus’ words from the cross to Mary and to the beloved disciple.

Many early Church writers interpret the sword as Mary’s sorrows, especially as she saw Jesus die on the cross. Thus, the two passages are brought together as prediction and fulfillment.

Saint Ambrose in particular sees Mary as a sorrowful yet powerful figure at the cross. Mary stood fearlessly at the cross while others fled. Mary looked on her Son’s wounds with pity, but saw in them the salvation of the world. As Jesus hung on the cross, Mary did not fear to be killed, but offered herself to her persecutors.


Reflection

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother…. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:25-27

John’s account of Jesus’ death is highly symbolic. When Jesus gives the beloved disciple to Mary, we are invited to appreciate Mary’s role in the Church: She symbolizes the Church; the beloved disciple represents all believers. As Mary mothered Jesus, she is now mother to all his followers. Furthermore, as Jesus died, he handed over his Spirit. Mary and the Spirit cooperate in begetting new children of God—almost an echo of Luke’s account of Jesus’ conception. Christians can trust that they will continue to experience the caring presence of Mary and Jesus’ Spirit throughout their lives and throughout history.

When Joseph and Mary presented their newborn Jesus in the Temple, Simeon predicted that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart (Luke 2:35).

There could be no more agonizing piercing for Mary than to watch her son be crucified. As she stood below, silently pouring out her love to him, he looked down and saw her. In that wrenching moment, he entrusted her to John’s care. In anguish she watched him die and be taken to the tomb. On Easter morning, perhaps Mary was the first-person Jesus appeared to when he rose from the dead, holding with wordless tenderness the one who held him in her womb, transforming her piercing sorrow into joy. Beloved Mary, help us feel your son’s love with us in our sorrows.

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Feast Day – September 14

The Story of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Early in the fourth century, Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the second-century Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Saviour’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher on that spot. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.

The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus’ head: Then “all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on.”

To this day, the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica’s dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.


Reflection

The cross is today the universal image of Christian belief. Countless generations of artists have turned it into a thing of beauty to be carried in procession or worn as jewellery. To the eyes of the first Christians, it had no beauty. It stood outside too many city walls.

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MOVIE SHELF – LINCOLN LAWYER

The Lincoln Lawyer is a 2011 American legal thriller film adapted from the 2005 novel of the same name by Michael Connelly. The film is directed by Brad Furman, with a screenplay written by John Romano, and stars Matthew McConaughey as the titular lawyer, Mickey Haller. The film also stars Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, William H. Macy, and Bryan Cranston.

The story is adapted from the first of several novels featuring the character of Mickey Haller, who works out of a chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car rather than an office. Haller is hired to defend the son of a wealthy Los Angeles businesswoman in an assault case. Details of the crime bring up uncomfortable parallels with a former case, and Haller discovers the two cases are intertwined.

Criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) works in LA County, California, mostly from the back of his black Lincoln Town Car, chauffeured by Earl Briggs (Laurence Mason). Most of his career has been defending low-end criminals, such as a biker club led by Eddie Vogel (Trace Adkins).

Haller is hired for a high-profile case, representing wealthy Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a Beverly Hills playboy and son of real estate mogul Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher). He is accused of brutally beating prostitute Regina Campo (Margarita Levieva), and insists he is the innocent victim of a setup. Haller and his investigator, Frank Levin (William H. Macy) analyze photos and evidence and find it similar to a past case, resulting in a life sentence for his client, Jesus Martinez (Michael Peña), for murdering a woman, despite his repeated proclamations of innocence.

Haller’s ex-wife, DA Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei), has always disliked him representing guilty clients, though they remain close. He wonders if he was wrong for persuading Martinez to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. Haller visits Martinez, who becomes agitated when he shows him Roulet’s photo. Now believing Roulet is the killer in the Martinez case, he is bound by attorney–client confidentiality rules, and unable to reveal what he knows.

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Saint of the Day – September 10

Today, the Catholic Church remembers Saint Thomas of Villanova, a 16th century Spanish Augustinian monk and archbishop who lived a life of austerity in order to provide for the spiritual and material needs of his people.

Born during 1488 in the Spanish region of Castile, in the town of Villanova de los Infantes, Thomas Garcia was raised to take after the faith and charitable works of his parents Alphonsus and Lucia. His father, a mill worker, regularly distributed food and provisions to the poor, as did his mother.

Generous and devout from an early age, their son was also intellectually gifted, beginning his studies at the University of Alcala at age 16. Within ten years he had become a professor of philosophy at that same university, where he taught for two years before being offered a more prestigious position at the University of Salamanca.

Thomas, however, chose not to continue his academic career. After his father’s death, he had determined to leave much of his inheritance to the poor and sick rather than retaining it himself. At age 28, after much deliberation, Thomas embraced a life of chastity, poverty, and religious obedience with his entry into the monastic Order of St. Augustine.

Thomas made his first vows as an Augustinian in 1517 and was ordained a priest in 1518. He taught theology within his order and became renowned for his eloquent and effective preaching in the churches of Salamanca. This led to his appointment as a court preacher and adviser to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Presented with the prospect of being named an archbishop, Thomas initially declined and instead continued his work within the Order of St. Augustine, during a period that saw its expansion across the sea to Mexico. In August of 1544, however, he was ordered by his religious superiors to accept his appointment as the Archbishop of Valencia.

Thomas arrived wearing the same well-worn monastic habit that he had worn for several years and would continue wearing for years to come. Given a donation to decorate his residence, he funnelled the money to a hospital in need of repair. After his installation, he visited local prisons and ordered changes to be made in response to their inhumane conditions.

While continuing his life of monastic asceticism, the archbishop worked to improve the spiritual lives and living conditions of the faithful. He gave special attention to the needs of the poor, feeding and sheltering them in his own residence. During the same period he worked to promote education, restore religious orthodoxy, and reform the lifestyles of clergy and laypersons.

After 11 years leading the Archdiocese of Valencia, St. Thomas of Villanova succumbed to a heart condition at the end of a Mass held in his home on Sept. 8, 1555. He is said to have died on the floor rather than in his bed, which he insisted on offering to a poor man who had come to his house. Pope Alexander VII canonized him in 1658.

Saint of the Day – September 17

On Sept. 17, the Catholic Church celebrates the Italian cardinal and theologian St. Robert Bellarmine. One of the great saints of the Jesuit order, St. Robert has also been declared a Doctor of the Church and the patron of catechists.

Robert Bellarmine was born on October 4, 1542 in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. His uncle was a cardinal who later became Pope Marcellus II. As a young man, Robert received his education from the Jesuit order, which had received written papal approval only two years before his birth.

In September of 1560, Robert entered the Jesuit order himself. He studied philosophy for three years in Rome, then taught humanities until 1567, when he began a study of theology that lasted until 1569. The final stage of his training emphasized the refutation of Protestant errors.

Robert received ordination to the priesthood in Belgium, where his sermons drew crowds of both Catholics and Protestants. In 1576, he returned to Italy and took up an academic position addressing theological controversies. The resulting work, his “Disputations,” became a classic of Catholic apologetics.

Near the end of the 1580s, the esteemed theologian became “Spiritual Father” to the Roman College. He served as a guide to St. Aloysius Gonzaga near the end of the young Jesuit’s life, and helped produce the authoritative Latin text of the Bible called for by the recent Council of Trent.

Around the century’s end Robert became an advisor to Pope Clement VIII. The Pope named him a cardinal in 1599, declaring him to be the most educated man in the Church. Robert played a part in a debate between Dominicans and Jesuits regarding grace, though the Pope later decided to appoint and consecrate him as the Archbishop of Capua.

The cardinal archbishop’s three years in Capua stood out as an example of fidelity to the reforming spirit and decrees of the Council of Trent. He was considered as a possible Pope in two successive elections, but the thought of becoming Pope disturbed him and in the end he was never chosen.

In the early years of the 17th century, the cardinal took a public stand for the Church’s freedom when it came under attack in Venice and England. He also attempted, though not successfully, to negotiate peace between the Vatican and his personal friend Galileo Galilei, over the scientist’s insistence that not only the earth, but the entire universe, revolved around the sun.

Cardinal Bellarmine retired due to health problems in the summer of 1621. Two years before, he had set out his thoughts on the end of earthly life in a book titled “The Art of Dying Well.” In that work, the cardinal explained that preparing for death was life’s most important business, since the state of one’s soul at death would determine the person’s eternal destiny.

St. Robert Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1931, and declared him to be a Doctor of the Church.

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