Nearly 200 people accepted St. Eleanor Parish’s invitation to go on “A Lenten Journey with Our Lady” as they gathered March 9 for the first night of the Collegeville parish’s Lenten Triduum, which honored Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
Within three consecutive nights followed by the sacrament of reconciliation, Vincentian Father Michael Shea celebrated Mass and offered reflections on Mary’s appearances to St. Catherine Laboure, which resulted in the Miraculous Medal.
“My whole life I’m trying to grow closer to Mary,” said Denise Macurtrie, a parishioner from St. Eleanor who attended the triduum with her husband, Sandy. “What a gift to have Father Shea here.”
Father Shea, the associate director of the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia’s Germantown section, taught with great enthusiasm and knowledge about the Marian apparitions and how they can help the faithful on their journey to heaven.
The priest took each night of the three-night devotion to teach about one of the three Marian apparitions to St. Catherine Laboure. He explained the apparitions in chronological order, and followed with what the St. Eleanor participants could learn and take with them today.
On the first night, Father Shea explained that the Miraculous Medal is the only medal designed by the person whom it honors. He described St. Catherine as a hard-working farmhand and a “bit of a mystic.”
Mary appeared for the first time to St. Catherine in a chapel, where St. Catherine sat at Our Lady’s feet and rested her hands upon Mary’s lap. They had a two-hour conversation.
Unlike other Marian apparitions, there was no distance between Mary and St. Catherine. Father Shea said this was the only apparition to be so close to a person. Mary told St. Catherine to prepare herself for a special task God had in mind for her.
This is not unusual, explained Father Shea, as God created all of us for a purpose and equips us with all the gifts and blessings needed to see it through. During Lent, we can realize that God gave us our gifts and talents for a reason, and we can ask how to use them.
Father Shea also called the faithful to let the news of the resurrection of Jesus to go from head knowledge to heart knowledge, affecting the way we “see life” and “do life” in our families, parishes and friends.
During the second night, Father Shea explained how Mary appeared for the second time standing on half a globe. Rays of light poured from her hands, which Mary said represented the graces and blessings for those who ask for them. Intermingled with the streams of light were streams of darkness, representing graces and blessings no one asked for.
Father Shea said asking for graces is important for three reasons. First, it’s an act of faith that Mary will hear and answer. Secondly, it acknowledges that we receive graces as a free gift, not something to which we are entitled. Thirdly, often our prayers are answered in unexpected ways, and our minds and hearts need to be alert to see those graces.
We all have struggles, Father Shea pointed out, and he suggested that during Lent, we “put our finger” on our needs and bring them to Mary in prayer.
The third apparition built off the previous one, Father Shea explained. In this apparition, Mary was crushing the head of a serpent, rays were coming from her hands that were now extended, and she was surrounded by the invocation, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Mary knows we are not perfect, Father Shea said, but she also knows we can grow spiritually. One way Father Shea suggested we grow spiritually is to follow Jesus’ example when he was in the desert.
Father Shea explained that the Holy Spirit was with Jesus in the desert, and we too have the Holy Spirit with us from our baptism. Jesus is the personal word of God and when he was tempted, he put Scripture next to the temptation, thus exposing its darkness and making the right path clear. We have the Bible, and following Jesus’ example we can read, reflect and personalize the word of God more and more.
Finally, after Jesus experienced temptation, he did not dwell in it. He dismissed it and moved on. We too can make the choice either to linger in temptation or, by God’s grace, dismiss it and move on.
The deeper we get into the season of Lent, Father Shea said, the greater we can welcome God’s gifts and reject temptation. Mary offers us graces to help on our journey, and like Denise Macurtrie, we can strive to grow closer to Our Lady.
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