When I was in 5th grade, a friend of mine brought me back a Mary medal from her trip to World Youth Day, telling me that this medal was blessed by Pope John Paul II. I liked the idea of having something blessed by the Holy Father and I wore this medal pretty much every day for years, just wearing it around my neck and not thinking much about it.
Let’s fast forward to my sophomore year of college. It was during this time that I was panicking that God might be calling me to religious life. So, since I didn’t know any sisters, I thought it might be a good idea to meet some. I registered for a Nun Run in Indianapolis, an event where you spend the weekend visiting a variety of congregations, getting a taste of their prayer life, community life, and charism. Some people call it a “Convent Crawl.” Anyway, I went on this Nun Run, driving to Indianapolis from my college town in Illinois. I didn’t realize Indianapolis was in the Eastern time zone, so I arrived an hour late, and was super embarrassed and flustered as I rang the doorbell of the first community house.
A sister opened the door with a smile, welcoming me inside and assuring me that there was plenty of supper ready. As I walked into the house she pointed to the Mary medal around my neck and commented, “That’s a nice Miraculous Medal you have there.” Huh? I thought…what kind of medal? I looked inside the house and there was a statue of a sister with a strange pointed head covering that looked more like wings than a veil, kind of like a flying nun. At her feet were both sides of an enlarged version of the same Mary medal I wore around my neck, a Miraculous Medal as I just found out.
It was during this time that I was introduced to St. Catherine Laboure and the Marian apparitions at the Daughters of Charity Motherhouse in Paris, the source of the medal that I had been wearing around my neck for so many years. You can do a Google search and learn the entire history of these 19th century apparitions and the story of St. Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal, so I am just going to share with you a couple key elements that I find especially meaningful and I hope you do too.
First, like most of the visionaries of Marian apparitions (Juan Diego in Guadalupe, Bernadette in Lourdes, and the shepherd children at Fatima and LaSallete), Catherine Laboure was a simple woman of humble means, a country girl who raised pigeons and managed her family farm at a young age before joining the Daughters of Charity. She was illiterate and, upon entering the community, the formation directress noted that she wouldn’t amount to much. But it is the simplest, the lowly ones, that God raises up to be His instruments. I mean consider young Mary receiving the message from the Angel and Jesus born in a manger! From her simplicity and humility, and as a novice in community, Catherine received Mary’s message and even from beneath a mantle of silence and secrecy, that message was shared with the world!
Not only did Mary request that this medal be struck and spread to all people of faith, Mary shared a special message encouraging all to bring their petitions to the Lord. Mary told Catherine of the challenges and sufferings ahead, but then said, “Come to the foot of the altar. There graces will be shed upon all, great and small, who ask for them. Especially will graces be shed upon those who ask for them.” In the image of the medal, Mary is shown with her hands stretched outward and rays of light extending from her fingertips. Mary explained to Catherine that the light from her fingers illustrates the times we ask for grace, we bring our needs before the Lord. And the darkness between the rays of light represents the times we fail to ask for the grace, we fail to place our needs before the Lord.
So today, let us reflect with Mary’s message to Catherine, Mary’s message to us all: humbly place your needs before the Lord, and receive the grace God always gives as total gift. This grace is not something we can earn or merit, but humbly received. As Mary stretches her rays of light toward us, inviting us to prayer and interceding on our behalf, may we tirelessly bring our prayers before the Lord with confidence!
Let us pray:
Whenever I go to the chapel,
I put myself in the presence of our good Lord,
and I say to him, ‘Lord I am here.
Tell me what you would have me to do.”
If he gives me some task, I am content and I thank him.
If he gives me nothing, I still thank him since
I do not deserve to receive anything more than that.
And then, I tell God everything that is in my heart.
I tell him about my pains and joys, and then I listen.
If you listen, God will also speak to you,
for with the good Lord, you have to both speak and listen.
God always speaks to you when you approach him plainly and simply.
(Prayer attributed to St. Catherine Laboure)
Written by Sister Kara Davis, DC