According to an early tradition, some pious women of Jerusalem asked the Evangelist St. Luke to do a painting of the Blessed Virgin. By the 9th Century, the icon of our Lady and the Christ Child appeared in Russia.
1n the 14th Century, it came into the hands of a prince in Poland. One day, while traveling, the prince went to the top of a hill to pray.
During that time, Our Lady appeared to him, and told him she wanted the icon to be venerated there in the village of Czestochowa, which is where the image has been since 1382. It is also called the “Black Madonna” because of the soot residue that has especially darkened the images of our Lady and the Christ Child. The miracles attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa have been frequent. For example, at the end of the 17th C, there were a series of deadly epidemics that swept their way through Europe, including Poland. However, the city of Czestochowa was not affected by any of them. On September 14th, 1920, the Soviet army set up camp near the Vistula River, in preparation to invade the city of Warsaw. As a result, the people turned to the Mother of God. The next day, the Soviet army withdrew its troops after an image of the Virgin appeared in a cloud over the city. The Polish refer to this victory as The Miracle of Vistula. This weekend we have in our sanctuary, a replica of this icon of the Black Madonna as part of the worldwide traveling of this image, to implore our Blessed Mother for the restoration of the sanctity of human life and marriage.
In today’s 1st reading from the Book of Sirach we hear, “Humble yourself the more … you will find favor w/ God.” This is necessary for both our sanctification individually and collectively. We certainly need to do our best to change the minds and hearts of others in favor of the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception and the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. Yet, if we think that we can do it solely by our own efforts, we are deceived and full of pride. In fact, we must also humble ourselves in prayer before our Lord through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, in order that our nation and our world will establish a culture of life.
What exactly is the virtue of humility? Doesn’t it mean we let everyone else walk all over us? Actually, as Blessed Columba Marmion teaches that humility is “above all, an attitude of soul towards God … which inclines man to accept the status which is proper to him in relation” to God. Moreover, humility is founded on truth, whereas pride is founded on falsehood. The humble person recognizes his utter dependence on God for all things, whereas the prideful claims a false independence from God. The primary ground for humility is to recognize that we of ourselves are nothing. As we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, it is in God that “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Thus, we are radically dependent on God for our very existence. In the Gospel of St. John, Our Lord also tells us “I am the vine and you are the branches … apart from me, you can do NOTHING.” (Jn 15:5) Indeed it is true that without the gift of grace, we cannot perform a single meritorious act. This is indeed both true for us as individuals but also as societies and nations.
In our modern world, many of the governmental leaders – including our own – are full of pride – rejecting or simply paying lip-service to God, all of while thinking they can do whether they please apart from God’s help. And so, in many nations – including our own – the sanctity of human life and the institution of marriage are under a continual assault. And so, the Ocean-to-Ocean pilgrimage of the replica of the icon of our Lady of Czestochowa is a means to awake us – the church militant - to humble ourselves and implore our Heavenly Mother to bring about the transformation of our world away from a demonic culture of death to a Christ-centered culture of life. We do this by humbling ourselves in prayer, such as before this beautiful icon in our presence this weekend, through penance – including fasting and as today’s 1st reading reminds us, “alms” to the poor and other corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
We ought to be encouraged by today’s Responsorial Psalm, from Psalm 68 as we heard that God is “the father of orphans and the defender of widows … he gives a home to the forsaken; he leads forth prisoners to prosperity.” And let us also take heart from the words of our Lord in today’s Gospel parable, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
May the Humble Handmaid of our Lord – our Blessed Mother, help us to heed the calling of our Lord in today’s Alleluia verse: “Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” If we – as the Mystical Body of Christ on earth - daily seek to grow in humility by prayer, penance and works of mercy, the Holy Spirit will begin to transform our nation and world into a culture of life and holiness and thus allow us experience the words of today’s Responsorial Psalm: “The just rejoice and exult before God, they are glad and rejoice.”
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:7)
"Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all. (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)
Please remember the Poor Souls today: Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Reverend Father Richard Carr