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The Lourdes Pilgimage of the Mother of ST. Therese of Lisieux

Between 18-22 June 1877, Zélie Martin, the mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower”, made a pilgrimage to Lourdes seeking a miraculous cure from the metastasizing breast cancer that was rapidly killing her.  (Zélie and her husband Louis are themselves now canonized saints of the Church: they were canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.  Their feast-day is July 12th, for the anniversary of their marriage.  They were married in a church at midnight on the night of July 12th-13th, 1858.)

As strong Catholics the Martin were believers in the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, which had received the approbation of the Church.  Louis Martin had been part of the first national pilgrimage in 1873, for the spiritual regeneration of France, and again in 1875.  Given her deteriorating condition Zélie Martin went in haste to Lourdes on the first organized pilgrimage she could find.  She went without her husband, accompanied only by her three oldest daughters Marie, Pauline and Léonie.

She went with the conviction of faith that she would be miraculously healed, if God willed it for her through Mary.  As she wrote in a letter to her sister-in-law: “I do not count on anything by the help of the Good Mother.  If she wishes it, she can cure me, she has cured many other sick people.”

The pilgrimage, however, filled with mishaps and personal misfortunes, did not result in a miraculous cure.  Madame Martin died on August 28th, 1878, at the age of 46.  Her youngest daughter Thérèse was only four years old.

It was a struggle for Zélie to come to terms with her impending death, but she accepted it, as we know now from her letters to family members at the time.  Just before the pilgrimage to Lourdes she had confided to her brother how she was praying that if the Blessed Virgin would not obtain a cure for her, then that she would cure her daughter Léonie, who had what we would identify today as severe developmental problems.  After the pilgrimage she was inspired to meditate deeply on the words of Our Lady to Bernadette, “I do not promise to make you happy in this life, but in the next,” and their application to her in her situation.

And in a letter to her daughter Pauline the mother counseled against disappointment:

I wish to know in what spiritual dispositions you find yourself in and if you’re still angry against the Blessed Virgin?  Don’t expect a lot of joys on this earth, you will have a great many disappointments.  Courage and confidence [“courage et confiance”] Pray with faith to the Mother of Mercies, she will come to your aid with the goodness and the sweetness of the most tender of Mothers.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for July 22, 2018)

Father T.J. Danahy and the Church Dedication

I am indebted to parishioner Martha Phillips for discovering a key fact with regard to the renaming of St. Mary’s parish to “Mary Immaculate of Lourdes” at the new church’s dedication in 1910: it was in fulfillment of a vow Fr. Danahy had made.

His cousin, Elizabeth Cavanagh, said that Fr. Danahy damaged his vision while studying for the priesthood, and that he went to Lourdes where he regained his lost sight. He vowed then to build a church in honor of the Blessed Virgin. He built Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church in Newton Upper Falls, and served as its pastor for 33 years until his death. He died at the rectory at 76 years of age.

(Source: http://elgalvin.mysite.syr.edu/gen/danahy.html)

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church as it looked at its Dedication (1910).
Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church as it looked at its Dedication (1910).

Such a detail makes the re-naming of the parish church especially moving: to consider the element that this whole beautiful edifice of this church is itself a votive offering of thanksgiving by a miraculé, the church’s own pastor who received the healing of his sight at Lourdes.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for November 26, 2017

The Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, 100 Years Ago

October the 13th this year marked the 100th Anniversary of the great sign of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, Portugal. I have used for our Bulletin front cover this striking picture, reproduced in The Latin Mass Magazine, of the people awestruck by what they are seeing in the sky above.

The Miracle at Fatima
The Miracle at Fatima, cover of the Octoger 29, 2017 bulletin

In the July 13th Apparition Our Lady had told the children: “In October…I will work a miracle so that all will see and believe.” In expectation of this promised miracle tens of thousands of people went to the Cova da Iria beginning on October 12th—people of all kinds, good and bad, believers and unbelievers.  The crowd estimate was 70,000 people.  A soaking rain continued all through the night and until 12 Noon solar time on the 13th when Our Lady appeared to the three shepherd children as she had promised.  At the end of the Apparition all of the people began to experience the sun changing its appearance in the sky.

Here is the description of Avelino de Almeida, Editor in Chief of O Seculo, the liberal and anti-clerical daily newspaper of Lisbon, who witnessed the event:

“One could see the immense multitude turn towards the sun, which appeared at its zenith, coming out of the clouds.  It resembles a dull silver disc, and it is possible to fix one’s eyes on it without the least damage to the eye.  It does not burn the eyes.  It does not blind them.  One might say that an eclipse was taking place.  An immense clamor bursts out, and those who are nearer to the crowd hear a shout: ‘Miracle! Miracle! Prodigy!… Prodigy!…”

“The attitude of the people takes us back to biblical times.  Stupefied and with heads uncovered, they watch the blue sky.  Before their dazzled eyes the sun trembled, the sun made unusual and brusque movements, defying all the laws of the cosmos, and according to the typical expression of the peasants, ‘the sun danced…’ What did I see at Fatima that was even stranger?  The rain, at an hour announced in advance, ceased falling; the thick mass of clouds dissolved; and the sun—a dull silver disc—came into view at its zenith, and began to dance in a violent and convulsive movement, which a great number of witnesses compared to a serpentine dance, because the colors taken on by the surface of the sun were so beautiful and gleaming.”

“Miracle, as the people shouted?  A natural phenomenon, as the learned would say?  For the moment I do not trouble myself with finding out, but only with affirming what I saw…The rest is a matter between Science and the Church.” (Quoted in The Whole Truth About Fatima: Science and the Facts, by Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, Immaculate Heart Publications, English translation edition, 1989.)

In his Pastoral Letter authorizing the cultus of Our Lady of Fatima (October 13th, 1930), the diocesan Bishop José Alves Correia da Silva cited this great sign of the public miracle as a motive for believing in the supernatural character of the Fatima Apparitions.

“The solar phenomenon of the 13th of October, 1917, described in the papers at the time, was something marvelous and caused a great impression upon those who had the happiness to witness it…This phenomenon which no observatory has registered, and therefore, was not a natural one, was observed by persons of all ranks and social classes, believers and unbelievers, journalists of the principal Portuguese dailies and even by persons kilometers away, all of which eliminates the idea that it was a collective illusion.” (quoted from The Latin Mass, Fall 2017, p. 80)

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for October 29, 2017

Prayer for Peace and the Fatima Message

Last month an obituary appeared in the New York Times for a retired colonel of the Soviet Air Defense Forces, Stanislav Petrov (“Stanislav Petrov, 77; Soviet Who Helped Avert a Nuclear War”).  Early on the morning of September 26th, 1983, Lt. Col. Petrov, 44 years old, was a few hours into his shift as the duty officer at Serpukhov-15, the secret command center where the Soviet Union monitored its early-warning satellites over the U.S., when the alarms went off.  The computers were telling them that the U.S. had launched 5 Minuteman Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles against the U.S.S.R.

At that moment the Cold War between the USA and Soviet Russia was worsening.  Only three weeks before the Soviets had shot down a Korean Airlines passenger plane which had strayed into its airspace. (One of our parishioners from Mary Immaculate of Lourdes was on that plane: Mrs. Hiroko Ikeda Stevens.  William Stevens Jr. and Hiroko Ikeda had been married at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church on January 1st, 1983.  Her bereaved husband built a peace garden in her memory which is preserved at our parish cemetery of St. Mary’s.)

When the alarms went off then on that September morning it was not at all implausible that the USA had decided to strike in a surprise attack.  As the duty officer, it was Lt. Col. Petrov’s role to make the call to his superiors and thereby set the chain of events in motion for a Soviet retaliatory strike.

Years later, in an interview with the BBC, the retired Soviet officer described what had happened:

“There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike.  But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time, that the Soviet Union’s military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay.  All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders—but I couldn’t move.  I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.” (NYTimes, ibid.)

He ended up making the decision that it was a system malfunction and reported it as such.  Indeed it was a false alarm: as it was later determined, the satellite mistook the sun’s reflection off the top of the clouds for a U.S. missile launch.  Any believer in God would have to say that it was a special moment of grace that touched this man at just the right moment and he responded to it.

We are only now beginning to learn about the extent of the “near-misses” in the triggering of a nuclear war over the last 72 years.  Zbiegnew Brzezinski, who was President Carter’s National Security Adviser, has described his own experience where he had to decide whether a report that nuclear missiles had been launched by the Soviet Union against us was real.  It was in the middle of the night.  He was poised make the call to the President.  But then, like Lt. Col. Petrov, he held-off, making the gut-decision that it was not a real strike.

Former Secretary of State George Schulz, now 96, has recently expressed his concern over the “careless talk” about using nuclear weapons in today’s climate.  He used the term “broken arrows” to characterize the false-alarms over nuclear weapons which could have tripped their use, and he indicated their number has not been rare to date.

A crucial part of Our Lady’s message at Fatima 100 years ago was a call for the Prayer for Peace in the face of the threat of annihilating warfare.  Catholics, are we praying hard enough?

(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for October 22, 2017

The Altar Rail: Our Place at the Lord’s Table

First, my childhood memories of receiving Holy Communion at the altar rail: I received my First Holy Communion in May of 1969 at St. Joseph’s Church in Needham. I was eight years old. The parish School Sisters, the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, were in charge of our catechism.

I remember well the instruction we were given on how to take Communion. You were to take your place kneeling at the altar rail and not look down the rail to see where the priest was. Instead you were to pray and to think about how you were going to receive Jesus. When you heard the priest about to come to you, you closed your eyes, held your head slightly back, and opened your mouth wide enough so that the priest could place the Host on your tongue. After you received it was important for you not to move until the person next to you had also received, so as not to disturb their Communion. Then you could go back to your pew, kneel down, and continue making your Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful rite of passage for a Catholic child. 

Several years later, the mid-1970’s, St. Joseph’s as with many other parishes stopped using the altar rail for Communion. We started queuing up in lines to receive Communion standing. I remember how jarring it felt. Vague explanations were given to us about the changes being in keeping with Vatican II. One such justification offered was: “We are a ‘Pilgrim People’ and so we should be standing to receive Communion.” 

When I got to the Seminary in 1983 I heard the altar rail spoken of in one-sidedly negative terms as a barrier between the people and the sanctuary. This was not how I remembered it nor did it take into account the good feelings I associated with Communion at the rail.

We restored the altar rail here at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes parish in 2010. This was part of the mandate I was given by Cardinal Sean: to put in an altar rail to accommodate the Traditional Latin Mass Community coming over from the Holy Trinity German Church in Boston.

I would like to offer here a more positive understanding of the place of the altar rail than the characterizations of it as a barrier or an oldfashioned practice which has no use in today’s Church outside of Traditional Mass communities. That is the understanding of the altar rail as our place at the Lord’s Table.

In the offering of Mass upon the altar there is a movement from the Sacrifice of the Cross to the Mystical Banquet of Christ the Lamb of God. At the time of Communion the Altar of Sacrifice is now transformed into this heavenly Table of the Lord. The altar rail represents the extension of the Banquet Table to where the people come in order to receive their Eucharistic Lord. To kneel or stand at that altar rail is to take your place at the Lamb’s High Feast (“Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lord!”) At the altar rail, as at a banquet table, you have other guests beside you, re-enforcing the communitarian aspects of Christianity. 

It is a visually and physically striking enactment of the beautiful words of the Lord’s coming in St. John’s Apocalypse: “Behold, I stand at the gate and knock. If any man shall hear My voice and open to Me the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him: and he with Me.” (Apoc. 3:20)  

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for August 20, 2017

Vocation and the Universal Call to Holiness

Pope Francis chose to begin his Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy on the 50th Anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council (December 8th, 1965).   In doing so he clearly wished to link the course of his Papacy to the legacy of that ecumenical Council.   Pope Francis, it may be noted, is the first Pope who was ordained to the priesthood after Vatican II.   His own personal chronology crosses the divide of the before-and-after, the pre-conciliar and the post-conciliar Church.

Broadly speaking, two “schools of thought” have emerged from within the Church over the past half-century on the meaning of that Council.   One school argues for the “hermeneutic (i.e., the interpretation) of continuity” with regard to the Council.   However much Catholicism seems to have changed, it continues on as before, Vatican II having been a catalyst for legitimate reforms.   The turmoil in the Church is blamed on abuses of the conciliar reforms, and on the influence of secularism which undermines all religious belief.

Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, who was one of the theological advisers present at the Second Vatican Council, was a proponent of the “hermeneutic of continuity”.   We may see in his 2007 Motu Propio “Summorum Pontificum an example of this.   He granted liberty to the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass in the Church—the “Extraordinary Form”—while still maintaining the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI as the “Ordinary Form” of the Roman Rite.

The other school of thought, the so-called “Bologna School”, has the opposite view of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council.   They see not continuity in the Roman Catholic Church, but rupture—and they think of that as a good thing.   A very good thing.   The three year event of that 1960s Council freed the Church, as they see it, from the hide-bound attachment to Tradition which had been “stifling the Spirit” for so long and turning the Catholic Church into a Fortress instead of allowing it to move out into the world, the better to engage it.   For the advocates of the “Bologna School”, Pope Francis is their man.

The Angelus
The Angelus (1857–59) by Jean-François Millet

One of the chief themes of the Second Vatican Council, perhaps the chief theme, however, was the “universal call to holiness”.   This was explicitly addressed in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, approved by the Council Fathers in 1964:

“The Church, whose mystery is set forth by this sacred Council, is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy.   This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as His Bride, giving Himself up for her so as to sanctify her (cf. Eph. 5:25-26); He joined her to Himself as His body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.   Therefore all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness, according to the Apostle’s saying: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (I Thess. 4:3; cf Ep. 1:4) (LG 39)”

“It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. (LG 40)”

This therefore is the primary and necessary vocation for every Christian person: the “universal call to holiness”, which is another way of saying the fulfillment of our baptismal vows.   All other vocations and courses in life must follow from it and draw refreshment for it as water from a deep and inexhaustible well.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for January 3, 2016

Living in Truthfulness

In the midst of one of the public attacks Our Lord endured in the months leading up to His crucifixion, He turned to reassure those who had come to believe in Him, even as His enemies were harassing Him and heaping verbal abuse: “Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in Him, ‘If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'” (John 8:31-32)

Jesus is talking specifically here about “saving Truth” and not just truthful things in general, but living truthfulness in all things is very much a part of our Christian calling.  I spoke about this in last Sunday’s homily, and I want to reinforce the point through this Sunday’s Pastor’s Note.  Every Catholic should be clear that all lying is a sin, and not just the “big” lies that are meant to hurt people.

Here is a concise summary from Fr. Dominic Prümmer’s Handbook of Moral Theology (1957) on the matter:

A lie is intrinsically evil, so that no reason whatsoever can justify its use.  Sacred Scripture forbids all forms of lying without distinction: "Keep clear of untruth." (Exodus 23:7); "Do not tell lies at one another’s expense" (Colossians 3:9). The intrinsic reason for the evil character of lying is that it is opposed to : a) the natural purpose of speech which is given to man to reveal what is in his mind; b) natural human [inter-action] which is disturbed by lying; c) the good of the listener who is deceived by the lie; and d) the welfare of the speaker himself who, although he may obtain some temporary advantage from the lie, will suffer greater evils in consequence (par. 292).

Another useful definition on truthfulness is this one from the McHugh/Callan Moral Theology manual (1958):

Truthfulness is a moral virtue, preserving moderation in conversation and other interchanges of thought.  This virtue sees that facts are neither exaggerated nor understated, that truth is not manifested when it should be concealed, nor concealed when it should be spoken. (par. 2386)

Then we have St. Augustine’s declaration, that we are bound to tell the naked truth whatever the consequences may be.

Of course, the truth must be spoked in charity as well as justince, so that the virtue of truthfulness must be exercised with tact, consideration, kindness and respect for the rights of others.  The more discreet we are in our speech the less likely we will be to trip ourselves up either in a falsehood or a "you-wanna-know-what-I-really-think-of-you?"…

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for March 23, 2014

Silver Jubilee of Ordination: An Occasion of Grateful Thanks

Father Charles Jeremiah Higgins, June 25, 1988
The Madonna by the artist Sassoferrato was the front of the prayer card for my priestly ordination.  The back of the card, together with the photograph taken for the Boston Pilot, appear above.  The words TOTUS TUUS (“Totally Yours”) are the motto from St. Louis de Montfort’s total consecration to Mary.  —Fr. Higgins

Ten years ago or so one of my former professors at the Seminary told an amusing story about himself with regard to the preparations for his 50th Anniversary celebration.  He was putting together a program and he brought the draft to the printer.  In it were two pictures: one of him at ordination and one as he was at 50 years ordained.  The woman at the counter pointed to the picture of the young priest and asked, “And who’s that?”.  “Uh, that’s me,” the priest replied.  After an awkward pause, the woman at the counter recovered cheerily: “It happens to us all!”

This past Tuesday, June 25th, I marked the happy occasion of my 25th Anniversary of priestly ordination.  This Sunday, at all the parish Masses, I am adding this thanksgiving intention, and asking you for the support of your prayers: for my perseverance and the perseverance of all priests, that we may be faithful, generous priests to the end of our days.

On Ordination Day, 25 years into the future seemed a long time out.  Looking back from now to then, it feels so quick, as do all of our markers in life.  “Time, how short; Eternity, how long…”

As the ordination Class of 1988, we celebrated the day of our Silver Jubilee together at St. Joseph’s Retreat House in Milton, with a concelebrated evening Mass just for us in the Lady Chapel and then a time of fellowship with dinner in the retreat house.  Our class preacher at this Mass was Fr. Steve Madden, pastor of St. Mary’s in Foxboro.  I think he spoke for all of us when he stressed the spirit of gratitude felt on this occasion, as we look back on the last quarter century of our lives as ordained priests, and look forward in hope to the future.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for June 30, 2013

Preaching the Word out of Season

In his Second Epistle to Timothy, Chapter 4, St. Paul the Apostle gives this command to his younger disciple: “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke, in all patience and doctrine.”

In A.D. 1209 St. Francis of Assisi (Feast-day, October 4th) began to preach the Christian Gospel to people of his home region of Umbria with such energy and freshness that it ignited a popular religious renewal to the rest of Europe and beyond.  Francis, three years before, had dramatically renounced all his inheritance rights as the only son of a rich merchant in the presence of the Bishop of Assisi, going so far as to surrender even his clothes back to his father.  Shortly after, he went to live among the lepers, who had been cast out into the forest for their frightful disease.

Coming out of his obscurity, Francis preached repentance from sin and peace and reconciliation among his neighbors.  He preached with great power, however, and was not cowed by any human respect.  As one of his early biographers, St. Bonaventure, describes it:

And because he had first impressed upon his own mind by his works what he endeavored to impress upon others by his words, fearing reproof from no man, he preached the truth with great confidence.  He was not accustomed to handle the sins of man delicately, but pierced them with the sword of the Spirit, nor did he spare their sinful lives, but rebuked them sharply and boldly.  He spoke to great and small with equal constancy of mind, and with a like joyfulness of spirit, whether to many or to few; people of every age and sex came forth to see this man, newly given to the world by God, to look upon him and listen to his words.

St. Francis of Assisi’s unction was of a high degree which no preacher should presume to imitate as a style.  Nonetheless, it is much to be wondered at, with all of the market-style strategizing on how to “get people back to Church”, is there any thought given to the solemn charge: “be instant in season, out of season…”

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for October 14, 2012

Lourdes and Lent

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for February 26, 2012)

The Eighteen Apparitions which make up the wondrous event of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearance to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 were spread out in a seemingly haphazard manner. The first Apparition was on February 11th, the second on February 14th, the third on February 18th. Then there followed a fortnight of Apparitions between February 19th-March 4th, except for February 22nd and February 26th. After the 15th Apparition on March 4th, Bernadette did not have a visitation until March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Vision revealed her name: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The next to last Apparition was on April 7th, and the final one months later, on July 16th.

The haphazardness of the Apparitions, however, seems less so once we connect them to the time of year in which they occurred. The first Apparition occurred on Thursday of Sexagesima Week, the Second on Sunday in Shrovetide, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Third on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. The “Fortnight” of Apparitions between February 19th-March 4th encompassed the First Sunday in Lent, the Lenten Ember Days, the Second Sunday in Lent, and the Second Week of Lent through Friday. If we look at the Catholic Liturgy for those days, in the Mass and in the Divine Office as it was at that time, we find some startling correspondence between the Apparitions and the content of faith.

For example, Our Lady directed Bernadette to dig and uncover the spring of water on Thursday, February 25th, 1858. The next day, February 26th, was Ember Friday in Lent. By then the spring water was gushing forth from the Massabielle into the River Gave. The Gospel Lesson for Mass was from John 5:1-15, which relates how Jesus healed a paralyzed man who was lying helplessly by the healing Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. The water of Lourdes points us to consider the Pool of Bethesda in the Gospel, which in turn symbolizes the waters of Baptism. Christ’s miracles of healing for physical sickness in the Gospel are given as a sign of His greater divine power to heal the soul of its sickness to sin. Just so, the healing miracles to come through the Lourdes spring are but the outward sign of the inward grace at work in bringing sanctifying grace to human souls. Significantly, Our Lady inexplicably did not appear to Bernadette on the 26th—the day when the spring’s power was made so manifest. It was as if she had stepped back to draw attention to the work of her Divine Son Jesus.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)