Heavenly Grace

The past century has been the bloodiest in human history. Even as I write this, the slaughter of innocent children in their mother’s womb continues all over the world. Yet the past century has also witnessed strong movements of grace that have washed away the anguish and sorrow of many human hearts. As St. Paul said, “Where sin increased, graced overflowed all the more” (Rm 5:20).

One wonderful gift of this past century is that God allowed Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus, to visit us. She came to three shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal in 1917, and to many other places. She came as the “Woman Clothed with the Sun” (Rev. 12) to stand with her children during their time of trial. She came as a mother.

Mary was destined ever since our fall under the power of sin and death to be the one who would stand against the devil. God said to the serpent in the book of Genesis, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers”. Her offspring would crush the ancient serpent’s head (Gn 3:15). Those Scriptures found their fulfillment when Mary gave birth to God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (Lk 2; Mt 1:16; Gal. 4:4). But Scripture also includes others as offspring of the woman, “Those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). Her offspring continue to stand with her in their battle against evil, and she continues to stand with us. She is a mother to everyone and intercedes with God for us. One of the last things Jesus did as He was dying on the cross was to give His own mother to us. He said to the beloved disciple standing next to the cross, “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27). And Scripture records that the disciple from that hour onward took Mary into his home. That reveals to all of us the close relationship God wants us to have with Mary. He wants us to take her into our homes.

Some Christians do not understand this very well. They feel that any love or veneration that we show Mary or the saints takes away from our worship of God. Yet the opposite is true. We only venerate the saints and especially Mary because of what God has done in their lives. We venerate them because Jesus is more clearly seen in their lives. We venerate them and give God our love because the work of salvation is a work of God, not of man. Mary above all the saints opened herself up to the grace of God and said, “Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). She helps all of us say the same thing to God in our lives. She tells us to follow her Son, to “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Many of the misguided ideologies that were present last century have taken deep root in our modern world and continue to threaten humanity. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has pointed out that these godless ideologies in both eastern and western cultures have formed a world-wide culture of death. And so, the battle continues.

Our Mother of Life is with us in this struggle. What we need right now as Christians is a reminder of the victory and power that is in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. He overcame sin and death. He came so that we might have life and have it in abundance. He is the answer to the troubles of this world. His is the power and glory forever.

Always we are called to a deeper union with Jesus and the life of grace He freely offers. God has been pouring out special graces on the Church at this time to revive it. We call these graces charisms — gifts of the Holy Spirit. They build up the Church in every age. These gifts need to be discerned and if truly from the Lord, need to be cultivated in the life of the Church. A good seed in good soil will bear good fruit.

For a number of years, a young woman named Carolyn (Belprez) Kwiecinski has been sharing with her prayer group the words that flow from her inner soul. She believes that they are from Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and on a few occasions from some saints. These spiritual experiences are nothing new in the Church and always are approached with caution. The emphasis for followers of Jesus needs to be on His public revelation that has been made available to one and all in the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition that is taught by His Body the Church. It is this revelation that saves us because it allows us all to be united to Christ. The Holy Father and the bishops have been called by our Lord as successors of the apostles to proclaim the Gospel to the world in its fullness. It is that public revelation that we are called upon to believe. But that does not mean that God refrains from using other means to reach us. God is constantly finding ways to speak to His children that He loves so much. Sometimes God graces a person or prayer group with special spiritual gifts that are meant to strengthen the faith of the prayer group. These gifts point us back to the public revelation of Jesus. I believe such a thing has happened to Carolyn.

Many have asked for the words that Carolyn has shared at her prayer group. Carolyn was tape recorded and transcripts of her words were made available to those interested. When the prayer group began to grow, Carolyn became concerned. She did not want to mislead anyone and so she asked for the help of the Church to discern the messages she was receiving.

Her messages were given to a priest in the Diocese of Lansing who has been charged by the bishop to review books and materials for proper theological content. According to his best judgement, Carolyn’s messages are free from theological error and are in harmony with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are simple, and encouraging.

In evaluating the messages, there was no intention of making a judgement on the supernatural origins of Carolyn’s experiences or her messages. No one is bound to believe with the same assent of faith we owe to the Gospel in private revelation, nor in the messages and prophecies that result from prayer groups. We are called to believe the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in this context that these messages are being made available to those who wish to benefit from them. They are not to be seen as a substitute for the Scriptures nor the sound doctrine of the Church.

It is the prayer group’s hope that those who read these messages will find encouragement as they strive to lead a better Christian life. We pray in thanksgiving to God for sending us His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus, and also in giving us His own mother Mary to be with us in this valley of exile. We ask Mary to help us love and follow her Son Jesus as she did.

August 15, 2000
On the Feast of the Assumption of Mary

Fr. Bill Ashbaugh
Spiritual Director