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It's through prayer and penance that our salvation lies by Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh (CatholicMom.com) Photo by Max Marie, OSF (2007) via Flickr, all rights reserved.[/caption] After studying the apparitions of Mary, some that have been verified by the Church and some that are being investigated by the Church, I observed some consistencies in Mary’s communication to those who are recipients of her messages. I admit to being fascinated by her messages through these visions. One question that specifically interests me is why it’s critical for Mary to make certain we are reminded of the importance of prayer and expressing penance for our sins. She seems to advocate that through prayer and penance, we will find the path of salvation for our souls. I believe Mary’s message of prayer and conversion is essentially the challenge she poses to everyone. Let's take a look at a couple of examples of approved apparitions and see if we all agree that Mary is showing us how much we are loved through her visions. The Catholic Church sees the purpose of Marian apparitions as a means to emphasize aspects of the Christian message. Catholics are not required to believe them since they are considered private revelations. The Church says that any cures and other miraculous events are not the purpose behind Mary’s apparitions; they exist primarily to validate and draw attention to the message itself. One example of this is Mary's appearance to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old shepherd girl who lived near the town of Lourdes in France. Mary spoke to Bernadette, “What I have to say to you does not have to be written down.” This statement suggests to me that Mary thought it important when communicating with Bernadette, her message should be remembered as one coming from love wanting it to remain in Bernadette’s heart. She asked Bernadette, “Would you be so kind to come here for 15 days?” Mary was showing a simple girl respect and love. I think even with her choice of Bernadette, Mary wanted her message to be about love. During the first apparitions it was said that Bernadette’s face always radiated joy, happiness and light. In Bernadette’s words, “the Lady held a string of rosary beads and made the sign of the cross.” During the remaining apparitions Bernadette showed sadness and sorrow while performing harsh gestures. She moved on her knees kissing the dirty filthy ground and scraped the ground three times trying to drink muddy water. Mary directed Bernadette to take mud into her hands and smear her face. “Go to the spring, drink of it and wash yourself there.” When Bernadette was asked if the Lady spoke to her, her response was “Yes, she spoke to me from time to time. She said, ‘Penance, penance, penance. Pray for sinners.” Bernadette referred to her visions as seeing a beautiful Lady. She did not know her by name until the sixteenth apparition. On March 25, 1858, Bernadette asked the Lady her name. She replied in the local dialect, “Que soy era Immaculada Counceptiou,” meaning “I am the Immaculate Conception,” or Mary conceived without sin by the merits of Christ on the Cross. Bernadette would have no idea that this was a recent definition of dogma, promulgated in 1854. After it was reported what was said to the parish priest who told the Bishop, they confirmed her visions of Mary were genuine. Essentially, Bernadette’s visions at Lourdes seems to suggest that Mary wants everyone to be  forgiven of their sins so they will become witnesses to Jesus and God in heaven. Today, six million people visit Lourdes every year, including 100,000 volunteers and 80,000 ill and disabled pilgrims seeking cures for their afflictions or the strength to endure them. Looking at another example over three hundred years prior to the visions with Bernadette, Mary appeared to an indigenous man named Juan Diego on December 9, 1531. She communicated to him asking that an abbey be built on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico so that all would have a place to pray and bring their sorrows and concerns to the altar of God. Mary was acting as a loving mother, promising she would take their pleas to her Son, Jesus. In the words spoken to Juan Diego: “I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth. I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest. I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows …” Today, The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Catholicism and is visited by 20 million people each year. Mary’s request for churches to be built is consistent in her messages because she wants everyone to use prayer as a means to speak with their Father in heaven and her Son, Jesus. In 1877 Mary revealed to Barbara Samulowska and Justyna Szafrynska, speaking in Polish and explained how important it is to pray the Rosary. The Catholic Church acknowledged this vision in 1977. The visions of Mary appearing to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 were declared worthy of belief in 1930. The future Pope John Paul I met with Sister Lucia on July 11, 1977, and reported he was deeply moved by the experience, vowing to perform the Consecration of Russia as Lucia had said this is what Mary had asked of her. Saint John Paul II was particularly attached to Fatima and credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life after being shot in Rome on the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima in 1981. He donated the bullet that wounded him to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. Pope Benedict XVI published a commentary on the text of Fatima, “What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the secret: the exhortation to prayer as the path of salvation for souls and likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.” In short, Mary wants us to pray. Her son Jesus prayed because he was living in a human body and wanted to continue to communicate to his Father.
… after he dismissed them, he went up on a mountain side by himself to pray. (Matthew 14:23)
Prayer is a necessary part of communication with God. It is an exercise of our faith in God. It is a way of knowing and believing that God hears and answers prayers according to His will. Most important for Mary it is a reminder of returning our focus to her Son, Jesus.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
Mary is the mother of Jesus. Her whole purpose is directed towards conceiving the Son of God. We are all children of God and therefore, her children as well. On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary a dogma:
"By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."
The Feast Day of the Assumption is August 15. As we are at Mass on this Feast day, I think we should thank Mary for her wanting to remind us of the importance of prayer and penance so we will all one day become witnesses of God.
Copyright 2018 Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh