Last week my family and I took a short vacation to Green Bay, Wisconsin. We enjoyed the usual sites, including a visit to the National Railroad Museum (for the kids) and a tour of Lambeau Field (for my wife and me).
But the highlight of the trip was on the second day when we drove 20 minutes to Champion, Wisconsin, to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. This shrine is located at the spot of the only Church-approved Marian apparition in the United States.
In 1859 Adele Brise, a youth Belgian immigrant, saw a woman in white standing between two trees. She was frightened by the vision, which reappeared a second time the following Sunday as she was walking to Mass. She asked a priest for advice and he told her she should ask it, "In the Name of God, who are you and what do you wish of me?"
On her way home the lady appeared again and Adele did as she had been instructed. The lady replied, "I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same." Adele was also told to "gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation."
Adele dedicated the rest of her life to catechizing the children of rural Wisconsin, walking from community to community and later founding a school at the spot of the apparition. (It was closed in the 1920s and is now a sandwich shop, but some of the original blackboards are still hanging up!)
Adele Brise is a wonderful example of the humility and perseverance needed for catechists today. The Blessed Mother’s call to “teach them what they should know for salvation” remains our calling whether as parents, catechists, Catholic school teachers, youth ministers, RCIA team members, or any number of other roles we play in our lives.
I pray that, during this month of Mary, the Queen of Heaven will pray for you and all the catechists of our diocese so that we may fulfill her son’s will to make disciples in his Church.
Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us!
During the month of May we celebrate, in a special way, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many of our schools and parishes will celebrate the Crowning of Mary; families will pray the Rosary together; and liturgies will be held in honor of our Blessed Mother. For those of charged with passing on our Catholic faith to young people, be they our students or our own children, this is an appropriate time to reflect on the model Mary gives us for our work.
Mary is a model for catechists, first and foremost, because she is a faithful student of her son, Jesus. Even before his birth, when she said to the angel Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” (Lk 1:38) she was foreshadowing Christ’s own obedience to the Father. As Jesus grew and began his ministry, Mary continued to follow and listen to him – a path which led her to the foot of the Cross. (Jn 19:25-26) There she witnessed Christ’s greatest lesson as he gave his life for the world.
By becoming a student of Christ Mary also became a teacher to the Church. Mary was present in the early Church (c.f. Acts 1:14) and, no doubt, answered many questions about her son. Imagine what it must have been like to hear Jesus’ own mother talk about him! By the 9th century the Church came to recognize Mary as the Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea, an image reminiscent of sailors who would chart their course by the stars. Mary points the way to Christ through her immaculate life and faithful devotion to her son.
We, too, are called to be faithful disciples and joyful teachers! We do this, in a fundamental way, through our participation in the life of the Church. In the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, we come to know Christ in a personal, even intimate way. It is this personal knowledge that makes us effective teachers of our Catholic faith; like Mary, we cannot pass on that which we have not received. Before we take to the classroom we must first come to know him (not what!) we teach.
Mary, Star of the Sea, pray for us!