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In May we can reflect on Marian apparitions – Catholic Standard

Seven years ago in May, the Church celebrated the centenary of Mary’s apparitions to three shepherd children in Fatima. To commemorate the event, Pope Francis visited Portugal, as did thousands and thousands of pilgrims. It was a time of great joy and a time of remembrance, especially Mary’s urgent call to the children to pray the Rosary for peace in the world and for “an end to war.” But the apparitions of Mary in Fatima are of course only one of many apparition events.

Earlier this year, in February, the Church commemorated the 166th anniversary of Mary’s appearance to St. Bernadette by a stream in Lourdes, France. It has been 165 years since she appeared in Champion, Wisconsin; 493 since Tepeyac Hill; 91 years since Belgium – and the list goes on. And while Catholics are not required to believe in these apparitions, the Church has found many worthy of official approval. It is very moving for me to believe that Mary, our Queen of Heaven and Earth and our Mother, continues to come to us in humility and love, calling us to conversion and to a deeper relationship with her son. And that makes sense, because that’s what she’s always done.

In her descriptive and eminently readable book “Those Who Saw Her: Apparitions of Mary” (OSV, $19.95), now in its fourth edition, Catherine Odell describes how Marian apparitions “have always had something to do with her heart and the needs of the world. ” Odell’s extensively researched text puts you in the setting of each appearance, describing the ‘main characters’ and providing context and even dialogue. She shows that what Mary brings in her apparitions is ‘part of the greater plan of her Son, who gave and continues to give salvation’.

It was this text that I focused on when I visited two sites of Marian apparitions earlier this year: the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southern France and the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal on Rue de Bac in Paris. Reading the accounts of the events and being in those two locations reminded me that Mary comes among us to inspire the hearts of believers then and now. She wants us to be active disciples of her son and thereby change the world.

As Odell writes, “It is not just individual hearts and minds that are the target of her conversion efforts. The Virgin is interested in the revitalization of communities and of the Church.”

What does that mean for us? How can we respond to Our Lady’s call? As we enter this Marian month of May, perhaps we could spend some time not only praying the Rosary, singing Marian hymns or crowning statues of Mary – all very valuable activities – but also reading and reflecting on Mary’s appearances here on earth . What did she tell us? Who did she talk to? How should we respond? How can we keep her message, and that of her Son, alive in our hearts, homes, and communities?

Odell’s text is a great starting point and includes a useful bibliography for further reading. It would be perfect for a book club or other small group reading. Very practically, we could also note the Marian apparition days on the calendar and commemorate them with a novena or another prayer. We could look into the Miraculous Medal, or even start wearing one. Perhaps we can even plan a pilgrimage – in person or in an armchair – to an apparition site. Here in the US we have an approved apparition site in Champion, Wisconsin, which is very beautiful.

Approaching these apparitions with an open heart and with caution – we must be very attentive to the apparitions that the Church has approved – could bear great fruit. As Odell writes, “In all apparitions there is a tension between authority and prophecy (the Church and apparitions) that must resolve itself again and again. The tension will continue, but there is little reason to fear that this will harm the Church, theologians assure us. Mary has assured us that she is indeed Mother of the Church. It is safe – and even necessary – to believe that she will always be close. And when the time is right and the needs of the world warrant, it will be so near that some eyes can see it and many hearts can know it.