In the winter of 2005, Ivan Dragicevic, one of the visionaries of Medjugorje was here at Our Lady of Mercy. Some of you may have been present here. We had mass, rosary, and apparition of Our Lady right here at the sanctuary. Also present at that night were about 20 plus seminarians from Notre Dame Seminary who were being temporarily housed at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington due to Hurricane Katrina damaging our seminary severely. It was after that night that several of us seminarians decided to plan a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in the summer of 2006. It was to be my second trip to Medjugorje; my first trip was in 2001. It was in my first trip that I received the call to priesthood from Blessed Mother. It was after that trip that I told my boss that I was going to leave in six months to enter seminary somewhere. Going back to that second trip: Fortunately for the 8 of us seminarians who went, we were able to stay at Ivan's house. This meant that we witnessed everyday his daily apparition right around 6PM. After one of the apparition, Ivan was taking a walk outside. I followed behind him, and asked him a question. Looking at his eyes, I could tell that he had been crying. I asked, "Ivan, it must be difficult to part from Our Lady." He replied, "After seeing Gospa ['Our Lady' in Croatian] I don't want to come back to earth."
For most of us who are not privileged to meet Our Lady in such a way probably cannot fathom what it is like meeting her and being separated from her. As I prepared for tonight's homily, I asked Blessed Mother if she could give me an image or a metaphor to help describe why there is such joy in seeing her and suffering in parting from her. First, she pointed me to a document of Vatican II called Lumen Gentium. The chapter 8 of this document is dedicated to the Blessed Mother, and it quotes St. Augustine: "[Mary] is clearly the mother of the members of Christ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head." The image that sticks out is a mother giving birth to children; and St. Augustine is saying that Blessed Mother, in some mysterious way, helped give birth to all Christians.
Another image that she gave me to ponder was an article that I read when I was a sophomore in college. In our UT Austin paper was an article about a local Korean woman adopted at infancy and now in her twenties traveling to South Korea in search of her birth mother. Let me give you a little background. In 1980s, almost 40% of the children adopted by American couples came from South Korea. You can understand the child's desire; it's readily apparent to the adopted Korean child that she does not look anything like her adoptive parents. So there is this great desire for the child to find her mom who looks like her. In her is a desire to know what her mother looks like, where she lives, and even why she put her up for adoption. Really, it's a deep question about "Who am I, and where do I come from?"
In Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis, there is a curious line: "The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living." (Gen 3:20) The Fathers of the Church would give the title of New Adam to Christ and New Eve to Mary. In doing so, the Fathers of the Church is equating Our Lady as the mother of all those who are born anew in Christ; so she is the spiritual mother of all Christians. So why did Blessed Mother give me two images to explain why there is joy in seeing her and suffering in parting from her? We are like that adopted Korean child. On one hand, we are born to an earthly home by earthly mother. On the other hand, we have been spiritualy reborn by another mother who belongs to the heavenly realm, and we have this discomfort in someway that we don't belong to this world. Thus in all of us who bear heavenly destination, there is a great desire to seek this heavenly mother. When Ivan and the rest of the visionaries of Medjugorje encountered Blessed Mother, their soul recognized the spiritual mother they've been seeking for a long time. There was great joy in reunion. But there was much tears shed when they were torn away from their heavenly birth mother.
I often wondered why there were so many vocations, including mine, resulting from Medjugorje. Cardinal Schonborn, the Archbishop of Viena, Austria some years ago remarked to then Cardinal Ratzinger that if Medjugorje were to be closed, he would have to close his seminary in Viena because the majority of men entering seminary in Viena heard their call to priesthood from Medjugorje. We are quite familiar with what Blessed Mother says to the servants at the Wedding at Cana. She said, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5) Now if this was some lady telling me to give up my career and enter seminary, then I would say, "Ummmm, no thanks." But in Medjugorje, it was my spiritual birth mother who spoke to me. "My dear Paul, my dearly beloved son whom I gave you birth spiritually, I ask you to do what Jesus tells you to do." How can I refuse my own mother? How can we refuse our own Mother Mary?
St. Therese of Lisieux had such love for Blessed Mother as her own mother. “How I love the Blessed Virgin! ... She is more Mother than Queen" ... “At the moment of Communion, I sometimes imagine my soul is a child of three or four years, who has just come from play, hair disheveled, and clothes disorderly and soiled. These are the injuries that I meet in combating with souls…. Then comes the Blessed Virgin and in a moment makes me respectable looking and fit to assist at the Banquet of the Angels without shame.” (St. Therese of Lisieux, Autobiography, 254)
Blessed Mother speaks so tenderly to us as our own mother in Medjugorje. "Dear children! I have told you already that I have chosen you in a special way, just the way you are. I, the Mother, love you all. And in any moment that is difficult for you, do not be afraid! Because I love you even then when you are far from me and my Son. (Our Lady of Medjugorje, May 24, 1984) ... I love you, dear children, with a special love and I desire to bring you all to Heaven unto God. (November 27, 1986)"