Monday, August 26, 2013

Our Lady of Czestochowa

One of my favorite images of the Blessed Virgin Mary is Our Lady of Czestochowa. Of course being 100% Polish could be a reason for this, as well as the fact that in August, 2006 I visited the Polish shrine in which this image resides--Jasna Gora or Bright Hill.  There are various stories about the origin of this image.  Some say that it was painted by the gospel-writer St. Luke. It seems to have made its way to Constantinople, the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire.  From there it went to a castle in Belz, now part of Ukraine but in the 1300's part of the Kingdom of Poland. The castle was attacked by Tartars, one of whom shot an arrow through a window and into the room where the image was kept, piercing the throat of the Madonna.

After the attack was repulsed, Duke Wladyslaw of Opole decided to take the image to a safer place--his home in western Poland. The image was carried in solemn procession. Along the way, the group stopped in the town of Czestochowa to spend the night. In the morning the image was placed in a wagon but the horses refused to move. Wladyslaw prayed for guidance and was inspired to have the image remain in a church on a hill in Czestochowa.  This took place on August 26, 1382.

In 1430 a band of Bohemian Hussites, a heretical Christian sect, stormed the monastery in which the image resided and stole various precious items.  But as they fled, horses pulling the wagon which held the image refused to move. One of the robbers threw the image to the ground and in anger slashed it twice.  As he raised his sword a third time, he fell to the ground and died.  The other robbers fled in fear and the image has remained in Czestochowa ever since.

In time artists have tried to "repair" the damage done by the Tartar arrow and Hussite sword, but each time the wounds mysteriously reappeared.  It would seem that our Blessed Mother, wounded by sin, wounded by humanity's rejection of her and her Son, wants the wounds to remain, just as the wounds on her Son's risen body remain--a sign of the terrible effects of sin and a sign of love.

On May 26, 2006 Pope Benedict visited Czestochowa and prayed before the image. He said the following:

"Just as the Apostles together with Mary 'went to the upper room' and there 'with one accord devoted themselves to prayer' (Acts 1:12,14), so we too have come together today at Jasna Góra, which for us at this hour is the 'upper room' where Mary, the Mother of the Lord, is among us.  Today it is she who leads our meditation; she teaches us how to pray.  Mary shows us how to open our minds and our hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us so as to be brought to the whole world. ...

"My dear friends, we need a moment of silence and recollection to place ourselves in her school, so that she may teach us how to live from faith, how to grow in faith, how to remain in contact with the mystery of God in the ordinary, everyday events of our lives.  With feminine tact and with 'the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement' (John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater 46), Mary sustained the faith of Peter and the Apostles in the Upper Room, and today she sustains my faith and your faith. ...

"When the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, went out to the whole world proclaiming the Gospel, one of them, John, the Apostle of love, took Mary into his home (cf. Jn 19:27). It was precisely because of his profound bond with Jesus and with Mary, that he could so effectively insist on the truth that 'God is love' (1 Jn 4:8,16). These were the words that I placed at the beginning of the first Encyclical of my Pontificate: Deus Caritas Est! This is the most important, most central truth about God. To all for whom it is difficult to believe in God, I say again today: 'God is love'. Dear friends, be witnesses to this truth. You will surely be so if you place yourselves in the school of Mary. Beside her you will experience for yourselves that God is love, and you will transmit this message to the world with the richness and the variety that the Holy Spirit will know how to enkindle."

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