On Saturday, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet with a holy yet human man; a visionary, a role model, an example for us all, and yet an average joe who makes no special assumptions about himself. He was just minding his own business when he was called to serve. His life was changed in ways he could not imagine, and if he had stopped to think about it, he might have reconsidered the offer. He and five others had an experience so unimaginable it is amazing they had the courage to speak of it and are still helping the world to this day. I am speaking of Ivan Dragicevic, one of the 6 visionaries of Medjugorje who first had an apparition of Our Lady nearly 25 years ago.
I first heard of Medjugorje from my mother back when I was in grade school. Another of the visionaries, Marija, had come to the United States and was staying with a family in northern Alabama. My brother who lives near there and works for EWTN told us about her and how many people were flocking to the field near the home she was staying in to be present during Our Lady’s daily visit with her. After school one day we drove up to the field outside the house. It was cold. It had rained quite a bit in the days prior to our trip. This night it was 22 degrees outside. Of course we did not see Our Lady, but we did see the beautiful light from Marija’s window. We knelt silently in the field. It was as if everything surrendered to the moment. There was a hush I had never experienced before. I heard nothing, absolutely nothing. No planes overhead, no sneezes, no whispers, no breathing, no creatures of the night, nothing. Yet it was not eerie, more surreal as if we were ever so briefly transformed. I did not feel pain or cold for those moments although I was kneeling on ice. Perhaps I was so focused elsewhere that I simply did not notice anything around me. Marija came out and addressed us and I remember a lot of prayers were said, but not much else from the evening remains in my memory. The next day I went back to school. I was, at least for the day, the center of attention. Everyone wanted to know what I had seen and if I believed.
Honestly I didn’t see a thing, but I didn’t need to. As moving and faith filled as this moment was for me, somehow I compartmentalized it. I sent it to the part of my brain I don’t think about much anymore, until I heard Ivan was coming. Most of you know I am Catholic, but you also know I am not very good at it. I want to be better. And I believe that is the basis of faith. I hope. I trust. I believe. I could not wait to hear him speak. I was shocked to realize it has been nearly 25 years, and I had done little to heed Mary’s call. I had been given a special gift and I had misplaced it, cast it aside, and forgotten about it. I knew this was a second chance for me to act on the grace I had once discarded. I did not know what Ivan would say or even if Our Lady still appeared to him. I just knew I wanted to see him. I prayed my husband would join me. He is not a believer, but I wanted him to experience this with me because it is so important to me. I am sure 10 decades of the rosary and Mass were not on the top of his list, but he came. I was overcome when I realized not only did Our Lady still visit Ivan daily, but she would in fact come today right in front of us. I was not looking for a miracle or a sign, but I was given a great gift.
Again, of course I did not see her, but I could feel her just as I feel Jesus in my heart when the Eucharist is raised in front of me. I could never describe the feeling, it kind of tingles and there is peace, happiness and calm. She was only there a few minutes I think; honestly, I did not notice time. Ivan recommended us and our intentions to Her and She prayed for us all. She also said a prayer over any religious items we placed in front of us for a blessing, but insisted we have them blessed by a priest as well. I had not thought to bring any water, candles, medals or anything of the like because I didn’t really know the nature of the event. I did however have two rosaries with me that I placed in front of me while She was there. The event’s organizer also had many blessed holy cards placed in front of her so we could take them back to our family, friends and parishes (I have a few left, so e-mail me if you are interested and I will get one to you).
After Mass, Ivan began his talk. He gave a brief history of what has been going on in Medjugorje over the years and also told of his personal experience with Our Lady. He divulged different requests and statements Our Lady has made to him over the years one of which struck me at first. He said Our Lady requested that we pray 3 hours a day. Internally I gasped; wow, that is a lot of praying! He told an anecdotal story about a pilgrim with a similar objection. She spent a year working up to those 3 hours and when she returned again to Medjugorje she asked Ivan if Our Lady still wanted her to give 3 hours in daily prayer. He quickly replied, “No, now She wants 24″. Needlesstosay, this lady stuck with the original 3 and kept her mouth shut. I have been thinking about this request. It seems enormous to me, but Ivan said Our Lady told him you think nothing of spending time with those you love so why not in prayer. It is true; I wouldn’t bat an eyelash if you asked me to watch 3 hours of TV or spend 3 hours on the internet. I make no promises, but I am going to try. Thankfully, like Nicoderm patches Our Lady lets us ease into it. We get to work up to full on fasts and 3 hours of prayer. If I include the prayers I say now, with daily Mass and read a little of the Bible each day, it really doesn’t seem like that much after all. Like I said, I am trying. We are all works in progress. You don’t want to give too much all at once and then burn out altogether, it is best to work your way up. Remember it must be something you want to do not something you have to do; otherwise, you are destined for failure. Try losing weight if you don’t really want to.
I learned something during this weekend’s experience not just about Mary or about what is expected of me. I learned I am blessed to have faith. I am strengthened by my beliefs. And I am also apparently a bit of a weirdo. I realized a lot of people don’t talk to Jesus. I never really thought about this. Ever since I was a child, I talked to him everyday about everything-how stupid I am, what my plans are, what I really screwed up, what I really wish I hadn’t done, what I think need, what I need I help with, everything. Apparently large portions of the population think this is bothering Him. I never thought so. He says right in Bible you will find comfort and rest in Him. He will take on all your burdens all you have to do is trust in Him. I guess I took Him literally and I am glad of it. At any rate, I was at Mass Sunday morning and the choir was practicing one of my favorite hymns. At my old Church the children’s choir used to sing it and it brought tears to my eyes. One of the ladies who was in the Sacristy with me remarked at how nice they sounded. I told her how much I loved the song and how I wanted it to be sung at my funeral. You would think I sprouted an extra head. She looked at me as if that was the most completely inappropriate thing anyone had ever said to her. I didn’t think it was a secret we are going to die at some point. I smiled at her and said, “I am not afraid to die. I don’t want to do it tomorrow, but I am not afraid. (I put my hand on her shoulder) We’re going to heaven, right?” Conversation over; new Church weirdo instituted. At Mass today Father spoke briefly about St. Joseph (this being his feast day) and how he must have completed the earthly work required of him because he appears to have been called home prior to Jesus’ public ministry. This made me smile because I often wonder what is on my laundry list of earthy tasks to accomplish, and for some strange reason it made me feel a little less weird about yesterday. Death is inevitable. I don’t know why some of us have shorter lists than others, why some us die painfully or why little children die. All I know is Jesus wasn’t spared the grief of losing his father. Mary was not spared the grief of losing her son. Why should I or any of us be spared what those God loves the most had to endure? Death teaches us something. It calls us to cherish each other, our lives and those we are fortunate enough to love. If you never had anything, you wouldn’t miss it. If you never loved anything, you would not mourn it. If people were not taken from us, there would be no hope in heaven.
I have always found comfort in the scripture when Jesus says “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe”. I believe Jesus hears and answers us. I believe He died and rose for our sins. And I believe our lives are directly impacted by prayer and by our actions. I would rather believe and be wrong than not believe and be a fool. I had read C.S. Lewis shared this philosophy, but I was pleased to read Pope Urban VIII also had a similar quote attributed to him as well. At least I am not alone. And if I am proven a fool, I pray a bigger fool you will not find. I hope only to grow in faith. Never forget Jesus said if we had but faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains. So until next time…Cheers!