“Something new happens at The Incarnation, because now God’s Face can be seen: The Son of God was made man and He is given a Name, Jesus.”
“While we too seek other signs, other wonders, we do not realize that He is the real sign, God made flesh; He is the greatest miracle of the universe: all the love of God hidden in a human heart, in a human face!” — Pope Benedict XVI
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)
“My Mother honors every consecration made to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, and even if one should forget that one uttered such a prayer, My Mother does not forget it. She remains faithful to her own children, even when they are distracted by the world and turn away from her brightness shining like a star over the stormy seas of life.”— In Sinu Jesu, When Heart Speaks to Heart
Anyone who has recited a “Hail Mary” as a child, or placed flowers (they may have been dandelions, no matter to her) before a plaster statue of the Blessed Mother, or treasured a little holy card with her image, or childhood rosary–that person, most likely at tumultuous time of darkness in their life, will turn to seek the face of their Mother Mary in prayer. Though the rosary may have been tossed in a drawer for decades, and for years we never gave her much of a thought, our Mother did not forget us or cease to pray for us.
The joyful scene of the Annunciation, with the Angel Gabriel’s awaiting Mary’s consent to become the Mother of the Redeemer, has hidden within it the shadow of the cross, and that cross is us. God willed that Mary not only become the Mother of Jesus, but our Mother as well. At the Incarnation of the Word, Jesus was united to all of humanity, the Church His mystical body and Jesus, Mary’s Son, our head. When John, the beloved disciple stood at the foot of the Cross with Mary, Jesus willed to give Mary to us as our Mother, “Women, behold your son,” then to John, “behold your Mother.” And Mary, who never for a moment turned from the Face of God, seeking only His Divine Will, had a choice. With total self-emptying and humility, at both the Annunciation and at Christ’s Passion, and with the greatest love that is humanly possible, knowing this total self-giving would mean great suffering and sacrifice, Mary said “Fiat,” “Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.” So when Mary looks at our faces, she sees the Face of her son, Jesus. There is no division in her Immaculate Heart. She will never forget us. Let us never forget her and pray for those who do not know Our Mother’s great love.
Silent, peaceful, humble, gentle, pure…Immaculate! These words describe Mary, the first temple of the Holy Spirit, and may also be applied to the Holy House of Loreto as well. One has a great sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit resting in this place. There is something very touching about the respectful way that the pilgrims silently enter the Holy House. They then stand or kneel, leaning against, or touching the holy walls in order to feel closer to Mary–touching the very walls that the Holy Family touched. Just before the bells for the Angelus ring, the Holy House fills completely and the Angelus is recited, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace…” Here the Holy Face of Jesus was formed and hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How great was her longing to see the Face of her Son and Messiah!
“The House of the Holy Family! It was the first temple, the first church, on which the Mother of God shed her light through motherhood. She irradiated it with the light which comes from the great mystery of the Incarnation; from the mystery of her Son.”–Pope St. John Paul II
The grand exterior of the Basilica hides a message, just as it hides the humble Holy House in its bosom; it is a message for all pilgrims, that we must become like Mary, whose soul proclaimed only “the greatness of the Lord” (Lk. 1:46-55). The humble, simple work of everyday life was sanctified here, where the Face of God was present each day within the family. God was attracted by Mary’s lowliness and “He who is mighty” did great things for her–now all generations call her blessed!
Year of Mercy volunteers were available near the entrance of the Holy Door and handed us a very helpful pamphlet in English guiding us through the Basilica, both physically and spiritually. Using the guide, we offered prayers at particularly meaningful chapels beginning with the Baptismal Font inside the Holy Door where we renewed our baptismal promises. We spent the entire day in that sacred place and probably only saw a fraction of the beautiful artwork and craftsmanship lavished on the chapels, each one vying to give greater glory to God by the work of talented hands of many countries of the world. Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share as a common phrase I heard in English everywhere was, “No photos, please!”
There is one more thing I’d like to mention about Loreto before moving on to Assisi and that is this: pilgrimages are filled not only with minor inconveniences, or events meant to help us grow in virtue, but also signs. Signposts, you might say, along the pilgrimage path to remind us to keep going in the right direction. We had a big sign, right outside the window of our hotel; it was not only one of sight, but of also sound–in fact, a never-ending “coo,” “coo,” “coo,” “coo.” There was a pigeon coop directly outside the window of our room for some reason. Whereas Mary was a temple of the Holy Spirit, our temples, it seemed were more like a pigeon coop: Noisy, messy and in need of regular cleaning. I’d say it was a good reminder to go to Confession. God isn’t always silent; sometimes, He speaks loud and clear. We couldn’t miss that one. (to be continued in Assisi Pt. 6)
Pt. 4: “Here the Word was made flesh” – The Holy House of Loreto
“While we too seek other signs, other wonders, we do not realize that He is the real sign, God made flesh; He is the greatest miracle of the universe: all the love of God hidden in a human heart, in a human FACE.”–Pope Benedict XVI
Our last morning in Manoppello the skies cleared and it promised to be a beautiful day and evening on which to hold the procession in honor of the Holy Veil. After Mass I spoke again to Sr. Petra-Maria about the miraculous image. The Holy Veil of Manoppello seems to be an icon written in light by the Holy Spirit, telling the whole of the Gospel in one human Face–the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He suffered and died for us, He rose again! We walked slowly around the reliquary, looking at the Face of Jesus from each angle, His eyes following us. I wondered if the world has gotten so accustomed to man-made marvels of technology, flashing images and special effects, that it can no longer recognize a true miracle. Sr. Petra-Maria and I agreed that there was only one thing more marvelous and miraculous in this world than the Holy Veil and that is the continuing miracle of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist!
Sr. Petra-Maria had also had given me a glimmer of hope of attending the procession that night after all. She said the Sanctuary of Loreto, where we were heading, was only an hour or so away. We could possibly make it back for the procession after we checked into our hotel in Loreto. I paid one more visit to the Holy Veil before regretfully parting. Later, we left Manoppello by taxi to pick up a rental car in Pescara and then drove north along the beautiful blue Adriatic Coast toward Loreto. The drive was pleasant and filled with beautiful glimpses of the blue Adriatic. About forty minutes into the drive, we suddenly slowed to a crawl–there had been an accident ahead that was being cleared. The delay would take nearly 3 hours, making it too late to get back for the procession in Manoppello that night. For hundreds of years, the Veil of Manoppello was only taken out in procession once a year, on August 6th. Later, there would be an additional procession on the third Sunday in May. It had been very important to me, for reasons only God knows, to be part of that procession that evening, but now, it did not seem that it was God’s Will for us to be there.
The Basilica of Loreto soon appeared on the horizon and I turned my thoughts to the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit. “The Holy House of Loreto, the first shrine of international renown dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, has been a true Marian center of Christianity for several centuries.”–Pope St. John Paul II According to tradition, the Basilica contains the Holy House of Nazareth– it was the birthplace of Mary, the place of the Annunciation, where the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word in Mary’s womb took place through the power of the Holy Spirit, and it was the home of the Holy Family.
“And where could one speak more effectively of the Holy Spirit’s role than in the Shrine of Loreto, which recalls the moment and the place where He fulfilled the most supreme of His “life-giving” deeds, giving life to the humanity of the Saviour in Mary’s womb? For this reason the Holy House is first and foremost the shrine of the Holy Spirit. Christians who come here feel the need to invoke the Divine Paraclete to obtain His seven holy gifts in order to remain faithful to their baptism through which they were united to Christ and made to participate in His grace of Redemption.”–Pope St. John Paul II
If you have never heard of the Holy House of Loreto–to make a long history short–in 1291, when the Holy Home in Nazareth was in danger of being destroyed by the Muslims, it was transported by Angels across the Mediterranean Sea, then several more times before resting finally, on December 10th in 1294, in the middle of the road on the hill of Loreto.
Research has discovered that the small home consists of three original brick walls, approximately three meters high, complete with graffiti and relics from the Crusaders in Holy Land and is standing without foundation on an ancient road. In it’s original form, the Holy House has only three walls because the eastern side, where the altar stands, opened onto a Grotto. (diagram) The structure and the brick of the home is not of the type found in the area of Loreto. A technical comparison between the Holy House of Loreto and the Grotto at Nazareth show the three walls and measurements match exactly the fourth wall, which is a grotto and the original foundation which can still be seen in Nazareth. (Diagram of the Home of Loreto and the Grotto at Nazareth in the Holy Land highlighting that the two parts were contiguous and coexisted.)
We entered the shrine, prayed in the Holy House and then again in the exquisitely beautiful French Chapel which contains the Blessed Sacrament. After leaving the shrine to find something to eat (gelato for dinner works for me) we took a walk around the outside walls. I was still feeling a little sad about missing out on the procession in Manoppello when we came back along the side of the Basilica toward the piazza. Lo’ and behold! I found myself in a procession!
As the priest holding the monstrance made his way around the piazza he paused and blessed us. By seeking Mary in the Holy House of Loreto, she had led me to the Eucharistic Face of her Son and the Face of Jesus in my neighbors around me. The Holy Spirit was at work! I was able to honor Him in a procession of the Holy Face after all. Praised be Jesus! (…to be continued in Pt. 5)