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We mark time in many ways. We talk about not only years and decades, but use administrations, generations, periods, movements and eras to communicate the flavor and feel of the way things are and the way things change. Everybody knows what is meant when we say that something is right out of “the ’60s.” Pretty much everyone grasps the sense of idealism that goes with describing something as belonging to the Kennedy Administration; or conversely, the disillusionment of something that was part of the Vietnam or Watergate eras.
I’d like to suggest that we can understand the flow of our spiritual history, the unfolding of God’s salvation for humankind, as belonging to eras as well. The early Church lived her faith in an epoch of martyrdom. With the end of persecutions, and the embrace of Christian faith throughout the Roman Empire, there followed an age of debate and self-definition in which the first major councils of the Church were convened. The spread of monasticism in the West defined the Early Middle Ages, as did the founding of universities similarly shape the turn of the first millennium. The mendicant movements, the Council of Trent and the liturgical renewals of the early 20th century have each given texture to their times. But it seems to me that these things are deeper than just historical events. They are inspirations of the Holy Spirit. They are movements within God himself.
When I look at the colors of our times, I have to concur with what many others have concluded. We are living in a Marian age. While appearances of the Mother of God have been reported throughout the history of Christian faith, in the past two centuries bona fide apparitions of the Blessed Virgin have been both varied and numerous. As a result, we wear the miraculous medal given to Catherine Laboure in 1830. We ponder Mary’s silence at Knock, Ireland.
And while many seem to think the Catholic Church has a corner on the Marian market, that simply isn’t the case. Even though I didn’t grow up Catholic, as a child I remember hearing something about the Virgin Mary having appeared at Fatima and Lourdes. To be sure, I didn’t have a grasp of what an apparition really was, why it happened, or what it could mean to me. But I never had a problem believing such things could--and did--occur.
It’s hard to believe, but this month we will observe the 90th anniversary of the miracle of Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima. Next February, we will also mark the 150th anniversary of Bernadette Soubirous’ encounters with Mary the Immaculate Conception at the grotto in Lourdes. More recently, we’ve been challenged by apparitions of Mary as Holy Mother at Akita, Japan, at Chontaleu in Nicaragua, as Mother Reconciler at Betania, Venezuela and the Mother of the Word at Kibeho in Rwanda, Africa. And, too, we are still in waiting to hear whatever the Church will discern regarding the Queen of Peace at Medjugorje.
The common thread that seems to run through these supernatural events, is the central role that children play in almost all of them. Certainly, Jesus himself said that only those who come like little children will enter the kingdom of God. In Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, in Bernadette, the Rwandan youths, and the young Japanese nun, we are given an image of what we are all intended to be: children of God, and children of Mary as well.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.