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May 1, 2002|
Saint Joseph the Worker
On the way home, Bernadette, for fear of forgetting them, kept repeating these words which to her were incomprehensible: «Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou.» She hurried to the parish priest's house and declared to him, without even saying hello: «Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou.»«What did you say, you arrogant little girl...?»«The Lady said these words to me...»«Your Lady cannot have this name! You're wrong! Do you know what 'the Immaculate Conception' means?»«I don't know; that's why I repeated these words the whole time until I got here, so I wouldn't forget them.»
How would she know what «the Immaculate Conception» means, a girl who did not yet know how to read and who had just been enrolled in Catechism? But the priest knew wellless than four years earlier, Pope Pius IX had proclaimed the Blessed Virgin immaculate in Her Conception. In the Bull Ineffabilis of December 8, 1854, he had said, «We define that the doctrine which holds that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.» More than eighteen centuries after Jesus Christ, by this solemn act, the Pope had defined a new dogma. Some people asked, «How is this possible? Does the Church have such power? Was not Divine Revelation completed with Jesus Christ?»
Actually, the Letter to the Hebrews says: In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days, He has spoken to us through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2). Saint John of the Cross commented on this passage in these words: «From the time that He gave us His Son, Who is His Word, God has had no other word to give us. He has told us everything at once and at one time in this Word alone... for what He said in pieces to the prophets, He said completely in His Son, by giving us this whole which is His Son.» The Second Vatican Council likewise recalled, «The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ» (Dei Verbum, no. 4).
To grow in understanding of the faith
In Holy Scripture, this dogma is based on the Angel Gabriel's greeting to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Hail, full of grace (Lk. 1:27). This fullness of grace is only truly complete if it extends, in time, to the first moment of the Blessed Virgin's life, that of Her Conception. Yet this passage from the Gospel, although giving valuable information, is not enough, in and of itself, to prove the truth of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin. So that the light contained in it might be fully understood, we must turn to the testimony of Tradition. In fact, «it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence» (Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, no. 9).
Belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception dates back to the first centuries of Church history. The Fathers of the Church who spoke of it were unanimous in their recognition of the Mother of Jesus Christ as the all-beautiful and unblemished Spouse referred to in Canticle of canticles (4:7). Saint Ephrem ( 373) wrote that the Mother of God is «full of grace..., utterly pure, utterly immaculate, utterly without sin..., completely unfamiliar with all stain and all blemish of sin» (Oratio ad Deiparam). The liturgical feast of the Conception of Mary (December 8), has existed since at least the seventh century in the Greek Church. It is true that great theologians of the Middle Ages formulated objections to belief in the Immaculate Conception, which seemed to them to undermine the universality of Christ's Redemption. Blessed Duns Scotus (1266-1308) and, after him, the theologians of the Franciscan school answered that Mary remained intact of all stain of original sin, in anticipation of the future merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race. Thus the Blessed Virgin was indeed redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, but in a very sublime manner, that of preservation from sin.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who died a martyr of charity in Auschwitz in 1941, figures among the Franciscans who spoke best about the Immaculate Conception. Saint Francis Anthony Fasani, canonized by Pope John Paul II on April 13, 1986, is less known. Long before the proclamation of the dogma, this monk had the distinction of making the Immaculata known and loved.
The «sinner of the Immaculata»
From 1696 to 1709, Brother Francis Anthony pursued studies in theology, which he completed in Assisi with the reception of a master's degree, which earned him the name «il Padre Maestro.» His affection and veneration for the Immaculata continued to grow and, in his humility, he even defined himself as «the sinner of the Immaculata,» that is, a poor sinner redeemed by the intercession of Mary Immaculate.
In Lent of 1707, Father Fasani was unexpectedly sent to preach in Palazzo, not far from Assisi. His youth, the soundness of his theological knowledge, the warmth of his voice, the ascetic look in his face which showed a deep interior life, as well as the conviction which propelled him, produced enthusiasm and moral improvement in the people. A witness reported, «He preached with a palpable fervor, such that he imprinted on the souls of his listeners the truths which he announced... He spoke of the Holy Mother of God with such rapturous devotion, such tenderness and such a loving expression on his face, that it seemed that he had had a conversation with Her face-to-face.»
The gravest evil
And to those who feel entitled to God's kindness and thus remain in sin and assure themselves of their eternal destiny, Saint Paul replies, Or do you hold His priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance? By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, Who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness (Rom. 2:4-8).
In the pulpit, Saint Francis Anthony spoke passionately against vices and public scandals. From then on he was showered with reactions of anger and insults. He was called an hysteric and a boor, but in the end, people came just the same to confess to him. Every day, he spent many hours in the confessional, receiving all sorts of people with the greatest patience and a joyful face. His words often inspired the sinner to repent, and gave the will to mend one's ways. This ministry eventually consumed the best part of his time. His joy was great when he could bring about the conversion of persons of dissolute or scandalous morals, or inveterate sinners.
Mary, refuge of sinners
In the Immaculate Conception, Saint Francis Anthony saw first of all the positive reality, the sublimity of grace which from the first moment elevates the person of Mary, perfectly sanctified in light of Her mission as Mother of God. He brought out, in contrast to the grandeur of the divine gift, the Virgin's humility as a creature. Her sublimity came to Her exclusively from Godit was not a conquest of human nature. Father Fasani also emphasized that after this dazzling beginning, the life of Our Lady was marked by constant spiritual growth in free conformity to graces from God.
When going to preach, the saint generously distributed, especially to children, little pictures of the Immaculate Virgin, on the reverse side of which were written a pious recommendation, a short prayer or a noble thought. The spiritual fruits of this quite simple practice were numerous. The Blessed Virgin even deigned to perform miraculous cures by the touching of these pictures.
Model for souls of prayer
The choice of time and length of prayer indicate a determined will which reveals the secrets of the heart. We do not pray when we have the timewe make time to be with the Lord, very determined to remain in His presence no matter what the trials and the dryness of the encounter might be. Prayer can become «contemplation,» that is, the gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. «I look at Him and He looks at me,» the peasant of Ars said to his holy parish priest about prayer before the Tabernacle. The light of Jesus' gaze illuminates the eyes of our hearts, which it purifies. This light teaches us to see everything in the light of His truth and compassion for all mankind. Contemplation also directs its gaze towards the mysteries of the life of Christ. It teaches us in this way to know the Lord with an intimate knowledge, in order to love Him more and to follow Him more closely (cf. Saint Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises, no. 104).
Defender of the poor
He wisely administered the «credit bank» which had its headquarters at the monastery, the aim of which was to protect the poor against the speculation of usurers. Thanks to this institution, he was able to set up a table open daily to the needy. Every day, Isabelle, a humble woman of the people, Father Fasani's own mother, could be seen coming there. In this country bankrupted by wars, where the great landowners overwhelmed the peasants with enormous land use fees, the Franciscan reminded the rich of their duty to share the goods of this world and to give a fair wage to their workers.
Today and yesterday, the practice of social justice is a grave obligation for all Christians, especially the more fortunate. «Saint John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: 'Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.' 'The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity' (Apostolicam actuositatem, Second Vatican Council). 'When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice' (Saint Gregory the Great)» (CCC, no. 2446).
This duty of justice is particularly serious in our time, marked as it is by «the scandal of the affluent society of today's world, in which the rich grow ever richer, since wealth produces wealth, and the poor grow ever poorer, since poverty tends to additional poverty. Not only is this scandal found within individual nations, but it also has aspects which extend well beyond their borders... Truly there needs to be a greater spirit of solidarity in the world, as a means of overcoming the selfishness of individuals and nations» (John Paul II, November 4, 2000).
Humility that works miracles
On November 29, 1742, at the beginning of the preparatory novena for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Father Francis Anthony Fasani died of exhaustion. On April 16, 1986, at the Franciscan's canonization, Pope John Paul II pointed out, «A tireless preacher, Saint Fasani never reduced the demands of the Gospel message in the desire to please men.» May he, from the heights of Heaven, help us to turn always to Her who, forever free from all stain, can deliver us from all the evil within us.
«O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.»