Saturday, February 21, 2015

Death of Beauraing Visionary Renews Message of Apparition


The last living visionary from Beauraing, Belgium died on February 10, 2015. I was not surprised Gilberte Degeimbre’s death elicited no coverage in the United States by Catholic writers or Marian enthusiasts. The thirty-three apparitions of Our Lady to five children in Beauraing are virtually unknown to Catholics in the United States. More common to the United States are Our Lady of Guadalupe, Lourdes, or Fatima, given their liturgical celebrations (December 12, February 11, May/October 13/First Saturdays, respectively) or the 1859 apparition in Champion, Wisconsin which received ecclesiastical approval in 2010.

The death of Gilberte, who I had the privilege of meeting in January 2015, provides an occasion to present the message of Our Lady anew. In the messages, we will not find anything different from other apparitions of Our Lady throughout time; it is the same call to prayer, the sacraments, and conversion of life. As we approach the Lenten season, Our Lady’s message encourages us to live Lent more fully in the spirit of prayer and sacrifice.

The Beginning of the Apparitions

On November 29, 1932, two children from the Voisin family, (Fernande and Albert), went to the nearby school to retrieve their sister, Gilberte. Along the way, the two children stopped at the Degeimbre household to see if their friends, Andree and Gilberte, could join them. The four children left the Degeimbre home and continued on their way to the school. After ringing the doorbell, Albert looked toward the railroad bridge and saw a woman walking in the air near the Lourdes grotto. Albert was not alone in seeing the mysterious woman, as Gilberte Voisin, upon leaving the school, did as well. The children reported seeing the woman again on November 30 and December 1. Our Lady did not convey her first message until December 2 and she continued to appear through January 3, 1933. In the course of the apparitions, Our Lady would reveal her Golden Heart and identify herself as the Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God, and the Queen of Heaven. She also requested the construction of a chapel, because as she stated, she appeared so people would come on pilgrimage.

The Simple Messages

Our Lady appeared to children and spoke very simple messages to them. As we approach the Lenten season, I believe we can see the spirit of Lent through the messages.

Always be good (Dec. 2)

I will convert sinners (Jan. 3)

The first message relayed by Our Lady to the children on December 2 was simple, considered trite by some: “Always be good.” This message coincides well with what Our Lady said in her individual messages to the children during the last apparition on January 3, 1933. To Gilberte Voisin, Our Lady said, “I will convert sinners.”

The conversion of our lives entails being good. It means living a good Christian life, obeying the commandments and loving our neighbor. When we are not good, we recognize this by going to the Sacrament of Penance and seeking out God’s pardon and mercy. Our Lady’s greatest desire in her apparitions throughout time is the conversion of sinners. She wants people to live lives that do not displease her Son. Our Lady’s declaration that she will convert sinners should startle us and call us to greater awareness of the failings in our lives.

Many people who read these words readily accept Our Lady’s apparitions. We go to these holy sites and pray there because of our devotion to Our Lady. But do we allow her message to pierce us the entire way through? Do we allow the message of conversion to sink in totally, that we are willing to experience conversion in thought, word, and deed?

Mary desires to convert sinners, meaning she wants the attitudes of our hearts to change. When we want to speak ill of another, we must realize the need for conversion. When we wish to use curse words—conversion. Our Lady exhorts us to live more consciously of our need every day for conversion. It is not enough to think about conversion; we truly need to change. During our Lenten discipline let us realize the moments that we need conversion and embrace them, so that the words Our Lady speaks, “I will convert sinners,” can be actualized.

Pray. Pray very much. Pray Always.

Our Lady exhorted the children to pray, not once, not twice, but three times and intensified each request. Prayer is communication with God. For many, the word ‘prayer’ is quite limited. We think of prayer as asking God for something or thanking God. These are good places to start, but prayer is meditative and contemplative. It is about conversing with God and listening in the silence of one’s heart for His response. Our Lady wants us to pray because it means we will be in constant relationship with her Son, a constant conversation and dialogue with Jesus. This conversation will begin to guide every moment of our lives, and through that dialogue, we will identify how God wishes for us to be converted.

We are to pray, pray very much, and pray always. Ultimately, we can make our entire day a prayer. This can be done in a simple way each morning by praying a Morning Offering. Our Lady exhorts us to pray—she wants us to pray from the moment we wake to the moment we fall asleep. Each one of us will have to figure out how we can fulfill this request.

Do you love my Son? Do you love me? Then sacrifice yourself for me.

Fernande Voisin received the last words spoken by Our Lady in Beauraing. Mary asked, “Do you love my Son? Do you love me? Then sacrifice yourself for me.” We can make small sacrifices for Our Lord and Blessed Lady by fasting this Lent. But we can sacrifice ourselves in greater ways by serving God in our neighbor. Sacrifice yourself by serving Jesus in the poor, homeless, and the sick. Live the corporal works of mercy. Sacrifice yourself for the good of the other—your spouse, children, and friends. Sacrifice yourself in the vocation you live by emptying yourself of all desires, and filling yourself only with the desires of God. In prayer, when God asks us for conversion, it will mean sacrifice. God will ask us to sacrifice time for prayer. He will ask us to sacrifice things that put up barriers between Him and us. When we sacrifice, we become more fully open and receptive to God’s action in our lives.

Lenten Observation

Our Lenten discipline reminds us of our need for conversion, prayer, and sacrifice. In the apparitions received by the five children of Beauraing, we clearly see these principles. Mary desires the conversion of sinners. As the Mediatrix of Grace, Mary intercedes for the grace of conversion. This Lent, pray for a greater desire to conform your life to Christ. Identify one area to improve. Mary asks us to pray always. How will you pray more this Lent? Consider taking up the recommendation of Pope Francis to read the scriptures and converse with God about them. Mary wants us to make sacrifices. How will you sacrifice yourself this Lent?

Concluding Reflections

During my stay in Beauraing I was struck by the simplicity of Our Lady’s words and the depth of meaning they conveyed. I also had the opportunity to view a documentary about the apparition. When Gilberte Degeimbre (recently deceased visionary) spoke about the apparitions, you could sense the authenticity of what she said. She greatly desired to go home to God. When Gilberte would visit the Hawthorne tree, where Our Lady appeared, she would tell people to close their eyes, because they would see Our Lady better. In death, Gilberte has closed her eyes and she sees again the Queen of Heaven reigning with her Son. Inspired by the example of Gilberte, let us begin to interiorize the message of Our Lady and allow it to take root in our hearts and lives this Lenten season.

External Links:

Interview with Gilberte Degeimbre in French with English Subtitles

Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC is leading a pilgrimage to Beauraing and other holy sites

- See more at:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dietrich von Hildebrand on the Holy Latin Mass vs. the New Mass February 16, 2013:
Dietrich von Hildebrand, called by Pope Pius XII “the 20th Century Doctor of the Church,” was one of the world’s most eminent Catholic philosophers. Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) wrote about Dietrich von Hildebrand in the year 2000: “I am firmly convinced that, when at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the 20th century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.”   The following is an article he wrote on the Latin Mass that appeared in the October 1966 issue of Triumph magazine:
The arguments for the New Liturgy have been neatly packaged, and may now be learned by rote. The new form of the Mass is designed to engage the celebrant and the faithful in a communal activity. In the past the faithful attended Mass in personal isolation, each worshipper making his private devotions, or at best following the proceedings in his missal. Today the faithful can grasp the social character of the celebration; they are learning to appreciate it as a community meal. Formerly, the priest mumbled in a dead language, which created a barrier between priest and people. Now everyone speaks in English, which tends to unite priest and people with one another. In the past the priest said Mass with his back to the people, which created the mood of an esoteric rite. Today, because the priest faces the people, the Mass is a more fraternal occasion. In the past the priest intoned strange medieval chants. Today the entire assembly sings songs with easy tunes and familiar lyrics, and is even experimenting with folk music. The case for the new Mass, then, comes down to this: it is making the faithful more at home in the house of God.
Moreover, these innovations are said to have the sanction of Authority: they are represented as an obedient response to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. This is said notwithstanding that the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy goes no further than to permit the vernacular Mass in cases where the local bishop believes it desirable; the Constitution plainly insists on the retention of the Latin Mass, and emphatically approves the Gregorian chant. But the liturgical “progressives” are not impressed by the difference between permitting and commanding. Nor do they hesitate to authorize changes, such as standing to receive Holy Communion, which the Constitution does not mention at all. The progressives argue that these liberties may be taken because the Constitution is, after all, only the first step in an evolutionary process. And they seem to be having their way. It is difficult to find a Latin Mass anywhere today, and in the United States they are practically non-existent. Even the conventual Mass in monasteries is said in the vernacular, and the glorious Gregorian is replaced by insignificant melodies.
My concern is not with the legal status of the changes. And I emphatically do not wish to be understood as regretting that the Constitution has permitted the vernacular to complement the Latin. What I deplore is that the new Mass is replacing the Latin Mass, that the old liturgy is being recklessly scrapped, and denied to most of the People of God.
I should like to put to those who are fostering this development several questions: Does the new Mass, more than the old, bestir the human spirit–does it evoke a sense of eternity? Does it help raise our hearts from the concerns of everyday life–from the purely natural aspects of the world–to Christ? Does it increase reverence, an appreciation of the sacred?
Of course these questions are rhetorical, and self-answering. I raise them because I think that all thoughtful Christians will want to weigh their importance before coming to a conclusion about the merits of the new liturgy. What is the role of reverence in a truly Christian life, and above all in a truly Christian worship of God?
Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei. Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being–of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him–who opens himself–is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order–a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values.
Man reflects his essentially receptive character as a created person solely in the reverent attitude; the ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei. Man has the capacity, in other words, to grasp something greater than himself, to be affected and fecundated by it, to abandon himself to it for its own sake–in a pure response to its value. This ability to transcend himself distinguishes man from a plant or an animal; these latter strive only to unfold their own entelechy. Now: it is only the reverent man who can consciously transcend himself and thus conform to his fundamental human condition and to his metaphysical situation.
Do we better meet Christ by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our workaday world?
The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred.
Rudolf Otto has clearly elaborated the point in his famous study, The Idea of the Holy. Kierkegaard also calls attention to the essential role of reverence in the religious act, in the encounter with God. And did not the Jews tremble in deep awe when the priest brought the sacrifice into the sanctum sanctorum? Was Isaiah not struck with godly fear when he saw Yahweh in the temple and exclaimed, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips . . . yet my eyes have seen the King?” Do not the words of St. Peter after the miraculous catch of fish, “Depart from me, 0 Lord, because I am a sinner,” testify that when the reality of God breaks in upon us we are struck with fear and reverence? Cardinal Newman has shown in a stunning sermon that the man who does not fear and revere has not known the reality of God.
When St. Bonaventure writes in Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum that only a man of desire (such as Daniel) can understand God, he means that a certain attitude of soul must be achieved in order to understand the world of God, into which He wants to lead us.
This counsel is especially applicable to the Church’s liturgy. The sursum corda–the lifting up of our hearts–is the first requirement for real participation in the Mass. Nothing could better obstruct the confrontation of man with God than the notion that we “go unto the altar of God” as we would go to a pleasant, relaxing social gathering. This is why the Latin Mass with Gregorian chant, which raises us up to a sacred atmosphere, is vastly superior to a vernacular Mass with popular songs, which leaves us in a profane, merely natural atmosphere.
The basic error of most of the innovations is to imagine that the new liturgy brings the holy Sacrifice of the Mass nearer to the faithful, that shorn of its old rituals the Mass now enters into the substance of our lives. For the question is whether we better meet Christ in the Mass by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our own pedestrian, workaday world. The innovators would replace holy intimacy with Christ by an unbecoming familiarity. The new liturgy actually threatens to frustrate the confrontation with Christ, for it discourages reverence in the face of mystery, precludes awe, and all but extinguishes a sense of sacredness. What really matters, surely, is not whether the faithful feel at home at Mass, but whether they are drawn out of their ordinary lives into the world of Christ–whether their attitude is the response of ultimate reverence: whether they are imbued with the reality of Christ.
Those who rhapsodize on the new liturgy make much of the point that over the years the Mass had lost its communal character and had become an occasion for individualistic worship. The new vernacular Mass, they insist, restores the sense of community by replacing private devotions with community participation. Yet they forget that there are different levels and kinds of communion with other persons. The level and nature of a community experience is determined by the theme of the communion, the name or cause in which men are gathered. The higher the good which the theme represents, and which binds men together, the more sublime and deeper is the communion. The ethos and nature of a community experience in the case of a great national emergency is obviously radically different from the community experience of a cocktail party. And of course the most striking differences in communities will be found between the community whose theme is supernatural and the one whose theme is merely natural. The actualization of men’s souls who are truly touched by Christ is the basis of a unique community, a sacred communion, one whose quality is incomparably more sublime than that of any natural community. The authentic we communion of the faithful, which the liturgy of Holy Thursday expresses so well in the words congregavit nos in unum Christi amor, is only possible as a fruit of the I-Thou communion with Christ Himself. Only a direct relation to the God-Man can actualize this sacred union among the faithful.
The depersonalizing “we experience” is a perverse theory of community
The communion in Christ has nothing of the self-assertion found in natural communities. It breathes of the Redemption. It liberates men from all self- centeredness. Yet such a communion emphatically does not depersonalize the individual; far from dissolving the person into the cosmic, pantheistic swoon so often commended to us these days, it actualizes the person’s true self in a unique way. In the community of Christ the conflict between person and community that is present in all natural communities cannot exist. So this sacred community experience is really at war with the depersonalizing ‘we-experience” found in Mass assemblies and popular gatherings which tend to absorb and evaporate the individual. This communion in Christ that was so fully alive in the early Christian centuries, that all the saints entered into, that found a matchless expression in the liturgy now under attack–this communion has never regarded the individual person as a mere segment of the community, or as an instrument to serve it. In this connection it is worth noting that totalitarian ideology is not alone in sacrificing the individual to the collective; some of Teilhard de Chardin’s cosmic ideas, for instance, imply the same collectivistic sacrifice. Teilhard subordinates the individual and his sanctification to the supposed development of humanity. At a time when this perverse theory of community is embraced even by many Catholics, there are plainly urgent reasons for vigorously insisting on the sacred character of the true communion in Christ. I submit that the new liturgy must be judged by this test: Does it contribute to the authentic sacred community? Granted that it strives for a community character; but is this the character desired? Is it a communion grounded in recollection, contemplation and reverence? Which of the two–the new Mass, or the Latin Mass with the Gregorian chant evokes these attitudes of soul more effectively, and thus permits the deeper and truer communion? Is it not plain that frequently the community character of the new Mass is purely profane, that, as with other social gatherings, its blend of casual relaxation and bustling activity precludes a reverent, contemplative confrontation with Christ and with the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist?
Of course our epoch is pervaded by a spirit of irreverence. It is seen in a distorted notion of freedom that demands rights while refusing obligations, that exalts self-indulgence, that counsels “let yourself go.” The habitare secum of St. Gregory’s Dialogues–the dwelling in the presence of God–which presupposes reverence, is considered today to be unnatural, pompous, or servile. But is not the new liturgy a compromise with this modern spirit? Whence comes the disparagement of kneeling? Why should the Eucharist be received standing? Is not kneeling, in our culture, the classic expression of adoring reverence? The argument that at a meal we should stand rather than kneel is hardly convincing. For one thing, this is not the natural posture for eating: we sit, and in Christ’s time one lay down. But more important, it is a specifically irreverent conception of the Eucharist to stress its character as a meal at the cost of its unique character as a holy mystery. Stressing the meal at the expense of the sacrament surely betrays a tendency to obscure the sacredness of the sacrifice. This tendency is apparently traceable to the unfortunate belief that religious life will become more vivid, more existential, if it is immersed in our everyday life. But this is to run the danger of absorbing the religious in the mundane, of effacing the difference between the supernatural and the natural. I fear that it represents an unconscious intrusion of the naturalistic spirit, of the spirit more fully expressed in Teilhard de Chardin’s immanentism.
Again, why has the genuflection at the words et incarnatus est in the Credo been abolished? Was this not a noble and beautiful expression of adoring reverence while professing the searing mystery of the Incarnation? Whatever the intention of the innovators, they have certainly created the danger, if only psychological, of diminishing the faithful’s awareness and awe of the mystery. There is yet another reason for hesitating to make changes in the liturgy that are not strictly necessary. Frivolous or arbitrary changes are apt to erode a special type of reverence: pietas. The Latin word, like the German Pietaet, has no English equivalent, but may be understood as comprising respect for tradition; honoring what has been handed down to us by former generations; fidelity to our ancestors and their works. Note that pietas is a derivative type of reverence, and so should not be confused with primary reverence, which we have described as a response to the very mystery of being, and ultimately a response to God. It follows that if the content of a given tradition does not correspond to the object of the primary reverence, it does not deserve the derivative reverence. Thus if a tradition embodies evil elements, such as the sacrifice of human beings in the cult of the Aztecs, then those elements should not be regarded with pietas. But that is not the Christian case. Those who idolize our epoch, who thrill at what is modern simply because it is modern, who believe that in our day man has finally “come of age,” lack pietas. The pride of these “temporal nationalists” is not only irreverent, it is incompatible with real faith. A Catholic should regard his liturgy with pietas. He should revere, and therefore fear to abandon the prayers and postures and music that have been approved by so many saints throughout the Christian era and delivered to us as a precious heritage. To go no further: the illusion that we can replace the Gregorian chant, with its inspired hymns and rhythms, by equally fine, if not better, music betrays a ridiculous self-assurance and lack of self-knowledge. Let us not forget that throughout Christianity’s history. silence and solitude, contemplation and recollection, have been considered necessary to achieve a real confrontation with God. This is not only the counsel of the Christian tradition, which should be respected out of pietas; it is rooted in human nature. Recollection is the necessary basis for true communion in much the same way as contemplation provides the necessary basis for true action in the vineyard of the Lord. A superficial type of communion–the jovial comradeship of a social affair–draws us out onto the periphery. A truly Christian communion draws us into the spiritual deeps.
The path to a true Christian communion: Reverence . .. Recollection . . . Contemplation
Of course we should deplore excessively individualistic and sentimental devotionalism, and acknowledge that many Catholics have practiced it. But the antidote is not a community experience as such-any more than the cure for pseudo-contemplation is activity as such. The antidote is to encourage true reverence, an attitude of authentic recollection and contemplative devotion to Christ. Out of this attitude alone can a true communion in Christ take place. The fundamental laws of the religious life that govern the imitation of Christ, the transformation in Christ, do not change according to the moods and habits of the historical moment. The difference between a superficial community experience and a profound community experience is always the same. Recollection and contemplative adoration of Christ–which only reverence makes possible–will be the necessary basis for a true communion with others in Christ in every era of human history.