Shortly after my high school graduation in 1978, I relocated from Ohio to South Chicago to live in a Franciscan community home with a good priest and several young men in various stages of religious vocation discernment. We were known as the Community of Lesser Brothers. I attended Chicago State University and worked as a tour guide at the world renowned Museum of Science and Industry. I also volunteered for local parishes as a type of itinerant servant under the guardianship and spiritual direction of faithful friar, Fr. Ildephonse (Ildie) Skorup, OFM.
I wasn’t a seminary student. I was just a young man wanting to know God’s will for my life at the age of seventeen.
As I approach my 50th birthday on Good Friday, I fondly recall one extraordinarily enriching close encounter through which God greatly expanded the frame of my spiritual foundation. Pope John Paul II embarked on his first papal visit to the United States by way of the Windy City in 1979. Fr. Ildie and I stood less than ten feet from the future saint as he passed by and extended his blessing in Holy Name Cathedral. We also attended the historic open-air Mass in Grant Park with 1.2 million people.
“Love is the force that opens hearts to the word of Jesus and to his Redemption: love is the only basis for human relationships that respect in one another the dignity of the children of God created in his image and saved by the death and Resurrection of Jesus; love is the only driving force that impels us to share with our brothers and sisters all that we are and have.” – Pope John Paul II, Grant Park, Chicago, Oct. 5, 1979
Toward the end of my two year residency with the Franciscans, I spent three days in silent retreat at St. Pascal’s Friary in Oakbrook, Illinois. It was there that I prayerfully discerned that I was not being called to religious life or the priesthood. I relocated back to my parent’s home (they had to love it) and over the next several years, I found employment in a burger franchise, an onion ring and salad distribution business, an international corporate law firm, the United States Air Force and finally, in 1989, the Department of Corrections. In 1992, I married my beautiful wife whom I met in an Air Force chapel following Mass ten years after leaving Chicago.
I was, at best, a smorgasbord Catholic in my mid twenties and early thirties. Sunday Mass, occasional confession and some youth ministry volunteer work defined the extent of my practical faith. The richness of my formation among the Lesser Brothers was never forgotten, especially the love of God for mankind in the oasis of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. But, if a particular element of Catholicism didn’t suit my present life, I was quick to shelve the lessons of my past.
Forward From the Past
Prior to 1995, I had never been introduced to Fr. Francis Michael Bednar. He was the older brother of a dear childhood friend, Bernadette, who I’ve known since my early teen years. I wasn’t a reader of spiritually formative Catholic books. So, I was slightly intrigued when a book arrived for me in the mail from Fr. Francis through his sister. An enclosed hand-written note read something like “My brother thought you should have this.”
Our Lady Comes to Garbandal by Joseph A. Pelletier, A.A. is an account of the Marian apparitions of Garabandal, Spain that allegedly occurred between 1961 and 1965. It contains the diary of Conchita Gonzalez, one of four teenage visionaries in the remote Spanish village.
Until this reading, I may have occasionally pondered spiritual things but I never considered myself in need of being knocked off of my high horse and blinded by a flash of divine light. In hindsight, that’s precisely what made this a perfect time for such a powerful and radical intervention. I don’t remember my exact place in the pages of the Garabandal story when the grace of Divine Mercy washed over me and through me like an interior spiritual deluge. I was motionless and incapable of speaking. With my head back, mouth open, eyes closed and tears streaming down my face, all I could do was completely surrender my body, soul and spirit to the moment and take it all in. Waking up the next morning was like breaking the surface of dark, deep water and breathing with a set of new lungs. I was ALIVE!
A New Day
Garabandal was just a starting point for my new walk of faith. Through this account of a heavenly visit which began in 1961, the year of my birth, our Heavenly Mother had reached out, placed her hand in mine and set us on pilgrimage together toward the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I wanted to know more about the relevance of Mary’s apparitions around the world. Providence placed another less-than-conventional book in my hands. Pierced by a Sword by Bud MacFarlane Jr. is an inspiring, pulse-pounding, romantic, futuristic fiction based on prophetic revelations from the Blessed Virgin throughout history. This novel became my roadmap to a deeper faith. I became intimately acquainted with St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Maria Faustina along with their respective contributions to the treasure of the Catholic faith: True Devotion to Mary and Total Consecration, The Militia Immaculata and Divine Mercy in My Soul.
A New Way
True devotion and love of the Blessed Mother can never eclipse the worship and supremacy of Christ. Mary will not lead her children on an idolatrous path away from her Son. Just as her soul eternally proclaims and magnifies the greatness of the Lord, so my new love for the Mother of God greatly increased my love for Jesus and drew me closer to His real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Impelled by the driving force of God’s love, I set out on a 33-day journey to prepare myself for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary according to St. Louis Marie de Montfort. My wife, also named Mary, made her total consecration shortly after we conceived our daughter in 1996.
Together, we made a complimentary consecration as husband and wife in 1997 on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. We knelt side by side before the Blessed Sacrament in the private chapel of my spiritual advisor, the late Fr. Francis M. Bednar. We recited the simple consecration prayer of St. Maximilian Kolbe and joined a worldwide ecclesial force of more than four million members in The Militia Immaculata. Father Francis smiled and cradled our six-month-old baby daughter in his big arms as he witnessed and blessed our act of self-giving.
Why Two Consecrations?
St. Louis viewed consecration as a most “perfect renewal of the vows and promises of Baptism.” His approach to consecration is primarily orientated toward one’s personal sanctification.
“If Jesus Christ, the Head of men, is born in her . . . the members of this Head must also be born in her by a necessary consequence . . . The Head and members are born of the same Mother.” – St. Louis de Montfort
Consecration according to St. Max is apostolic in orientation with a specific missionary purpose: “to gain the whole world for the Immaculata so as to bring about, as soon as possible, the kingdom of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”- St. Maximilian Kolbe
Interestingly, in True Devotion to Mary, 54-59, St. Louis de Montfort prophesied that in latter times Mary will rouse her humble servants to fight [as an army or militia]against the enemy and that in union with her, they will crush the head of Satan and bring victory to Jesus Christ.
Well, if being a Knight in the Militia (my emphasis) of the Immaculata is God’s fulfillment of this eighteenth century prophesy in the twentieth century, than I hope to be, as the saying goes, in it “till the wheels fall off” and I am eternally at rest in the kingdom of God and the heavenly court of my Queen.
Living in His Mercy Today
Hail, most merciful Heart of Jesus,
Living Fountain of all graces,
Our sole shelter, our only refuge;
In You I have the light of hope.
—hymn to Christ, St. Faustina, Diary, 1321
Living in God’s mercy and traveling on the narrow road doesn’t mean that I never stumble or fall short. But just as she was there so long ago when my journey began, our Mother is ever present to stoop down, brush me off, lift me up and when necessary, lead me as her child by the hand to the Fount of Mercy which gushes forth from the pierced heart of Christ and from which came forth the ‘wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.766).
Only in the Catholic Church is the fullness of Divine Mercy obtainable in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. In Saint Faustina’s Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Jesus refers to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as “the Tribunal of Mercy” and the “fountain of My mercy” (Diary, 1448 & 1602).
Of His desire to enter the human heart in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus told St. Faustina “Know My daughter, that when I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give the soul. But souls do not even pay attention to Me” (Diary, 1385).
Today, when even at my best, I am less than fully attentive to the presence of Christ and His thirst for my love, I know that my misery cannot exhaust His mercy (Diary, 1485) and that with the vessel of trust I can continually approach Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Communion through which He pours in me the treasures of His grace (Diary, 1578).
This is my faith story but it is not the conclusion of my faith journey. As we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and His Divine Mercy, I invite you to pick up your walking stick and join me on the road. I encourage you with the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in 2008: “I address my cordial greeting which now becomes a mandate: go forth and be witnesses of God’s mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world.”
Copyright 2011 Brian Kravec