On January 17th 1871 a French family of four was working in their barn. One of the sons named Eugene wanted to take a break so he went outside to get a breath of fresh air. Once outside he came upon a vision of a very beautiful lady. She was dressed in a blue gown covered with gold stars. She wore a black veil and a crown on top of her head. Eugene called to his parents and his little brother, Joseph, to come out and take a look. The parents couldn’t see her but Joseph could. Dad was very upset with his boys and told them to get back to work, Mom, however, knew her sons were not liars. So she went and got the teacher, Sr. Vitaline. Sister came and she brought with her 2 young girls, who immediately saw the lady. As time passed a crowd gathered and as the hours passed it got bigger and bigger. But only the children could see our Lady, no adult was able to see her. Many prayers were prayed that day, and when the priest arrived more prayers were offered.
At that time France was in the midst of the Franco/Prussian war. And things weren’t going so well for France. The war was very close to Pontmain and the people of that region thought that they’d soon be overwhelmed by the fighting. As the prayers continued the children excitedly informed the crowds of the changing appearance of the vision of our Lady. She increased in size, and more stars were becoming part of her garment. Our Lady also presented a banner beneath her feet. It read, “But pray, my children. God will soon answer you. My Son allows Himself to be moved.”
The war never made it to Pontmain. And in a move that still defies military reason today, the Prussian army decided to retreat and go back to Paris. The prayers of Pontmain were answered. And two months later in March a peace treaty was signed the war was over. At the apparition site, next to the barn, a large basilica was built. It was consecrated in 1900.
The third statement on the banner, beneath Our Lady of Pontmain, always strikes me, “My Son allows Himself to be moved.” Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King and we have a King who allows Himself to be moved. To be moved by our prayers.
Our Lady is sent as a Heavenly messenger to encourage and bolster and deepen our relationship with her Son. To strengthen our dependence on a King who wants to rule our hearts, our minds, and our souls, a King who wants only the best for us. These Marian apparitions give us a taste of Heaven a taste of our eternal calling.
Now the very first day that we begin to taste heaven is the day of our baptism, and on that day the life of heaven is literally poured into us. While the water is being poured, the Holy Spirit at the very same time is being poured into our souls and hearts. In Baptism, we are immersed into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are freed from Original Sin and from eternal death. We are made God’s children and, as St. Paul tells us (in Philippians 3:20) we become citizens of heaven. Heaven is not a prize to be won, but a gift given and received.
To become a citizen of heaven is to know that we are not the king; we are not the king of our lives, or of our destinies. Jesus Christ is our King, and the Sacrament of Baptism comes with a call to live actively as a servant of the one King of the Universe. Sometimes we might treat Jesus as if He were a “member of Congress,” just one voice among many competing in our hearts. But a Christian wants and strives to have Jesus enthroned in his heart as King, ruler of his thoughts, words, and actions. Jesus is God. He is perfect, and unlike any person we might find in Washington DC, He always does what it best for us, what will bring us to heaven with Him.
So what will heaven be like? In heaven we will finally know perfectly what it is to be loved and to love. We will never be bored. Heaven is not about sitting on clouds plucking harps like the chubby cherubs in Renaissance paintings. That is only a symbol of the perfect rest and peace the angels and saints experience in heaven. We will be surrounded by holiness and love, by angels and humans who love God and each other totally. We’ll be living in the midst of the Trinity’s infinite love. There will be no hatred, violence, anger or anxiety. No one will ever sin or even be tempted to sin.
To live in heaven is not just to be “somewhere up in the sky”, but to live in God’s very household, to see Him face-to-face. In the Old Testament, we read that no human can see God’s face and live (Ex 33:20), but in Baptism and the Holy Eucharist we are made more than human. Baptism makes us “other Christs” in the world, and the Holy Eucharist continues to transform us, to make us less and less earthly, and more and more heavenly, if we will just cooperate. We gotta cooperate. Salvation is about grace, and grace needs to be received willingly.
The British author C.S. Lewis once wrote that for many of us, the way we currently live, so attached to earthly things, the joys of heaven would be an acquired taste. And so our Christian life is about acquiring a taste for heaven now, about becoming heavenly now, about making sure we never take heaven for granted. As He reigns from the Cross in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the good thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This good thief, St. Dismas, inherits the Kingdom because he turns to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness. He cooperates with God’s grace. He looks into the face of Jesus and knows forgiveness and love. As Our Lady of Pontmain presented on that banner beneath her feet, “My Son allows Himself to be moved.”
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher Ankley