In 1916 an Angel appeared to three poor children in Portugal. He identified himself as the “Angel of Peace.” One of the children described him as a man of natural height; but seemed like a brilliant snow-white statue made of cloud. The angel visited the children three times, and each time he taught them to pray. Prayers for both to adore God and praying for sinners. And he also taught them to offer sacrifice on behalf of sinners, “whatever hardship befalls you, offer it up for sinners,” he said. One prayer he had them memorize was this, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.”
This angel of peace visited the children in the midst of the World War I, but the peace that he came to bring was based on union with God and intercession for others, reminding us of the greatest commandment of the Old Law; total and complete love of God and neighbor.
In the following year those three children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco would receive 6 visits from the Blessed Virgin Mary. She would identify herself by saying, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” She told the children to devote themselves to the Holy Trinity and to pray the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world.
We all want peace. We want peace of mind, peace of heart, peace in our families, and peace in the world. Peace is the tranquility of order and equilibrium; it is the necessary condition for growth and prosperity. A garden can’t grow in a tornado, nor can human hearts and societies flourish in the midst of violent conflict.
New Year’s Day is a day in which even the most pessimistic people feel at least a twinge of optimism, a whiff of hope. We hope that this coming year will be better than last year – better for ourselves, our families, and the world. It is with this natural sense of optimism in mind that, back in 1968, the Church established January 1 as the World Day of Peace. Not only is this the solemnity of Mary Mother of God, but also the World Day of Peace.
But a natural desire for peace cannot achieve true, lasting peace either in our hearts, our families, or our world. Only Christ can bring true peace. Only Christ can overcome the deepest divisions, antagonisms, and wounds that feed conflict from within. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical, “Saved by Hope”: “God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.” (Spe salvi, 31) Christ came to bring us the peace which we long for, because we cannot achieve that peace on our own.
Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Rosary told us to pray the Rosary every day to pray it for Peace, peace within our hearts, our families, our communities and our world. Pope St. John Paul II said that to pray the rosary is to contemplate the Face of Jesus. “God is the foundation of hope and peace: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end.
For Christmas a friend of mine gave me a book about Elisabeth and Felix Leseur. The Leseurs were a French married couple who lived during the late 19th and early 20th century. They had a mixed marriage, she was a devout Catholic and he was a confirmed atheist, who left behind his Catholic faith during his time at medical school. The Leseurs loved each other dearly. They always supported the other. Elisabeth would attend lectures and exhibitions and dinners with Felix’s friends who were openly hostile to the Catholic Church. And Felix would go on pilgrimages with Elisabeth and warmly welcome priest visitors to their home. They loved each other’s company but they each had the goal of reforming the other. Felix tried to get Elizabeth to leave the Catholic faith, and sometimes in his weaker moments he was quite unkind with his belittling comments, while Elizabeth prayed, fasted, and offered sacrifices that her husband would return to the faith.
Elisabeth was sick for most of their marriage and Felix was very devoted to caring for her, he even went with her twice to Lourdes where Elisabeth prayed for healing in the miraculous springs, but it wasn’t to be. Elisabeth died at the age of 48, Felix was heartbroken. He missed her dearly and for comfort he began to read her diaries. And what he read greatly moved him. Elisabeth was a mystic. He discovered a depth of faith he hadn’t realized was present in his wife. He read how his comments had hurt her and how she had offered her suffering for his return to the faith. Those diaries are now a spiritual classic, reprinted many times in many languages.
Felix in his great sorrow began visiting all the places he had been to with his wife. One of those places included Lourdes. He wasn’t expecting anything from the trip other than to be in a place that was very special for his wife. And so he found himself in front of the grotto where Mary had appeared to St. Bernadette, he was there with a crowd of people. He would later write, “Little by little, I united my voice to that of the pilgrims who prayed by saying their rosary aloud. It was the first time that this had happened to me; all my life I had proclaimed that the rosary was the recourse of the weak minded, and now, I was repeating with an unknown crowd those phrases that I had learned at my mother’s knee. I felt overwhelmed by a great gentleness, a kind of tenderness from God that seemed to envelop me and little by little, it filled me with joy, a truly profound, inexplicable joy. I wanted to cry, but this time it was no longer from despair and loneliness, it was from joy and peace; like the feeling of at last arriving in the harbor after such a long and tumultuous journey.” Felix Leseur would return to the Catholic faith and eventually become a Dominican priest.
“God is the foundation of our hope and our peace: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end. During this upcoming year if not already doing so, I invite you to make a resolution to pray the rosary every day. Pray for peace, peace in your heart, family, Church, and world. Pope St. John Paul II said that to pray the rosary is to contemplate the Face of Jesus. “May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! And may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!
Happy New Year!
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley