Saturday, August 21, 2010

IVETKA AND THE MOUNTAIN


With these final reflections, I bid farewell - for the time being - to the Marian shrine of Litmanova in Slovakia.

The quite wonderful dvd above (with English subtitles) is unfortunately no longer available on Amazon.com, not even through independent sellers, though it is readily available in the Czech and Slovak Republics. However, I'm using it's content for these final reflections on this very special place in the High Tatras mountain area of Northern Slovakia.





The film chronicles the life of the one articulate visionary, Ivetka, spokesperson for the apparitions (there were two, but her companion could see the Lady, but could not hear her). Wisely, very little attention is paid to the visions and their messages themselves. Ivetka gives a very simple and charming summary of the basic story. She and her companion were playing in an abandoned cabin on the mountain side that her father owned (he subsequently gave it to her as a dowry when she entered the convent and she in turned donated it to the Church when she left religious life). After enduring some moments of terror because of strange noises, the girls saw a beautiful woman appear inside the room, walk over to a small bench and sit down. The simple, homely nature of this very human gesture is more moving than so many apparitions in the past.

Ivetka has said of this moment:
I didn't feel I had to ask her anything. Just her being here was enough.




The story took off from there with five years of visitations from the Lady, who communicated her messages, in their customary simplicity,  calling on the faithful to conversion of heart and purity of intention. She had revealed herself as Immaculate Purity, but you will look in vain throughout all the messages for any direct reference to sexuality. 

As Ivetka says,

People think of 'purity' as having to do only with sex and the body. But Our Lady really wanted us to realize how important it is to have a pure attitude in everything we do. Many people follow tradition and want to be good. But this is not enough. We have to truly feel things deep down inside, we have to go beneath the surface. 

After five years of these most intimate visits from the heavenly Mother, the visions came to an end,. Can we even begin to fathoms the depths of desolation in these young girls at such a loss.  In one heartbreaking scene on the dvd, we see the girls withdrawing from their last vision with the Lady in White. Both girls comfort one another, leaning on each others' shoulders and crying.  They need some fifteen minutes to control their weeping. They then go outside to give the Lady's message and Ivetka announces to the crowds that this was the last visitation from the Blessed Mother in Litmanova. There are gasps and cries of shock from the large crowd and the sounds of women weeping can be heard throughout Ivetka's simple, but heartrending speech.

The Lady's final message:

This revelation is the last one. I love you all and thank you for what you have done for me. This is what I wanted to happen, to wake you from your dream of emptiness. In this day and age you need to be converted.

 And Ivetka comments:

I felt she stopped speaking so people could start listening.
It was inevitable.
The silence.

The end was a new beginning. 
This segment takes up less than half of the 90 minute viewing time, and is very effective in it's simplicity. No wonder the Greek Catholic Church approved these apparitions and the holy mountain as a site of pilgirmages. What's to disapprove?

The rest of the time is devoted to the unfolding journey of Ivetka over the next 17 years and it is this segment which, in my opinion, really establishes the authenticity of the whole experience, - simply through the witness of this simple yet remarkable young woman. By their fruits you shall know them, indeed.

She says of the immediate period after the ending of the visions:

For about two years, I was mad at her. She gave me this wonderful experience, and then she abandoned me and left me all alone.  I was just a young person then and I was dealing with all of the usual adolescent pressures. I felt confused, lost in it all.

Ivetka was thirty years old on the video when she made these comments, and a deep sadness and melancholy still pervades her spirit when she remembers these past times. This sadness and loss was to be her special burden and cross for the remainder of her life. To have seen and to have lost. Can any of us even begin to understand the pain?

When people asked her if she wanted to become a nun, she always replied, "No, not at all." But the pressure was on her to conform to other people's expectations of a visionary. Her parish priest finally convinced her that because Our Lady had graced her with the gift of the apparitions, she owed her whole life to the Lady in return. It was a very conventional, old fashioned, Catholic point of view and it eventually convinced her. It was to become her darkest hour. She was miserably unhappy in the convent and driven to the point of despair.  The day before her first vows, she prayed in the chapel, "Dear God, how can I get out of this?" Once again, her parish priest came to visit her in her despair and talked her into taking the vows. Within three years of that moment, she would be driven to suicide by the terrible darkness within her. She locked herself in the bathroom with a bottle of pills at 3 in the morning in her mother's home in Litmanova. Her mother, sensing something was terribly wrong, broke through the door at the very last moment and rescued her, and together the two of them wept throughout the night. The resolution to this terrible dark night of faith  was to come shortly after and gives evidence of Ivetka's truly extraordinary spiritual depth, tested and deepened in the fire of trial and suffering. 

"One of the sisters, whom I didn't really know very well, came to the village and said, "Would you like to take a walk." We went up into the hills and prayed the rosary, which was so much better than 'a talk.' Peace suddenly flooded my soul and I understood that I had been right to want to leave the convent. But a decision reaches it's true strength only at the right moment. I knew I had to return to the convent and wait for the right moment to appear when I would be freed to leave."

The fortitude of that decision is awe inspiring. To have been driven close to despair by your circumstances, but to find the spiritual resources and the light within you to return to the source of such suffering and to accept it in one's heart, until the moment arrives in the light of Providence, that is faith of a very high order!

Two years later, the moment arrived when Ivetka felt interiorly freed from her burden. She left the convent, found a good job in Germany as an assistant to a disabled woman, saved her money, bought a car, and returned to Slovakia, where she entered medical school and got her license as a nurse. Through the grace of providence, she then met the deeply spiritual man who was to become her husband,  her soul mate,  and her true vocation in life began....after years of sadness, suffering, trials and travails. Today she radiates a deep inner peace and joy, touched with a bit of sadness and nostalgia for those days long ago when the Blessed Lady graced her with her visible presence.

 


Ivetka again:
People often ask me how do I know it was true. The greatest proof of this being the truth is that I am still normal. It might sound simple, but I think it is the most important thing, because the pressures I experienced were so big. I was on very thin ice.

The final revelation of this remarkable story occurs when Ivetka confides in us her feelings about romantic love. Suddenly we see why this remarkable young girl was 'chosen' so many years ago - and we feel that even before that moment she had been specially prepared for the arrival of the Beautiful Lady in White, Immaculate Purity.

When I went to medical school, there were just girls there. Some of them had boyfriends, held hands with them, kissed. I couldn't imagine it like that, going out with someone, then leaving him, and kissing someone else. Even as a child and adolescent, I felt this was a serious thing and that if I do it, it binds me to the person and is impossible to repeat with someone else.

Sometimes, I heard the girls talk about their boyfriends and I couldn't understand when they said bad things about the boys they were holding hands with. It was too strong of an expression for me. I felt it could happen just once and for all, that if you repeat this kind of experience, you lose your inner strength, that something inside you wears down. I felt that the firts time I would encounter this sensation would also be the last. That's how I always wanted it....without experience.

That last expression...without experience...was spoken modestly by her,  shyly, with eyes downcast, revealing her awareness that she might be naive, that she has little experience in matters of love to have a comparative perspective. Speaking as a drama coach of young teens, I would have to agree that her perspective might be simple and sweet in its naivete and that her particular witness is not the chosen path for everyone. However, just the fact that such a pure ideal has been fulfilled in the life of this young woman, like a shining light in a sea of sexual indulgence, makes her the ideal model of Immaculate Purity. Truly she has been graced and chosen. 

 


Next, we are taken into the scene of her wedding, we see her radiant husband, clearly a very special, spiritual man, and we marvel at the special providence that has brought the two of them together. We are given a rare view into the simple life of a farming village in Northern Slovakia, the rugged, careworn faces of its inhabitants smiling with joy and sweetness. It brings tears to one's eyes to see such simplicity still existing in the world, hidden away in the mountains of Central Europe, where men and women still till the fields, still celebrate the harvest, still wear their traditional clothes, still bicker with their neighbors,  still experience the ordinary trials of human living, and still pray with a fervor and devotion that seems to have disappeared from so many Western European churches. Litmanova, what a grace you are for all of us. 


Towards the end of the video, Ivetka goes back into the apparition room and kneels before the little bench where the beautiful lady appeared to her so many years ago. There are tears, sadness and nostalgia for those sweet days long ago, and we see that the great cross of this young woman's life will be this sadness within her that will never end - until that moment when she passes  over to  the other shore,  and once again beholds  her Divine Mother face to face.

I felt her by my side throughout the years. She had many expressions. She voiced many tidings, which I repeated on the stage. In loving me, she was always here. I felt accepted in things which don't need words, things which either are or are not, things you either know about and comprehend without words, or things which never happened.

And she exists because I felt she was listening to me then and she's still listening to me now. She answers me with the same presence as before, except that now I don't see her.  

 





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