Jun 21, 2011

Return to Medjugorje with the Blessings of Sainte Foy

Tomorrow I leave for Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina and the beginning of a seven day retreat, which I'm spending partly on the sea south of Split and partly in the village of Medjugorje, the site of Marian apparitions since 1981. Most of my more progressive friends 'eschew' the Marian site, turned off (quite understandably, in my opinion) by the rumors of financial scandals swirling about the place and the expropriation of the entire phenomenon by the far religious right for their own 'restorationist' agenda (though many conservative groups are outraged by Medjugorje's seemingly tolerant attitude of religious pluralism). However, it is my own considered judgement, after years of prayerful reflection on this phenomenon, that both the corruption involving money and the theological expropriation itself represent profound and sinful distortions of what is inherently a truly sacred and authentic experience - at it's core. I don't expect anyone to agree with me on this, and mine has been a lonely path for the past thirty years, yet this witness is something I feel called to make, and will continue to make as long as the interior inspiration remains constant. Medjugorje, for me, is a perfect microcosm of the entire church, in that an inherent charism of great holiness is surrounded by genuine evil, which seeks both to repudiate it and employ it for it's own purposes. In other words, the corruption does not emanate from nor penetrate into the essential core of the holy mystery.  Just as I feel the very heart and soul of Catholicism at this point in history is under attack by a very vocal and powerful fundamentalist movement, so too Medjugorje's image and reputation have been sullied by these same forces. Just as I do not believe the entire Catholic tradition deserves to be scuttled because of the apparent 'victory' of restorationist forces aligned with powerful interest groups of vast wealth and money, so too I do not believe that Medjugorje should be repudiated, even though its very integrity is under attack by these same forces, which seek to harness it's charismatic power for their own corrupt purposes.

By their fruits you will know them - one must go to Medjugorje in a spirit of prayer and discernment in order to properly understand this holy mystery. As with all pilgrimages, you will encounter the persons and the experiences you are meant to meet.

Last summer at this time in Medjugorje, I met two lovely French ladies, both spinsters, who ran a pensione in the little town of Conques in Southern France. They were staying in the same pensione as I and we became friends sitting in the garden in the early evening drinking wine. Their tiny village in France is a pilgrimage site to the holy relics of the fourth century virgin martyr, Sainte Foy. These charming women both invited me to visit their village and stay in their pensione for free, a gracious offer I'm ashamed to say I have yet to take advantage of - but someday for sure I will make my way to their pensione and to the altar of Sainte Foy, when the time is right and when the tiny saint herself extends me the courtesy of an invitation. 

Here is how Hannah Green describes St. Foy in her charming book Little Saint, which my friends recommended to me:

She is the sacred center. Around her the wheel of the story with it's thousand starry spokes spins. It might begin at any time, from the hour when she was born at Agen in December of the year 290 to the hour of her martyr-death less than thirteen years later, and at as many shining points as there are gemstones on her statue or silver nails in arabesques on the coffer that holds her bones; but the story opens now in the mountains of the Rouerge, here at Conques, where, since 866, her bones have been enshrined and guarded.

We came first as travelers, Jack and I, in the springtime of 1975, to have our hearts caught unaware - Jack a painter, a Californian by birth, I a writer, an Ohioan from an old Swedenborgian and Episcopalian background, a stranger to saints; and yet I was given through Sainte Foy, in this remote and ancient place of pilgrimage, the gift of seeing into that zone which has been held sacred since the beginning of human consciousness.

The message I received from this fortuitous and utterly charming encounter with these two very charming French ladies and their stories of Sainte Foy was simply a reminder of the richness and beauty of the Catholic sacramental tradition, which enshrines, preserves, protects the folk religion of devotion to the saints and reverence for the mystery of Marian apparitions. Yes, there have always been distortions, excesses, fanaticism, extremes, but none of these are reason enough to scuttle the entire tradition, which has been a source of inspiration and sanctification for so many. As humans, we need the human touch, that sense of the finger of the divine emerging from the mists of faith for one brief moment, and touching our hearts, just here, just so.

The Blessed Lady of Medjugorje is reputed to have said to the visionaries - in almost the same breathe in which she  counseled that 'God' does not make distinctions between religions, only humans do - that there is a reason why the Marian apparitions have been entrusted to the Catholic Church. Just a simple statement, just that and no more, no explication, certainly no assertion of superiority on the part of the Catholic tradition, since as Marija has testified, "Our Lady has never said that the Catholic Church is the only way to Jesus." Amen. Just that...well, there is a reason why the apparitions belong within the Catholic tradition, since this is part of its special charism.

On the same visit to Medjugorje last year, quite by chance (not really) in a cafe just across the street from the main church, I encountered two high spirited and lovely lesbian women who had come to Medjugorje to ask for Our Lady's blessing upon their decision to have a child.  Both women glowed with peace and joy and were rapturously in love with the entire village and valley. Clearly, they felt that Our Lady had bestowed the blessing they had asked for, and who was I to doubt them. They radiated peace. We had a good laugh over much of the silliness around us, though thankfully we had not encountered too many Kooks with rosary beads around their necks ( I saw some). We also marveled at the mysterious coincidence of three gay people meeting in a cafe in Medjugorje, We imagined (with some sympathy) the apoplectic reaction of the more reactionary traditionalists among the pilgrims if they learned that lesbian women had 'received' a blessing from the Lady of Mejugorje to proceed with their holy project of conceiving a child. How many lesbian women would even consider such a pilgrimage of discernment to be necessary? Such a sign of contradiction, but here we were, all three of us joyful faggoty beings, receiving affirmation and love in the heart of Medjugorje. Such is its mystery and such is the power of the place.

Here - for those with eyes to see - is a video of the December 2009 annual apparition given to Jakov Colo, the youngest of the visionaries. It proves nothing, it will convince no one, it simply is on its own terms, as a witness to the prodigious mystery that is Medjugorje.


colkoch said...

Great post Jayden. May you have many encounters with the Mysterious.

My guess about Mary's preference for Catholicism is that Catholicism is in sore need of feminine energy. I've always thought that's why she appeared in the guise of Guadalupe. A religion which denied the participation of women, and had no place for the divine feminine, would never have taken off the ground amongst the Indigenous of the Americas.

Word captcha: nonest as in 'no nest'.

The Rev.Tom Gilbert said...

I enjoyed your post on Medjugore very much. I am hardly a conservative and have wondered for many years why the Marian message of ecumenism has not gotten more exposure. Naturally, there are those within the Roman Catholic Church who do not want to hear that God does not distinguish between religions. That is blasphemy to them and, thus, in their minds the Medjugore messages are false. How sad for them.

I left the Roman Way some years ago and to uber-conservatives, Roman Catholic anything I say in regards to faith will be suspect (if not worse). But though I have never been to Medjugore and have only read about it through books, I have found a deep blessing in the words I have read. The Marian Message of Ecumenism, however simply it is stated, is far more profound than the tomes of words that have emerged from years of formal inter-denominational talks.

I thank the Lord for the Marian Messages of Medjugore and I hope you experience many blessings on your pilgrimage.

William D. Lindsey said...

Please keep us in your prayers as you go a-pilgrimage, Jayden.

And thanks for the recommendation of the "Little Saint" book. It sounds fascinating and is going onto my reading list.

Jayden Cameron said...

Back from Medugorje, thanks for your comments and your good wishes. Colleen, I think you are spot on about the need for feminine energy in Roman Catholicism, especially after it's 'Romanization' with Constantine. Imagine what we would have been like without it?

Jayden Cameron said...

Rev. Tom, thanks, and I just took a look at your wonderful blogs and your many links! Truly wonderful and inspiring. I have close ties to the monastic/hermetical tradition (spent a summer of high school in a Trappist Monastery) as well as to the Buddhist forest tradition of Thailand, so many of your posts really resonated. I'm also a great fan of Brother David Steindl-Rast. Have you read his book on the Apostle's Creed? best reformulation of the Christian faith I've ever encountered. Hope you got a chance to watch the film, Into Great Silence.