Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Our Lady of Good Counsel

Original image of Our Lady of Good Counsel from Genazzano, Italy
Original image of Our Lady of Good Counsel
from Genazzano, Italy
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Good Counsel, a Marian devotion that I discovered several years ago from the reading of Michael H. Brown's book, Seven Days With Mary. It is an especially important devotion for those who are struggling with sexual sins, and the temptations that accompany them. What ever our struggles may be with confusion, debauchery, and uncleanliness, the Blessed Virgin Mary is available to us to dispel our darkness, and bring us back to Jesus, protecting and guiding us at every step of the way.

Our Lady of Good Counsel is a much needed devotion for Canada, because like many other countries in the world, Canada has fallen prey to the global sexual revolution. We have experienced the negative ramifications for several decades, most notably in the deterioration of the primary cell of society, the family, including the discarding of traditional family values; not to mention the increased spiritual battle for those individuals seeking to lead a chaste and virtuous life. 

As to the many other negative ramifications, we need not expend any great amount of time or energy to identify them: pornovision on cable tv; pornography readily available on the internet; the sexualization of culture within all advertising mediums; immodest attire; an increased level of promiscuity; marital infidelity; the indoctrination of children in the education system with sexual immorality; "same sex marriage" since 2005, a younger generation that fails to recognize and acknowledge the importance and truth that sexual intercourse is a conjugal act performed only within the sanctity of marriage; the lack of understanding of the meaning of the human person, and the challenge of human sexuality, as revealed in the work of St. Pope John Paul II's, Love and Responsibility, and his other great body of work on the human person, Theology of the Body; and the list goes on and is growing.

Although there are many evils in society there is a remedy and that remedy is to be found in Mary. We need to continually seek the comfort of Our Lady's mantle, through prayer, in a world that is becoming increasingly evil.

A brief introduction to Seven Days With Mary

Seven Days With Mary is a seven day personal retreat with Mary. The graces that flow from these devotions can barely be described with words; it truly is a time of Divine Intimacy, something that can only be fully understood when experienced. There are a total of seven Marian devotions: Our Lady of Saragossa, Our Lady of Montserrat, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor, all of which are officially recognized and sanctioned by the Church. Each devotion comes complete with a concise historical account, followed by meditations, prayers, and concludes with the recitation of the Rosary.

Brown recommends that you pray these devotions for seven consecutive days to receive the maximum benefit. As to which particular devotion you begin and end with, it does not matter, so long as you practice one devotion per day. Think for a moment of what it must be like to be immersed in deep prayer with Our Lady for a few hours each day for seven consecutive days. I can assure you from my own personal experience, it is a grace-filled week that will end with your heartfelt gratitude and praise to God and Our Lady for the gift of these devotions.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the reason why Seven Days With Mary is available to us: the result of Brown sharing his gift of faith with the world. Brown went on a pilgrimage to each of the seven Marian locations and subsequently wrote about his experiences. Having read about Brown's conversion story from his book, Prayer of the Warrior, approximately twenty years ago, it is quite easy to recognize his love for God and Our Lady, which Seven Days With Mary spotlights in a beautiful way.

Mary's mission in the Church and in the world

Mary was chosen as God's vessel to give birth to, raise and protect Jesus Christ, Our Saviour and Redeemer, whose life, death and resurrection defeated of the "kingdom of darkness." 

Mary continues to be His chosen vessel, the great antidote to paganism, by taking back territory from the Evil One and his demons, and restoring it for Jesus. This is a fundamental aspect of Mary's role in our lives, to bring us back to God, to help us on our earthly pilgrimage, to remind us of what Jesus taught us, to reveal to the world that God is real and He does exist. Mary is "the" messenger from God.

Part of how Mary accomplished her mission is through her many apparitions in the history of the Catholic Church, something that continues to this day—Medjugorje in particular—fulfilling her role in the strengthening of the Mystical Body of Christ. So numerous are Mary's apparitions that not even the Church knows exactly how many times she has appeared, and the associated miracles connected with each apparition.

Our Lady has founded hundreds of churches, and has deeply affected major historical figures, men who, as Brown states in the Preface, "...[S]haped the very boundaries of our world—like Charlemagne." (iv)  

Given to Mary is a reservoir of graces granted by Jesus, that she dispenses with exquisite generosity. They are available for the asking, especially through the sincere and devout recitation of the Rosary, the most powerful prayer next to the Holy Mass. A standard include in our Rosary intentions should be our imploring of Mary to shower upon us, with great abundance, the many graces we need in all that we pray for.

Seeking Our Lady in time trouble and need, is exactly what Seven Days of Mary is all about; that is, invoking her intercession, seeking her aid, and meditating on her role in our lives, as we try to find our way through the current darkness.

The historical account and miracles at Genazzano, Italy

Genazzano is thirty miles southeast of Rome, and is the location where the devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel began. During the reign of Sixtus III in the fifth century, a church was built and named Madre nostra del Buon Consiglio or Our Lady of Good Counsel; a name derived from the writings of St. Augustine.

The location of Genazzano is of great significance. Like so many other places where Our Lady had acted to recover territory, that had been lost to demons and restored it back for Jesus, so too did Our Lady move to deliver Genazanno from what had become a place of orgies and ceremonies dedicated to a pagan goddess. Mary, the most pure and beautiful Mother of God, pushed aside Venus, the goddess of lust and sin.

The church at Genazzano served Christians for a thousand years, but eventually it fell into ruins. In close proximity were splendid edifices dedicated to St. John and St. Nicholas, the deteriorated state of the church greatly concerned a very pious woman named Petruccia de Geneo, whose husband had been caretaker of the Augustinians in the town. He died in 1436, and with the money he left Petruccia, she set about to provide basic necessities of the church, and vowed to rebuild it to its former glory.

Petruccia's ambitions were for the most part, mocked by the townspeople, and the task of rebuilding proved to be much more difficult than she had originally anticipated. WIth only a few rough and unfinished walls constructed, the money ran out. This did not deter Petruccia because as she insisted, the Blessed Virgin Mary assured her that against all logic, the church would be rebuilt. Her response to the continued mockery from the townsfolk, "My children, don't take such notice of this apparent misfortune, for I assure you that before I die the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy father St. Augustine will complete the church." (25)

On April 25, 1467, the feast day then of Our Lady of Good Counsel, was well attended by the townsfolk and even more so during that year, with the feast falling on a Saturday. The exceptionally large crowd typically gathered at the public square, the Piazza of Saint Mary, having clean fun where once there had been baths and decadence of pagan idols.

At approximately 4:00pm, the crowd was astonished to hear what sounded like a celestial harmony. Borrowing from the Church historian, Monsignor Dillon, Brown describes it as, "...[H]igh in the clouds, the music of angels, as if a portal or opening to paradise had been flung open." (26) The vision of what the townsfolk saw was described as a beautiful white cloud that sent forth vivid rays of light. It lowered, and to the amazement of everyone present, it rested upon the unfinished walls of the church's chapel, dedicated to Saint Biagio.

Suddenly the bells of the high campanile (Italian bell tower) began to peal. This further astonished the crowd because the campanile was in their sights, and there was no human effort involved. What then followed was the pealing of every church bell in town, in unison, creating a festive sound throughout. Captivated by the events, the townsfolk were filled with such a holy feeling, that they filled the enclosure and pressed around where the cloud remained.

Eventually the rays of light vanished and the cloud gently cleared away, exposing a most beautiful object, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her arms—the exact image is published with this post. It was another miraculous image that materialized from nowhere. Mary exuded a spiritual beauty, one of tremendous caring. Brown states that, "If at Saragossa she was the consolation of evangelists, and if at Montserrat she emphasized her influence on Church leaders like Ignatius, at Genazzano she showed herself as mother to every single person and she did so on a level that was tremendously individual." (27) 

Brown further describes the image, dedicating an entire page to it. Here is just part of that description: 
The image of Good Counsel as well as subsequent reproductions demonstrate a warmth that touches the most profound depths of our spirits. They indicate that in our greatest difficulties we can flee with great confidence into the warmth of Mary... (28) 
Mary's eyes are Heaven's eyes. They are maternal eyes. And her beauty is her warmth. As she looks down toward the Infant she holds, so too does she look down to all the people of earth, caring for them, concerned for them, knowing the many struggles...The sensitivity and yet the strength in the Genazzano image mesmerized all who set eyes upon it. Jesus has his right arm around his mother's neck and the left hand on her neckline hem. He is clinging to her in the most touching way... (29)
To this day, the colours and details on the painting remain inexplicably fresh.

What is most miraculous about the painting is that it has no means of support. It is a fresco done on a thin layer of plaster or porcelain; there is no way such an image could be transported without breaking into pieces. A miraculous image it is, with nothing to support it in the front, back or on top; it remains perfectly balanced, and does so to this day.

That small run down church was soon transformed both physically and spiritually, to become one of the most holy places in Italy and the world. Many who were depressed and distressed, flocked to the chapel of Saint Biagio. At first it was neighbouring towns, but then others from distant communities came as well.

Mary's intercession at Genazzano was one of many in the Middle Ages. She had been invoked to ward off plagues, and often a miracle was attached to a painting, fresco or statue. It was Heaven's anointing of such holy images and figures to sweep away the reoccurring threat of paganism.

After the miracle at Genazzano, the run down church was promptly rebuilt, just as Petruccia had prophesied. In the four months after the arrival of the miraculous painting, one hundred seventy-one miraculous healings were recorded, which eventually led to the official Church recognition of Our Lady of Good Counsel.

There were many other miracles attributed to Our Lady of Good Counsel's intercession: many blind received their sight; others cured of hearing loss, epileptic affliction, and delivered from demonic possession; and the ceasing of a pestilence that afflicted Italy during the seventeenth century, in which Pope Urban VIII made a personal pilgrimage to Genazzano to seek Our Lady's intercession.

Of all the miracles attributed to Our Lady of Good Counsel, the most interesting for me was Brown's own conversion. In the early 1980s when he was living in the fast-lane in New York City, he experienced a conversion through a local church on East 90 Street named after Good Counsel. Brown later learned that all those years he was away from the faith, his grandmother had been invoking Our Lady of Good Counsel for his conversion. 

A prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel

Our Lady of Good Counsel is a much needed devotion today. So many people are lost, living in a dark world of fleeting and false sexual pleasures. No matter what our struggles may be, no matter how long we have struggled, available to us is Our Lady of Good Counsel.

Invoke the intercession of Our Lady of Good Counsel in times of temptation, when near the occasions of sin, and as part of a devotion to lead a life that not only abstains from sexual sins, but one that is lived chastely; that is, of purity in mind and heart.

Here is a prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel included in Seven Days With Mary:
O Mary of Good Counsel, inflame our hearts of all who are devoted to you, so that all of them have shelter in you, O great Mother of God. O most worthy Lady, let everyone choose you as teacher and wise counselor of their souls, since you are, as St. Augustine says, the counsel of the Apostles and counsel of all peoples. Amen. (34)

Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us.

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