On Sunday, October 9, I was privileged to preside and preach at a special Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Šiluva at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Over 1500 faithful of Lithuanian descent gathered and recalled the appearance of the Blessed Mother in Šiluva in 1608 and the renewed Catholic faith that flowed from her appearance.  Below is the homily for this Mass:

Our Lady of Šiluva. Photo by Zarion used under Creative Commons.

Our Lady of Šiluva. Photo by Zarion licensed under Creative Commons.

It is with deep joy that I join with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Papal Nuncio to the USA; Archbishop Lionginas Virbalas, Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Kaunas in Lithuania;   Msgr. Edmund Putrimas, delegate from the Lithuanian Bishops Conference; Msgr. Rolandas Makrickas and Mr. Victor Nakas, Chairman of the 50th Year Jubilee in thanking Msgr. Walter Rossi, Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for his gracious welcome and in welcoming the faithful Catholics of Lithuanian descent and all people of good will to this wonderful celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary Jubilee Celebration of the Chapel of Our Lady of Šiluva.  It is an historic gathering as we give thanks to God for the deep fidelity of the Lithuanian people to their rich heritage and to their Catholic faith and as we intercede with our Blessed Mother Mary, our Lady of Šiluva, to continue to give guidance and protection into this fifth century since her miraculous appearance to the faithful of Šiluva in 1608.

It was one summer day in 1608 as children played near the sheep grazing in the outskirts of Šiluva that a beautiful woman stood on a rock with a baby nestled in her arms.  She was weeping bitterly.  She wept because the parish church was in ruins – had been given over to fields for sheep grazing and planting – and more deeply the people had lost their Catholic identity and the zeal for their faith. Many details to cherish surrounded that miraculous appearance: a man blind from birth pointing to the ground where the iron box containing the chalices and vestments had been buried  for decades; the swift rebuilding of the  church into a magnificent shrine after the appearance but – the most profound miracle of all – the restored faith of a people who, learning again to give thanks to God, rekindled a brave and courageous faith that would withstand many persecutions, many regimes who without success attempted to stomp out that deep faith.

It was this restored faith in Jesus Christ and in the Catholic Church that was rekindled.   So, too, it was this same deep rugged faith that moved Catholic faithful of Lithuanian descent from the United States and Canada to come together fifty years ago at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to dedicate the beautiful shrine in this Upper Church of the Basilica.  It is a shrine that you and I have visited for many years so that through the intercession of Our Lady of Šiluva, our faith in Jesus Christ and our practice of this Catholic faith – so dear to the faithful of Lithuanian heritage – might be rekindled.

How beautiful is the prayer to Our Lady of Šiluva that captures this spirit:

O Most Holy Virgin Mary, Thou who didst appear to the shepherds in the fields at Šiluva, Thou whose tears did bathe the rock where once an altar stood, Thou who didst with plaintive voice say: ‘You plow and seed here where formerly my Son was honored,’ grant that we, moved by Thy tears, may, once as our forefathers did, revive the spirit of adoration of Thy Son in our fallow hearts, strengthen the tottering structure of the shrine which is the family, and seek forgiveness for our negligence and sins.

O Mother of God, we desire to raise up the glory of Your revelation from forgotten ruins, that we may all the more honor Thee, the Patroness of Lithuania, and with Thy help obtain for us the spirit of a living Faith. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

As we pray for our families and for our Church, we are drawn to today’s readings of Sacred Scripture.  We hear a call to be cleansed, to be thankful, and to be faithful as our God is faithful.

We are like the ten with leprosy who shouted to Jesus and who at the very words of Jesus found themselves made pure.  You and I come with our families to ask for purity. We ask for a purity that is more than skin deep.

Pope John Paul II, the saint who prayed at the sacred shrine of Šiluva in 1993, is said to have been a great influence on the document of the II Vatican Council known as Gaudium et spes or The Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World, and his influence was particularly felt in paragraph 24.  It was in this paragraph that the call was made to move from a life of self-assertion to one of self-gift.  It is this gift of self, made real in the gift of Jesus to us for our salvation, that is, the sign of purification in our culture.  If we want to have pure thoughts and intentions, pure motives in loving and not using people for our own purposes, then we need to receive that grace to give ourselves to others that Jesus not only practices for our imitation but also shares through His generous gift of grace.

The New York Times columnist, David Brooks, in his book, Road to Character, writes of resume virtues and eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are about putting our best foot forward, asserting ourselves as we would when seeking our first job.  There is nothing wrong with a good resume, but when our entire life becomes asserting ourselves, we live shallow lives.  Instead, he tells us that the path to character involves eulogy virtues – those qualities that are lasting, those qualities by which people will remember us long after we are gone, and those qualities that we carry with us into eternity.  These are virtues like faithfulness to our family and faith; patient and sacrificial love; modest serving of others – the very virtues that come into our lives when Jesus purifies us.

Today’s Gospel states that ten were purified of the sores and wounds of leprosy but only one was purified beneath the surface of the skin – only one came back to give thanks to Jesus.  Pope Francis is fond of saying that a solid family is one in which the words, “I am sorry, I forgive you, thank you,” find a home.  I recall that the fast  and sure way to see whether you are a person of deep character is to observe how easily you say “I am sorry” when you do wrong; “I forgive you” when another wrongs you; and “I give thanks” in the midst of a busy life.  Jesus tells us in this lesson of the one among ten who came back to give thanks that true purification goes beneath the skin.  You and I want that gift of being purified so that we can give thanks.  Our Lady of Šiluva appeared to the people of Lithuania four centuries ago that they might be purified and we gather to rekindle this path.

To be joined with our prayer for purity and thanksgiving is the gift seen in the second reading in which St. Paul tells the young bishop Timothy that God will always be faithful. “If we are unfaithful with God, He will not be unfaithful with us because God cannot deny Himself.”  It is the nature of our God to be faithful to us.  The people of Israel in pilgrimage came to grasp this loving and faithful God who would not leave them down and, through the grace of our Savior Jesus, we the new people of Israel trust in our God who is ever faithful.

There have been many trials and persecutions of the Lithuanian Catholic families over these centuries.  Through it all, it was the gift of Catholic faith that has been the great gift to sustain your forefathers and mothers.  Because God has been faithful to you, a faithfulness revealed by no less than His only mother Mary, Our Lady of Šiluva, so you are given the grace to be faithful to Him through your fervent and zealous practice of your Catholic faith.

One of the most ancient symbols of that faithfulness is the anchor. The sturdy anchor, which keeps a boat secure in the midst of great storms, was one of the first symbols of Jesus Himself in the early church. It is the anchor that often appears on the tombs of early Christians, and it is the anchor that over the years symbolized too the strong faith of the follower of Jesus. As we gather to honor those who 50 years ago showed that enduring faith in building this beautiful shrine in this magnificent basilica, as we recall the sturdy faith that allowed the Lithuanian people of Šiluva to respond to the miraculous appearance of Our Lady who wept when the faith waned, as we draw back to the first followers of Jesus whose tombs contained that symbol of the anchor, so we renew in our families the Catholic faith, so enduring in the history of the brave people of Lithuania.  For Christ is our anchor, our strength, and His Mother Mary is our hope, our intercessor.

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