Photo: Felix Carroll
Brother Chris Alar, MIC, speaking at the Marians' Divine Mercy Weekend conference.
'Mary, Mercy, and Souls'
By Dan Valenti (Apr 14, 2012)
"Mary, Mercy, and Souls" — not a bad way to kick off Divine Mercy Weekend. In fact, according to one participant at the conference of that title sponsored by the Marian Fathers, "It was a great way to get into this holy weekend."
The conference — held 10 a.m. to noon at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington, Mass., just a five-minute drive from Eden Hill, home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge — featured three Marian speakers, each reflecting on an aspect of the triune theme.
An Opening in Song
The Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi began the conference with a beautiful song, and Fr. Larry Dunn, MIC, led the assembly in prayer. The Regnum Christi choir also sang to begin the second half of the conference, after the break, and at the conclusion. In addition, the choir will sing at the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass on Eden Hill.
The presence of these college-aged women provided an uplifting testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of youth and young adults. Each woman is discerning a vocation to live a consecrated life in community with like-minded lay colleagues. If they continue through to their vows, they will live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience in assistance to Holy Mother Church in whatever might be needed. In many ways, the Regnum Christi mission matches that of the Marian Fathers: Give help where the need is greatest, for Christ and His Church.
Speaking to about 120 Marian Helpers were Br. Esteban Ybarra, MIC ("Mary, Mercy, and Souls Through the Eyes of Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski, founder of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception"), Fr. Larry ("Mary, Mercy, and Souls through the Eyes of St. Faustina Kowalska, Apostle and Secretary of Divine Mercy"), and Br. Chris Alar, MIC ("How These Two Saints [sic] Influenced My Vocation and Ministry with the Marian Fathers").
Mercy, Mary, and the Holy Souls: Inseparable
Brother Esteban, MIC, began by telling the assembly that when he searched for what to say, he realized it wasn't about what he wanted say to the audience but, rather, "what the Holy Spirit needs you to hear."
"Mary, mercy, and souls: You can't separate them," Br. Esteban said. During his religious studies, one of the key insights he said he gained into the spirituality of Blessed Stanislaus was that "he never spoke about these [three] things separately." God weaves each of the three into a tapestry, so that any one continually reinforces the other two.
"Divine Mercy is not new to the Marian Fathers," Br. Esteban said. "Blessed Stanislaus realized that his whole life was [to be] about mercy and devotion to Mary" for the good of souls. He quoted Blessed Stanislaus writing that "God gave us a burnt offering — His only Son." The consequence of this gift, freely given to sinful humankind for our redemption, is that we learn to "trust in divine providence, trust in Divine Mercy." That was the basis of Blessed Stanislaus's spirituality, Br. Esteban said, and it should be the basis of ours.
Brother Esteban pointed out the circularity of how "the Father gives up His only Son, and the Son gives up His mother" on the cross, a reference to John 19:26-7: "When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said, 'Woman, behold, your son.' The He said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother.'" That moment, Br. Esteban said, was "the birth of Divine Mercy."
"She stood at the cross. How many of us now do that?" It was one of the rarest of questions: One that is both rhetorical and actual at the same time.
Brother Esteban then traced the long road and often-lonely road of Blessed Stanislaus in founding the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. He was thrown out of his previous congregation, jailed, left impoverished, and given rejects from other religious orders. Yet, through it all, he didn't give up. He wanted only to do God's will.
Part of that will, Br. Esteban said, was praying for the Holy Souls in purgatory, which Blessed Stanislaus called "the greatest thing you can do." With great devotion to Our Lady and complete trust in God's holy will, Blessed Stanislaus established a Congregation of priests and brothers who to this day follow in his footsteps in spreading mercy throughout the world.
"[Blessed Stanislaus's] whole life was about our crucified Lord," Br. Esteban said. "His whole life was about prayer. His whole life was about mercy. We must follow that example, as best we can. All of us," Br. Esteban concluded, "are called" in this way.
'One of the Old Guys' Spins His Wisdom
Father Larry Dunn, MIC, followed Br. Esteban, noting that he had a tough act to follow.
"You've just heard from one of the young members of the Marians, and now you're going to hear from one of the old guys," Fr. Larry said. How old? "I'm so old that I remember when the Dead Sea was just sick."
With that icebreaker, Fr. Larry spoke about St. Faustina's extraordinary relationship with Our Lady.
"The Blessed Mother presents herself to St. Faustina as a mother and a teacher," Fr. Larry said, referring to passage 1414 in the Diary of St. Faustina: "The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Before Holy Communion, I saw the Blessed Mother inconceivably beautiful. Smiling at me, she said to me, 'My daughter, at God's command I am to be, in a special and exclusive way, your Mother; but I desire that you, too, in a special way be my child.'"
Father Larry said "as a mother, Mary guides, protects, and personally nurtures her vocation." In return, St. Faustina "knew she was Mary's child, and we must know that, too." Father Larry then gave several examples of how St. Faustina relied on Mary for guidance, particularly when she was scared and needed surety and direction.
In Diary passage 1097, Fr. Larry says, we can see how closely and tenderly St. Faustina held this relationship with Our Lady: "Since that time, I have been living under the virginal cloak of the Mother of God. She has been guarding me and instructing me. I am quite at peace, close to her Immaculate Heart. Because I am so weak and inexperienced, I nestle like a little child to her heart."
"A mom will always protect her child," Fr. Larry said, adding that we, too, can enjoy this relationship with Mary.
In addition to being her spiritual mother, Our Lady also helped St. Faustina as a teacher, Fr. Larry said. "In her role as a teacher, the Blessed Mother taught [St. Faustina] how to abandon herself to the will of God." In the same way, he said, we, too, should abandon ourselves to the will of God and to accept all that God allows in our lives. We can pray to Mary, asking for her help in this, which, incidentally, is one of the insistent themes of Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, when he speaks of Our Lady.
Father Larry said Mary taught St. Faustina three great virtues: humility, purity, and love of God. In turn, Mary teaches us, as well, because "the Blessed Mother wants us to radiate these virtues." Father Larry, a deliberate writer and speaker, selected a word that perfectly describes the laity's role in doing God's work. We must not only possess these virtues, we must "radiate" them. This implies sharing the Good News through our words and actions. It was a great example of diction, that is, the strategic use of a particular word by a gifted writer or speaker.
'I am dumbfounded that God could love us that much!'
Brother Chris, the final speaker, tied the two previous presentations together in his talk on how Blessed Stanislaus and St. Faustina influenced him, personally, in his vocation and ministry with the Marian Fathers.
Brother Chris noted how prior to joining the Marians, he was a man much in the world, with all that implies: "I have done some really bad things," he said. Yet, in a sense, he pointed out that his sinfulness enabled him to have a greater appreciation of God's mercy, love, and forgiveness. "I am dumfounded that God could love us that much!" he exclaimed. Brother Chris thus brought home how God transforms our sins, even the greatest and most heinous, with His mercy. The reprieved soul, the one who feels this forgiveness to the core, can only respond with a sense of awe and gratefulness.
Brother Chris then shared a story about his grandmother, who committed suicide 10 years ago. Like many, he thought the Church condemned those who commit suicide. However, the intervention of a kind priest taught him a profound lesson about mercy: That for we human beings, stuck inside time, the past is unredeemable. For God, though, who exists outside of time, part, present, and future exist as one holy continuum. Brother Chris said he learned that because of this, he could pray for his grandmother, not in the past tense of her desperate action but in the present tense of God's intervention. He could help her "now," a word that cannot apply to God except to say that He is always "now" — always was and always shall be.
God is so great and powerful, so loving and merciful, that he can take our prayers, today, and apply them to past or future action. "Your prayers," Br. Chris said he was taught, "are as efficacious now as they were then" in helping the soul of his grandmother.
"Prayer is always helpful," even for souls long dead. This inkling gave him a profound taste of God's mercy and ignited the first spark of his vocation. What protected that spark from being blown out? After all, Chris Alar at the time was an entrepreneur, a successful businessman, prone to the temptations the world can throw at a young man with money.
He had heard about the Marian Fathers and through them, the Diary of St. Faustina. Today, these many years later, he points to Diary passage 687 as tipping point. This one, brief paragraph, he says, "changed my life."
Once, as I was going down the hall to the kitchen, I heard these words in my soul: "Say unceasingly the chaplet that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death. Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy. I desire that the whole world know My infinite mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to these souls who trust in My mercy.
That one passage fanned the spark, and it ignited a spiritual thirst in Br. Chris that could only be relieved through the pursuit of a religious vocation. Which congregation should he choose? Brother Chris says there wasn't a lot of angst involved.
The more he learned about Blessed Stanislaus and his great love for God's mercy and how he entrusted himself completely to God through the efficacy and intercession of Our Lady, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception — it became clear — offered him a spiritual home. He, too, was attracted to mercy. He, too, wanted Mary's maternal care.
Brother Chris says he also wanted a congregation that prayed for the souls in purgatory, based on Blessed Stanislaus's counsel that the greatest good anyone can do is pray for the Holy Souls. When we show mercy to others, Br. Chris said, that is our way of giving back to God, and it is perhaps the greatest good we can do to help the souls in purgatory, who cannot help themselves.
He then shared a couple of interesting facts about the Marian Fathers, a community of about 500 priests and brothers. First, the Marians are the first religious community in the world to be devoted to Our Lady's Immaculate Conception. Second, they are the only men's congregation that prays for the souls in purgatory as one of its charisms or missions.
"What does this mean to you?" Br. Chris asked, bringing it all home. It means that we are invited, asked, and called "to participate in the mission of the Marian Fathers. We each have a vocation, given by God, to spread mercy. All of you are part of something very, very special."
The conference concluded with a bit of news. Kelly Wahlquist, who works for the Marians as assistant director of parish evangelization, introduced the HAPP program — Hearts Afire Programs for the New Evangelization. HAPP brings together small parish groups with the intention of renewing faith, deepening their love of God, and inspiring works of mercy at the local level.
The program will be formally introduced during the EWTN Divine Mercy Sunday telecast from Eden Hill.
Learn how you can become a Marian Helper — helping the Marians to spread the message of The Divine Mercy and devotion to Mary Immaculate.