From thearchives - Published from 1982-96, Fidelity magazine was the predecessor of Culture Wars.
Our Lady of America
by E. Michael Jones
From the December 1983 issue of Fidelity magazine
It is a terrible misfortune when there is not to be found one really interior soul among all those at the head of important Catholic projects. Then it seems as though the supernatural had undergone an eclipse, and the power of God were in chains. And the saints teach us that, when this happens, a whole nation may fall into a decline, and Providence will seem to have given men a free hand to do all the harm they desire.
The Soul of the Apostolate
The Blessed Mother first appeared to Sister Mildred on September 25, 1956, the eve of the Feast of the American Martyrs. In the days before the apparitions occurred, strange things had been happening. Sister Mildred had just recently been transferred to the water cure staffed by her order of nuns in Indiana to wait on tables, but had not been happy about the move. When she got to her new room, she felt, as she said later, “like jumping out of the window.” She left her room that night and went to the chapel, but the feeling did not leave her. “It seemed to me,” she said, “like I was in a ring of evil. I couldn’t get out of it, and it was telling me to get out of there.”
One night she awoke with the sense that something was perched on her pillow a little behind her head. Before she could discern just what it was, she felt it grab her face across the eyes and pull down on them. “Like this,” she said and made a motion which implied that whatever it was had claws. She found no marks on her face afterward though. The next day she went to her superior and asked to be transferred back to Ligonier. She could have gone if she had found someone to wait on tables in her stead, but couldn’t and so didn’t and as a result had her first encounter with the Blessed Mother instead. “The evil spirit knew that,” she said later, “and wanted to get me out of there.”
Following the Blessed Mother’s instructions, Sister Mildred first told her spiritual advisor about the apparitions and then her bishop the late Paul F. Leibold, who had a medal struck commemorating the occasion and allowed a brochure to be printed which bears his imprimatur and a nihil obstat of the current Archbishop of Cincinnati, Daniel Pilarczyk.
A plaque too was presented to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, which the Blessed Mother suggested as a pilgrimage site. All of this happened twenty years ago; little has been done to promote the message since that time.
During her apparitions the Blessed Mother said that she wanted to be known as Our Lady of America. She also said that her main concern was that Americans come to understand the meaning of the interior life, “the divine presence,” as Sister Mildred put it, “the indwelling presence within us of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
“Everybody” she continued, “is supposed to be a contemplative. Everybody should meditate even if it’s only a few minutes a day. “At another point she specified meditating “at least ten minutes a day.” “Sometimes you’re in the mood for talking with God. Tell him everything like you’d tell a good friend. Other times you just want to listen. That’s where your inspirations come. You can’t really know yourself unless you give Him a chance.”
The connection between America and the interior life has been the subject of official Church pronouncements as well. In his apostolic Letter Testem Benevolentiae, written to Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore on January 22, 1899, Pope Leo XIII warned against the spiritual deficiency which has come to be known as “Americanism.”
In addition to attacking the principle
that in order the more easily to bring over to Catholic doctrine those who dissent from it the Church ought to adapt herself somewhat to our advanced civilization and, relaxing her ancient rigor, show some indulgence to modern popular theories and methods
(Certainly a prophetic condemnation), the Pope condemned what might be termed “the heresy of good works.” “Those who affect these novelties,” the letter continues
extol beyond measure the natural virtues as more in accordance with the ways and requirements of the present day, and consider it an advantage to be richly endowed with them, because they make a man more ready and more strenuous in action.
It is hard to understand how those who are imbued with Christian principles can place the natural ahead of the spiritual virtues and attribute to them greater power and fecundity.
The so-called Americanist controversy is an issue of some historical complexity stemming ironically from a French translation of the life of Father Isaac Hecker, but beyond any consideration of historical intricacies the fact remains that the name of this country has been associated with a certain spiritual distractedness, with superficiality, with an over-emphasis on natural means and a corresponding neglect of the interior life, with exalting the active over the contemplative, with the heresy of good works. Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard refers to it by name in his spiritual classic The Soul of The Apostolate:
By contemplating the soul is fed; by the apostolate it gives itself away . . . . Contemplata aliis tradere: prayer remains at the source of this ideal of the apostolate. Such is the unmistaking meaning of St. Thomas.
This passage . . . (is) an open condemnation of so-called “Americanism” the partisans of which envisage a mixed life in which contemplation is strangled by activity.
In America we have three ways of dealing with the interior life - all of them equally wrong. They are diversion, subversion, and over-activity. Before meeting Sister Mildred I had lunch in a bar in a small town in Ohio which didn’t serve very good food but which did have a state of the art video game which went into action by playing the beginning of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor to a disco beat. The player then occupied himself for the next minute or so by firing little missiles of light at spaceships which attacked while flying out of a three-dimensional, multi-colored, computer-designed vortex. At the other end of the bar, a regular TV set was playing regular soap operas about attractive people with acute personal problems. There is no need at this point to go through the list of electronic diversions Americans have created for themselves to keep their minds off more important things. Americans, probably more than any people since the creation of the world, can so fill up their lives with diversions that the small voice of the Holy Spirit (or a bad conscience) can’t be heard above the noise.
Then there are those who react to the physical junk by turning to mental junk, a tactic which might be called the subversion of the interior life. “Quite suddenly,” gushes Marilyn Ferguson describing the New Age movement in her book The Aquarian Conspiracy,
In this decade, these deceptively simple systems (of transcendence) and their literature, the riches of many cultures, are available to whole populations, both in their original form and in contemporary adaptations.
Drug-store racks and airport newsstands offer the wisdom of the ages in paperback. University extension classes and weekend seminars, adult education courses and commercial centers are offering techniques that help people connect to new sources of personal energy, integration harmony.
These systems aim to fine tune mind and body, expand the brain’s sensing to bring participants to a new awareness of vast untapped potential.
Citing the historian Arnold Toynbee, Ferguson states that “a creative minority are ‘turning to the inner world of the psyche.’” “This is an era when apocalyptic visions are to be fulfilled. We are on the brink of a new life, entering a new domain.” The author of that last statement is the noted spiritual writer, Henry Miller, who, Ferguson notes without irony, made his claim about being on the “brink of new life” just before the outbreak of World War II and sometime after completing The Tropic of Cancer, his own contribution to spiritual peace.
The third danger to the spiritual life is over activity. It most often afflicts people of good will (although not exclusively) and involves the proliferation of good works or (more frequently) work for good causes to the point where they choke off the interior life. Pope Leo XIII once told a religious superior who was thinking of closing down the cloister so her nuns could take teaching positions:
We learn that an opinion is current to the extent that you ought to put in the front rank the education of the young, and leave your religious profession in the second place, on the grounds that the spirit and the needs of the time make this necessary. It is altogether against our wish that such an opinion should receive any weight with you or with any other religious institute which, like yours, has education as its object. Let it be taken as a firmly established truth, as far as you are concerned, that the religious life is vastly superior to the common life, and that even if you have grave obligations to your neighbor, in your duty to teach, far more grave still are the obligations that bind you to God.
“The contemplative life,” says the Angelic Doctor, “is simply better ... and more powerful than the active.” According to Our Lady of America each person is called to cultivate the interior life.
Her message for America also involves the sanctification of the family. In a sense the two messages coincide, the family is after all an “interior” - the more so when pernicious influences like television are kept out and its life is allowed to develop its own rhythms. The family is both an image and a vehicle for sanctification from within. “It is the wish of my Son,” said Our Lady of America to Sister Mildred,
that fathers and mothers strive to imitate me and my chaste spouse in our holy life at Nazareth. We practiced the simple virtues of family life, Jesus our son being the center of all our love and activity. The Holy Trinity dwelt with us in a manner far surpassing anything that can ever be imagined, for ours was the earthly paradise where once again God walked among men . . . . The Divine Trinity will dwell in your midst if only you are faithful in practicing the values of life at Nazareth. Then, you also, my children you also will become another paradise. God will then walk among you and you will have peace.
St. Louis DeMontfort too discusses the connection between the interior life and family life in his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The reprobate, he tells us,
are hardly at all or at least very little at their own homes – that is to say, in their own interior, which is the inward and essential house which God has given to every man to live there after his example; for God always rests in Himself. The reprobate do not love retirement, nor spirituality, nor inward devotion, and they treat as little, or as bigots, or as savages, those who are interior or retired from the world and who work more from within than from without.
Sister Mildred learned the truth of DeMontfort’s warning the hard way. As part of the specious renewal of religious life in this country, one based often times on a willful misunderstanding of the Second Vatican Council, and as a result of internal dissension within the order, the Sisters of the Precious Blood terminated their cloister. Sister Mildred, because she chose to remain in the contemplative life, was forced to leave her order along with one other nun and the foundress of the order, who was in her seventies at the time. The foundress has since died and now Sister Mildred and her fellow sister lead the contemplative life in a house across from a nearby Union Carbide plant. They are now attempting to breed dogs as a way of supporting themselves. Sister Mildred still feels betrayed and considers her anger a sign of her own spiritual imperfection. “You’d think having the visions would make a difference,” she said as I drove her away from the former cloister, “but they don’t. The anger is fading, but the pain will always be with me.”
In reaction perhaps to this country’s spectacular physical achievements, Our Lady of America promises miracles of the soul. There is nothing apocalyptic about Her messages; however, She does say that the time is late (She was saying this in the late ‘50s.) and predicts that punishments will come if people do not pray and do penance for their sins. The change in American mores over the past 25 years indicates that the message has gone un-heeded. It is also an indication that the punishment has already arrived, and, if the message continues to go unheeded, the present will only be a sign of what the future holds in store.
Culture Wars •