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There's Something About Mary

Five years ago, there was a break in the seal of a window at Milton Memorial Hospital. The chemicals seeped from the seal and into the window itself, mixing with the morning condensation and turning the window a milky white. The window stayed this way, a sheet of white, for five years continuously, no interruptions, until last week; last Tuesday to be precise. That day-and so far as I can tell, at first light-a ghostly apparition of the Madonna and Child appeared in the window, and they've yet to deem it time to leave.

I've not personally made the trip to Milton to see this miraculous window. In fact, until today, my only knowledge of the occurrence was some blurb of some sort I had seen on Channel Seven last week-'less of course I'm hallucinating on that account, although I'm pretty sure Channel Seven ran something about it last week. In any event, my knowledge was cursory at best, and I left it to remain a such. About twenty or so minutes before class tonight, things had their way, as they always do, of changing.


My professor, who by his own self professed definition is best described as a fairly radical liberal apathetic towards any theistic let alone religious questions, came up to me asking if I had "heard about the Virgin Mary appearing in the window in Milton." I gave a relatively dismissive "no", and he went on to tell me that he had been down there yesterday and checked it out. This absolutely puzzled me, my professor being the way he is and all, but I let it go, giving a general "whatever" to the entire situation. But, that said, he brought it up again, this time in class. We were discussing Henry Adams's "The Dynamo and the Virgin." According to most interpretations, in this essay, the Virgin represents everything the age of modernism cannot replicate for all of its technology and innovation; the modern world, upon whose cusp Adams stood, could not replicate the force of the Virgin that he (a Unitarian) had found so maintained the lives of the people in France. This is a very short summation of the interpretation, but I think it clear. My professor thought it was pretty cool how he assigned this reading around the same time this window apparition began to appear, and while musing on the relatively strange timing, he began to relate to the rest of the class his own experience of seeing the Virgin in the window.

There was something keen about hearing the professor exclaiming his story; perhaps because it happened yesterday, perhaps it was his account of shouting "f@$k" immediately upon seeing it and then trying to explain to an army of Catholics that he didn't mean to blaspheme or anything of the sort but that rather, in his words, "it's just that, this is an image of Mary if I ever saw one!" Perhaps, just perhaps, it is the very fact of seeing and hearing my theistically apathetic professor recount his story with a genuine jubilance, as though the occurrence sparked off a light long since dimmed. Whatever it is, it's there-I mean to say both in the after affect upon my professor and the image that still is in the window.

Again, I've not seen this apparition myself, so I'm no where near making any affirmative call on it, regardless of the direction. All of the background information that has been dug up seems to rule out a hoax-the stuff is there, it's just a question of whether or not you see it-and so far as anyone can tell, this really did just appear one morning. So, I suppose that leaves the question: what's this all about?

I'm not going to claim that I believe this to be an apparition-though the facts at least add some substance, though not necessarily validate. I will claim that people are seeing something. Possibly it is providential, possibly it is not, but as of today, upwards of 25,000 people have gone to this hospital and seen the same thing, the Mother of God and Child. Possibly it is providential; since around the second century, Mary has become, in the all of the apostolic Christian traditions, but most especially Catholicism, the Help of Christians; in times of desperation, Mary is called upon; there is a certain mercy in the Divine Mother that beckons her to our lowly prayers, so, in this time wherein the Church is reeling in a profound moral, theological, and spiritual crisis, people search for some sign or wonder; a beacon, if you will, to provide a light in the black.

If one is not Catholic, then one can scarcely understand how leagues of men and women could be rending themselves unto this alleged apparition utterly. I tell you, after some forty years of anguish, loss and despair, this simple window-that could very well be little more than a freak accident-is the first sign of hope. Despite the suppression of authentic Catholic theology and spirituality, despite liberal and conservative dissent-if not outright heresy-plaguing the Church, despite even a hierarchy seeming impotent to stop it, the Faith, that is to say, the Mystica Corpus Christi, far transcends any of her human members, such that when the human condition lends itself to corruption instead of sanctity, She survives, guided by the invisible, the absolute, the divine.

I often hear groups like Voice of the Fuddled (a term of endearment to them) claim for themselves the title of "Church," this is in the face of the very founder of the Church. Christ himself is the founder of the Church, hence the Church is divine per the clause that Christ founds the Church in complete obedience to the Divine Will-Jesus founds His Church in complete obedience, thus, we may draw the allusion that we are only "Church" in so far that we are in complete obedience to divine will. This applies to everyone, be they Pope, priest, or laity. Granted, there are varying degrees of severity, both positive and negative, and this is most evident in recent circumstances, however, illustrating these recent circumstances is beyond the scope of what is intended herein. Simply, these are the times when it seems all manifestations of the physical component of the Mystica Corpus Christi have failed; these days, the faithful-the truly faithful-await a new Saint Benedict, Saint Dominic or St. Francis of Assisi and a growing number gaze towards a future dangerous and uncertain with the hope of a new Pius V. Thus far, the assessment for such returns seems relatively bleak, as such they are looking for a sign, as I've said, that even though the Church seems bound in the blackest darkness, there is a light somewhere along the way, some sign that Christ still hears the prayers. This is, in my own estimation, why the occurrences with this window mean so much. Indeed, we have liberal ideologues dismissing it as poppycock superstition immediately, and we have conservative ideologues claiming it's the Blessed Mother's stance against abortion-as though in an age when we have priests and bishops denying the veracity of the Resurrection (as one example) not too mention the wide spread doctrinal and spiritual depravation, that the Virgin's greatest concern for the Church is abortion-and yet, the majority of people visiting this window seem to be left cold by either liberal or conservative concerns, rather, they are simply searching for the Catholic faith, pure and unadulterated, as it hasn't been since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. True, those days prior to Pope John's council were not the glory days of Holy Mother Church, but should one ever commit oneself to serious research of the era, the alleged "problems" of that era that supposedly affected the Church were of no detriment to the laity, rather, they were primarily the bane of the theologians. The theologians, the people who read so very much about God, but seem to know-at least as it has been the last two hundred years-so very little about Him. It didn't matter that Josef (now Cardinal) Ratzinger and his buddies had their theories suppressed; that mattered very little to the faithful. For although certain theologians may have found their musings a little less than well received, the faithful still had their religion, pure and true.

During the reign of Pius XII, Catholics seemed to have had it easy. The Magisterium was decisive in its pronouncements, and were there to be any confusion, the Pope would pro-offer, resulting from a profound theological and spiritual meditation, the final answer, clearing away any ambiguity. Since his death, those days seem forever gone. Today the Magisterium not only seems unsure of itself, but ignorant as well, having, at times, no preservation of the Church's two thousand years of Tradition, pronouncing upon matters with little or no knowledge of previous era's understandings and how these impact present day studies. The Pope too, far from settling the ambiguity, only seems to add to it. The physical component seemingly paralyzed, the faithful turn to the spiritual component, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, someone will hear. One day, you look up, and there's a window with the image of the Blessed Virgin suddenly appearing on it; maybe someone will hear; maybe, just maybe, someone has answered.

Yet, if the affairs in the Church were not enough, the affairs in the world may very well be. Again, some forty years ago, Cold War politics pushed the world to the very edge of a nuclear standoff gone mad. Still, the world did not end, and after the Vietnam War finally simmered it seemed as though the UN could work, the world's global powers could work together, it seemed as though the bloody lessons of the first half of the twentieth century had been learnt and now would begin a gradual process civilized interactions would begin. Arguably, four years ago all of the alleged progress towards this new civilized world was set upon a path of self-destruction; the button has been pushed and the count down is excellerating. The new millennium dawned with much fanfare in the streets, but little in the skies, but look back to your year two thousand and see how much the world has changed in three years. I ask you, do you recall that peace, the sense of ease? Where has it gone? A gradual attrition, a slow economic decline and ever louder beating of war drums. True, there is no mass economic collapse, and certainly no global conflict plunging us back into light outs and food rationing, but we've seen a steady wave refusing to subside. Perhaps T.S. Elliot is correct, the world doesn't end with a bang, but a whimper.

In the end, whatever the motivations for seeing it, people are seeing something. Decidedly, there is an image in that window. Whether it is God sent or otherwise is debatable, but the people crowding the hospital are seeing it, the question then is not so much "what" as it is "from whom?"