Dear brothers and sisters, why did Gospa choose to appear on Apparition Hill on this day, June 24, 1981, on the Feast of St. John the Baptist? Was that an accident or was it the day that she had chosen to visit our hill country? Today’s perspective tells us that none of this was by accident. This first day was the core of all the events that would follow.
Why did she choose John? Who was John? He was the boundary line! Placed between the Old and the New Testament, one era of history finished with him and something new started. The Gospa started her plan here with John; this means she wanted to start something really serious. We are not even aware how serious! Gospa places a model before us, when she invites us to conversion, so that we would know what conversion means. When she invites us to fast, so that we may look at John as the example! When she prepares the way for Jesus, so that John would be a model for us!
There are many similarities and connections between Mary and John – on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, 37 years ago, Gospa brought the Baby Jesus in her arms. What did she want to say by that? Probably the same as John said: Behold the Lamb of God! Behold Him, who is your peace!
John was the voice in the desert, just like Mary has been for the last 37 years. In the desert? Yes, in the desert that reigns in people, in their hearts.
Who was the first one to feel Mary’s coming and leaped for joy? It was John! In the womb of his mother Elisabeth. Have you ever thought about that: an unborn child was the first one to recognise and profess the Messiah! It was the unborn child! What a message for our time today!
Mary carried within herself, in her body, the child that was already conceived and went to the hill country, while when she came to our hill country, to our Apparition Hill, she brought baby Jesus in her arms.
Many hearts felt her coming then. So many felt her coming! First the visionaries, then parishioners and faithful from the surrounding parishes and later on people from the whole world. Yes, from the whole world! This sounds so incredible to us, yet it is so wondrous! Just like in the time of John, when Matthew writes in his Gospel: “Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the Jordan River they confessed their sins.” (Mt 3, 5-6)
By confessing. Yes, we are the witnesses to that here in Medjugorje!
Mary has chosen the feast of St. John the Baptist, but also this parish, these two hills – Apparition Hill and Cross Mountain, the church and every individual here. Two hills, as the embrace in which our Mother receives us, as the open heart, are more than just regular hills: one is Bethlehem where the Mother in her arms brought the little child Jesus, and the other is Golgotha, where this same Mother prays at the foot of the cross of her crucified Son. One hill leads us to the birth of Jesus within us, and the other takes us to resurrection.
In the fields, in the valley – the church, where we confess and where we are fed. These three things are like a triangle; no, I would rather say like a heart.
There we get the idea what Mary wants us to do – to follow her, to do what she did: to go to the hill country and to the temple; and all that she did, she did it with the heart. The hills are the invitation to exodus, to step out of the valley of our everyday thoughts and observations. We climb the hill so that we will step out of ourselves. In prayer, observations and meditations on the Rosary on Apparition Hill and the Way of the Cross on Cross Mountain, we will experience a different perspective and way of thinking. So we will, by gazing at Jesus, recognise ourselves and allow Him to mould and change our hearts.
But, our hill country, our hills are not the final goal of our journey. Luke wrote: “Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.”
Mary wants us to go to the hill country as often as we can, to climb Apparition Hill and Cross Mountain, so that we might step back from friends and from enemies, from work, from richness and poverty, from good and broken relationships, from joys and worries, so that we might all come closer to Jesus.
All of this with the purpose of going to the “town of Judah, to Zechariah’s house” – to others, but being different, changed, with Jesus in our hearts, so that when we return and greet those on the way back, their hearts may leap for joy. Even when we are in the greatest hurry and haste, when we have our worries, let us run to our hill country, to our hills, so that our steps might be slowed down and our hearts be able to enter into a different rhythm.
Let us remember Fr. Slavko Barbaric who wrote: “Our anger, curses and blasphemies, our drunkenness, drugs, fights and arguments, grumblings, insecurities, fears, anxieties and lack of sleep are just some of the signs that we have lost the rhythm that makes us happy and that gives us the opportunity to encounter ourselves, other people, nature and God. When a person is nervous and impatient, he can neither encounter himself nor others. Drugs and alcohol, wild parties, extremely loud music, noise and overindulgence in food are just the desperate attempts of men to return to a new rhythm.”
“In order for us to restore that ancient rhythm of peace, a new rhythm, we need much more time for silence today, for prayer, restful music, for the Word of God, more than we ever needed before, as there are more and more situations that pull us out of our ordinary rhythm. Therefore, many Christians who pray, fast, and for a short time, who celebrate Holy Mass in this way, who confess in the same way, are not able to enter into the new rhythm, nor do they have the strength to change anything in their lives. Salvation is in prayer, in being with God and in returning to ourselves.”
The Gospa shows us the way to move from Martha, who represents the stressful and restless life, with so many worries about what we have as being very necessary, toward how to become like her sister Mary who knows there is only one thing necessary: to know how to go to the hill country and to the temple, how to sit down at Lord’s feet and listen to His Word, by climbing on the rocky grounds or by kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, or in the confessional or before the cross, with our Rosary beads or holding a crucifix in our hands, by breaking bread and drinking water on the days of fasting, by holding the Holy Bible, by reading it and listening to it with the heart…
Mary has chosen the feast of St. John the Baptist, because John is so contemporary even today. Today, when so many do not know who they are, what is their identity, what they are not and cannot be and should not be, John gives us the example of a man who knows who he is and who he is not.
He knows and he says that he is not the Word, he is not Christ (Messiah), nor Elijah, nor the prophet. But, he also knows who he is: “I am the voice that shouts in the desert: Make straight the ways of the Lord!” John is who he is and he is fully filled with that! He is not unhappy for what he is not and what he cannot be!
Jesus says for John that he is a prophet and more than a prophet! He is the herald of the Messiah. These two statements of Jesus are clear to us, but the next one is confusing: “I tell you, of all the children born to woman, there is no one greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is.” No one is greater than John and at the same time everyone is greater than he is. How do we understand this? Indeed, in the eyes of people, no one was greater than John – this was John who in his virtuous life was above all others born to a woman. In the perspective of human nature, John reached the peak: he was very much appreciated, people looked for him. There were voices saying he was the Messiah.
If we were in his shoes, how would we react to this? Would not those be flattering voices for us? At the level where everything is about us, about ego, where we try to be someone in the eyes of others, possibly even greater than others, to be more popular than the others, to have greater knowledge, titles, more money, a new car. It is not enough to develop talents and to be capable of something, but to be famous and acknowledged, to be someone in the eyes of others.
However, John did not just remain at the level of being born to a woman, at the level of human nature, he continued to grow. He was born again and we can see that because the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is. What does this mean?
John went beyond the level where he listened to what others spoke about him and who he was in the eyes of others. Now, at the new level, at the degree of the growth of the Kingdom of God within him, in the eyes of John, everyone is greater than he is. This is John who is measuring himself before Jesus and he gets to know himself before him, he grows in wisdom and he knows: “He must icrease, I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all others and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandal.”
John teaches us that what is most important is to discover our mission, our uniqueness, to get to know ourselves and to accept ourselves, to be happy, since by so doing, we have so much space to grow and to do good.
We all were or are at the level of those born to a woman, at the level of nature, where we grow in a physical or spiritual way, where we gain knowledge, education, upbringing, culture or develop our talents…This is the level where we wish to do something, to become someone in the eyes of others, or to be greater than others, to have material possessions, to build a home, have a company, own a pansion or a hotel, to have a title and to be acknowledged.
This first level is natural, it is important not to think that this is the peak of the development of our being. Our growth should go further: that we, through the example of John, decide to grow, to descend into our own heart, to the level of God’s Kingdom within us, where we will be born again, from above.
This is what the Queen of Peace is teaching us in all of these years. Let us just remember what Jesus said to His contemporaries: “For John came to you, showing the way of uprightness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.” (Mt 21, 28-32)
The Gospa chose John as it is he who places questions before us and us in the question! As much as back in those days, so do we today have two options: we can remain at the level of the scribes who came from Jerusalem and got engaged with John wondering: Are you the Messiah? Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet? Yet, they remained unchanged. Or, we can choose to hear John and his calling to each one of us, to me personally: Convert!
We can remain at the level of those who deal with Medjugorje and wonder why the apparitions are lasting this long, what about these or those, what about this or that? Or, we can hear Mother’s calling that says: Convert! Learn how to pray with the heart. Allow God to change your heart.
It is easier to deal with John or with Medjugorje, because then WE are not put into the question. It is easier to do that rather than to hear the calling that John gave and that Mary gives because in that case we would be placed before the mirror: What about me? Do I need conversion? Is there something in my life that needs to be changed?
What about us? Are we engaged with Medjugorje? Do we count pilgrims or are we trying to hear what the Queen of Peace says to us?
Some say: a tourist, a season, a guest…it makes a big difference if I say a guest and a tourist or if I say a pilgrim. The first expression does not put me into the question, but the other one does. If this person who came from far is a pilgrim, what about me then, who am I?
There is a difference if I say: season or the time of grace throughout the year. The first expression does not oblige me, but the second one places questions before me: How do I live this time of grace? Am I missing this time given to one out of a thousand generations?
You too, dear pilgrim, can understand Medjugorje in two ways: you can seek for the comfort in your hotel or pansion, to have TV in your room, to have air conditioning and all the comforts, something that tourists do, or you can choose the way that would lead you to grow: that in the days of pilgrimage you decide to exercise life in Our Lady’s school.
You can choose prayer with the heart in silence, one day of fasting with the heart, adoring Jesus with the heart, celebrating Holy Mass with the heart, an encounter with the Merciful Father in confession, reading the Holy Bible with the heart and prayer of the Rosary on Apparition Hill and the Way of the Cross on Cross Mountain.
John opened the eyes of the people and Gospa is doing the same. Let us hear some of her words: “You, dear children, you wish to obtain graces, but you do not pray. I cannot help you as you do not want to get started…You talk, talk, talk and you do not pray….You run, collect, work and all without blessings. You do not pray!…Little children, you do not know how to live in the grace of God…You live in a time when God bestows great graces on you and you do not know how to use them. You worry for everything else, but least for your soul and your spiritual life. Wake up from the tired sleep of your soul and say Yes to God with all of your strength…Little children, you love little and pray even less. You are lost and do not know what your goal is. Take the cross and look at Jesus and follow Him.”
John and Mary are fixed not only on criticism, but both are pointing to the solution. The solution is in conversion. Fasting, of course strictly fasting on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays, in relation to prayer is profoundly related to conversion. Sometimes, we fall asleep and we think that everything is alright, but only when we start fasting do we realise how much we are missing. We miss growth. Fasting shakes us up and invites us to come out of our various types of slavery and blindness, from the things that convince us to be very important and are actually enslaving us. Fasting directs us to only one thing that is necessary, to the treasure in Heaven that will never decay.
When we begin to fast we remember the words: Remember man…and the other one: Man does not live on bread alone, but on the Word of God…
We recall John’s questions from prison given to Jesus: Are you the Messiah? What did Jesus say to John? Tell John: the deaf hear, the lame walk and the blind see…Jesus points to the fruits in people.
Also some here ask the questions: Is it true that Gospa is appearing here? What would Jesus say? Look at the fruits!
When we look at so many pilgrims who come here, we wonder what makes them come here from all the parts of the world? What makes so many come here and travel for few days, to come for fasting and prayer seminar that lasts for six days, and then back to the bus and the same long journey back home? Once you see their faces, you see that there is only pure and genuine joy on them!
They came here as Heaven is so close here. They came here because of the greatest and the most important need – the need of their soul! They are coming to discover greater love, to get to know the heart of their Merciful Father! To discover true peace that no restlessness can steal!
Therefore, you dear parishioners! You are living with temptations, but also in grace for the last 37 years. Gospa is inviting you to be like Mary, but needs are telling you that you need to be like Martha. Surely, we need to be like Martha who worries about some things, if it wasn’t for that, where would so many pilgrims be accommodated.
But, we need not to remain only at this superficial level, this is a great temptation! To justify the time when we are not at Holy Mass and when we do not pray because we have obligations. When we are so close, but within ourselves so far, then Holy Mass and prayer will be an obligation for us, but when we are within ourselves close to God, when our hearts and consciences are awakened, then Holy Mass is a need – the need of our soul!
How to wake up from Martha’s dream and not to forget there is only one thing needed and important, and to know how to spend our morning, days and evenings at the feet of the Friend of our soul?
Let us never get used to what happens here! This is a great temptation for us, to be so close, yet so far away. So close to the spring and yet thirsty and superficial, without any growth or spiritual experiences.
Let us recall the older son from the parable of the Merciful Father who was so close to the Father. He was not a bad person, he stayed with the father, worked hard, but made a mistake at some point. What did he do wrong? His heart remained undeveloped, little, narrow and hard. He did not develop, he did not grow, he did not become similar to the father and to his wide heart in which only love reigned! Why not? Because he never got to know his Father!
Also we can be living in the temptation of being here, being close, and yet not get to know what Heaven, what our Mother says to us! Let us not allow ourselves to be so close and so far away from her heart. She, our Mother, has chosen us and she intended us to have a special role. Can this be forsaken? Can we even allow that?
Let us not allow that we have developed in all that current trends offer us, but our hearts remain undeveloped – regarding what Gospa desires us to have! Or, that we enable our children to have all that trends and fashion dictates and we do not allow them the inner growth, which Gospa desires. Or, that we are fixated, staring at our mobile phones, knowing all the details and events of the world and we do not know how to see what is in our hearts!
There are parishioners who are conscientious, who fight and do not give up, those who swim against the stream! With all of their obligations they come for Holy Masses, climb Hills, pray in their families and form little prayer groups with a few members, they take into their homes, free of charge, so many disabled persons, or priests during the spiritual retreat for priests, they do so many good things that others cannot even see. These days we had the 7th International Pilgrimage for Persons with Disabilities and many have shown so much goodness to them! Persons with disabilities have awakened that goodness in them and there is the new movement of love and goodness that spreads. This is exactly what Gospa wishes to do here: to wake up goodness in us, the goodness that exists.
Finally, let us recall what Jesus said about John the Baptist: “John was a lamp lit and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light he gave.” Also for us, just like the Jews long ago, the light shone upon us on his memorial day 37 years ago….
What about us? Have we, just like the Jews, been content to enjoy the light just for one period of time and later on continued to live as if nothing particular had happened?
Let us recall: It was our grandmothers and grandfathers, our fathers and mothers, whose hearts leaped for joy 37 years ago, exactly on this day, just like Elizabeth’s heart leapt for joy when Mary visited her. This day, this feast is the opportunity for us to awaken our hearts that fell asleep, for the joy to be awakened again, for us to rise and to start anew! Only one reason is sufficient for that – the Heavenly Mother came to us!
(A very special thank you to Tea Susac for translation)