The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart From Sea to Shining Sea?| National Catholic Register

Why now?

There is something afoot in the United States, something profoundly Catholic.

Perhaps it takes an outsider to notice such things.

Last year, the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization sent shockwaves not just through the United States but across the world. But this overruling of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was, it seems, just a beginning.

The rest of the world watches your country in ways that may surprise you. For many decades now, the American influence on non-American lives continues unabated, far beyond its gleaming shores. Your news becomes our news.

So, in recent weeks, Europe has heard of something seemingly miraculous. A hitherto obscure Benedictine nun by the name of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster came back from the grave — quite literally — and, in so doing, hit the headlines around the world. The news media, with a taste for the sensational, speculated and commented enthusiastically on her well-preserved body. But, perhaps, that was the least significant aspect of that nun’s story.

Born in 1924, Sister Wilhelmina had grown up during a time of segregation in a devoutly Catholic African American family. From a young age, she felt called to enter religious life and did so. She lived through the turmoil following the Second Vatican Council. She continued to wear her religious habit when her community had long since discarded it and expected her to do likewise. Her life from an early age was marked by rejection and ridicule born of racial prejudice. Later, she would experience hostility to her faith and opposition to her desire to live an authentically religious life as a vowed sister. All of this suffering simply made her stronger.

At 70 years old, in 1995, she resolved to found a monastery. And she did. Today, that monastery, Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, in Gower, Missouri, flourishes. It seems likely that the events of recent weeks — the revelation of the potentially incorrupt body of the foundress — will only increase the numbers of young women responding to the call to become a bride of Christ.

A story has been reported of Sister Wilhelmina, which dates from a time after many years of misunderstanding if not outright enmity from her former fellow religious. One day a fellow sister in her former order pointed to Sister Wilhelmina’s religious habit and asked her if she was going to persist in wearing it. Her reply: “I am Sister WIL-HEL-MINA — I’ve a HELL of a WILL and I MEAN it!”

There is something in that reply, indeed in her life, which is, to a non-American, solidly, if somewhat undefinably, American. On one level, there is the rugged individualism and courage that is displayed in countless movies of the Old West. There is humor, too, in her words. But also on display is a will of steel, a willingness not only to stand up for something, something right, but to persist in so doing, no matter the cost.

Sister Wilhelmina’s unexpected return from the grave, one witnessed by television crews and newspaper outlets, was as curious as unprecedented in the United States. Equally unexpected were the crowds that have flocked to see her body. In former times, one might have anticipated such scenes in Catholic countries such as France or Italy. That such displays are occurring in the United States in the year 2023 is a wonder to behold. To those watching them from abroad, they remind us that, regardless of what much of the mainstream media and corporate boardrooms would have you believe, America is a religious country. However, we are not witnessing some evangelical revival in the Bible Belt, but the intense interest in a nun’s witness and life. This points to a deeply Catholic desire to reverence holiness; and this is taking place at the center of the American continent.

However, this reverence and interest comes at a time as that same land is indeed undergoing a revival: the National Eucharistic Revival predicated upon another “Body,” namely, Corpus Christi. This initiative from the U.S. bishops has grown out of a pastoral necessity. Recent surveys suggested that many U.S. Catholics do not understand the full extent of the gift of the Holy Eucharist present in tabernacles within Catholic churches up and down the land. Yet, even if many do not recognize that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, he remains truly present.

One of the surprising features of the Eucharistic Revival is pilgrimage. New pilgrim ways have been designated across the United States — from the four winds, pilgrims will traverse routes past shrines including the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama — lovingly built by EWTN foundress Mother Angelica to honor our Eucharistic Lord — before converging in the center of the continent at the National Eucharistic Congress taking place in Indianapolis, July 17-21, 2024. All of this is more reminiscent of Catholic Europe than the America of the Pilgrim Fathers.

And this witness is indeed needed.

As Pope Francis told the congress’ organizers June 19 at the Vatican:

“In the Eucharist, we encounter the One who gave everything for us, who sacrificed himself in order to give us life, who loved us to the end. It is my hope, then, that the Eucharistic Congress will inspire Catholics throughout the country to discover anew the sense of wonder and awe at the Lord’s great gift of himself and to spend time with him in the celebration of the holy Mass and in personal prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.”

And it is equally interesting that when one looks at a map and traces the lines of the pilgrimage routes and their destination, it is as if a cross is being drawn across the United States, or maybe, more correctly, it is as if a holy cross is being drawn down upon a people.

At the same time, there is a renaissance taking place in the Catholic arts. Nowhere is this more so than in classical music, with the likes of Frank LaRocca, Mark Nowakowski and Michael Kurek. All these men have three things in common: They are classical composers working in America today; they are Catholic, all, to some extent, “reverts” to the faith — and, in recent months, they have all topped the Billboard charts with their music. In addition to this, much of this chart-topping music has been not just overtly religious but overtly Catholic.

For years, the cry might have gone up: “Can anything good come out of San Francisco?” — given the decadent reputation that city has suffered in recent decades. Today, it appears there is something good that is coming from the City by the Bay: the Benedict XVI Institute. This artistic mission is spearheading and coordinating the musical conversion of America and beyond. It is doing so through its Old World combination of patronage and encouragement of artists, while, all the time, linking the gifts of the artists to their faith in general and, in particular, to the Holy Eucharist. From San Francisco, the Eucharistic Revival in America is being carried to the ears of the world through music.

And if there are stirrings of mission and revival in, of all places, San Francisco, then something is definitely afoot in the United States.

When Benjamin Franklin came to London as a young man on Christmas Eve 1724, he found work in a printer’s shop housed in a building that had once been a church. The site of his work had been no ordinary church, however, but the ruins of the Lady Chapel of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Smithfield. In that chapel, in the 12th century, a Marian apparition was reported to have occurred to a friar.

To my mind at least, this speaks of a curious link between the Catholic, decidedly Marian, faith of Medieval England and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Immaculate Heart of Mary is today the patroness of the country that Franklin helped to establish. In the centuries that followed, much has been talked about, mainly by politicians, regarding America’s unique destiny. Maybe it does indeed have such a role to play for the world. If so, however, then it must be one linked to the true destiny of all mankind.

So why these things — a seemingly incorrupt body, Catholic music and Eucharistic Revival — and why now? Perhaps the answer to these questions has to do with the oft-quoted words from the beginning of the 20th century, words that speak of great evils but also of, in the end, a triumph in and through an Immaculate Heart.

Is this it?

The coming triumph of the Immaculate Heart beginning to be glimpsed from sea to shining sea?


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