Our Lady of Good Help, the New Evangelization, and the Priest

Allow me to begin by making two confessions: I arrived at the Monastery of the Holy Name of Jesus in Denmark, Wisconsin, on Friday afternoon. I am an old friend of the nuns and try to visit them at least once a year. Two of the nuns, formerly active religious sisters, served with me at the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Washington, NJ. I am proud to say that I helped them discern their vocations to Carmel. These two nuns were among the first Carmelites to come to the Diocese of Green Bay to form a new Carmelite monastery. This thriving community had its humble beginnings in 1992 right here at, what was known then simply as The Chapel. They took up residence at their new monastery in Denmark, Wisconsin, in 2002. They have a comfortable retreat house for priests and are eager to welcome you for a quiet time of prayer and rest. If you are not already acquainted with them, I recommend that you stop by one day soon for a visit to entrust your prayer requests to them.

My confession is that, having visited the nuns many times during the ten years that they were here, I did not take the apparition of Our Lady of Good Help seriously. The devotion of the local people was evident at The Chapel, but the message did not attract my interest. Perhaps one or another of you can make a similar admission.

I first took notice of the apparition when Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay approved the Mariophany as “worthy of belief” on December 8, 2010. On that occasion he said:

I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions, and locutions given to Adele Brise in 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful.

Having taught ecclesiology for a number of years at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, I often told the students that the bishop, among his other responsibilities, must judge the authenticity of charisms in the local church. In other words, the bishop has the charism of discerning true from false charismatic gifts. We know this from the facts that the bishop must approve new religious congregations and lay ecclesial movements in his local church. He alone in the local church may call a man to Holy Orders. He begins and ends the process that may lead to the beatification of a member of the church. As Bishop Ricken did in 2010, the bishop acknowledges the supernatural character of a manifestation of heaven on earth — in the case we are considering, the approval of a Mariophany and the cult that flows from it.

I further came to appreciate the significance of the apparition when I read Fr. Edward Looney’s article entitled “Called to Evangelize: Adele Brise and the Mariophany that Changed her Life.” It was published in the 2011 edition of Marian Studies, the journal of the Mariological Society of America. Incidentally, the Marian Studies website notes that Fr. Looney’s article is the most-often read item ever on their popular website. Fr. Looney’s article led me to the narrative of the apparition by Sr. Pauline La Plante, a close friend of Sr. Adele, and Sr. M. Dominica. Reflecting on the message of the Mariophany in the wake of the current clergy sex-abuse crisis and its cover-up, I began to sense the relationship of the charismatic event at Champion to the New Evangelization of formerly Christian countries, an enterprise so explicitly desired by recent popes, and so desperately needed in the USA.

My second confession is that I spent all morning and afternoon on Saturday writing today’s talk. I wrote out six or seven pages detailing the sex-abuse crisis. In the text, I criticized the behavior of Theodore McCarrick, and noted terrible crimes chronicled in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, highlighting the grave harm to the victims. I spent a few pages imputing motives to abusive bishops and priests and to those involved in the cover-ups. In the text, I vented the anger, shame, and disgust that I am sure we have all been experiencing since the McCarrick story broke on June 20, 2018.

Around 4:30pm on Saturday, I received a phone call and thoughtlessly shut down the computer. When I returned to my task, I discovered that I had lost everything I had written except for the three introductory paragraphs. I immediately felt the Holy Spirit telling me: Do not go in that direction. They do not need you to tell that what is going on. Do not throw a keg of dynamite on the fire! The technological mishap led me to acknowledge my enduring anger, resentment toward bishops, and hurt. I believe that many of you are able to make the same admission.

I make these admissions to say that I have repented of considering myself in the past too sophisticated to listen to the Spirit speaking through Adele Brise. I also have made the firm resolution to present some ways out of the contemporary crisis — solutions provided by the Lord himself in his gracious revelation of Divine Truth. If we take a deep breath in the midst of out anger and discouragement, and turn within, we may recognize that we are currently experiencing what is perhaps the most significant Theophany of our lifetime. The Almighty is chastising and cleansing his Church before our very eyes.

Consequently, in this presentation I will attempt to examine the experience Adele Brise had on October 9, 1859; a supernatural event that brought a poor, immigrant daughter of a farmer from Belgium into a charismatic encounter with the Mother of God for the implantation of the Church in the state of Wisconsin. I shall also attempt to explore with you the enduring truths of the message of Our Lady of Champion for bishops and priests who have the mission to engage in the New Evangelization in the wake of the ecclesial tsunami of 2018.

Hoping to concentrate on the solution rather than the problem, I do not want to overlook or forget in any way the victims of clerical sexual abuse and their families. Today is, in a particular way, a day of prayer for them and reparation for those who sinned gravely against them. We entrust them to the Mother of God who will accompanies them in their pain with a chaste, life-giving love.

A Glance at the Message of the Queen of Heaven to Adele Brise

At the time of the apparition, Adele Brise was a mature young woman in her late twenties. Her family and the Church in Belgium had formed her well in the dogmatic and moral truths of the Faith. As an immigrant in the USA, she lived a disciplined life of prayer and penance. She had an apostolic spirit, hoping from her early years in Belgium to become a religious and a missionary. Fr. Looney indicates that perhaps Adele was more observant than her parents were, even though her parents maintained their Catholic faith.

After she encountered a beautiful and silent woman here on two occasions during the first week of October 1859, Adele went to her confessor to ask his advice. He told her to ask the beautiful Lady, “In the name of God, who are you? What do you want of me?” Adele obediently did what her confessor asked her to do.

According to Sr. Mary Dominica’s report of the conversation, on October 9 the Lady responded to Adele’s questions by saying: “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” Sr. Pauline La Plant, in her account of the apparition, reports that the Blessed Virgin also asked Adele to pray for nine days before her general confession and Communion.

Allow me to step back for a moment in order to cast some light from Scripture on this conversation of Our Lady and Adele. This semester I am teaching an undergraduate course in Mariology at Seton Hall University. What struck me forcefully while going through the prophecies of Our Lady in the Old Testament, as articulated in Lumen Gentium 55, is the importance of the prophecy that is traditionally known as the Protoevangelium; that is, Genesis 3:15. In the text, God curses the serpent who led our first parents into revolt against him and promises victory to the vanquished man and woman and their descendants. He said, “I will put hatred between you (Satan) and the woman, between your seed and her seed. You will strike at his heel and he will crush your head.”

In the Old Testament, many courageous women risked their lives to save God’s Chosen People from extinction or to preserve the line of the Messiah from Judah through David and up to Christ. Think, for instance, of Tamar, Rahab, Deborah, Judith, Ruth, Naomi, Jael, Esther, and the Mother of the Maccabees. One of these faithful women, Judith, cut off the head of Holofernes. Another, Jael, drove a peg through the temple of another enemy of the People of God. Esther single-handedly saved her people from total extinction. Mary of Nazareth stands at the end of a long line of heroic women who risked all for God’s kingdom and preserved the line of the Messiah-King. Through her fiat at Nazareth, Mary brought the Redeemer into the world. Through her amplified fiat on Calvary, she assented to her son’s death. At the same time, she consented to be the mother of the Lord’s disciples.

Interesting to note is the fact that the Jewish people did not and do not have any consistent interpretation of Genesis 3:15. The meaning of the prophecy only became clear on Calvary when the Woman, Mary, stood in the shadow of her son, her seed, nailed to a cross. The Pharisees whom Jesus had identified in John 8:39–47 as a “brood of vipers” — that is, the seed of the serpent — had engineered his rejection by the leaders of his own people and his death at the hands of the Romans. They represent all those throughout the ages who deliberately reject grace and set themselves up as enemies of Christ and his Gospel.

On Calvary, the Serpent struck the Woman’s seed. Through his obedience and humility, the Seed of the Woman crushed the Serpent’s head. He won salvation for those who freely accept his gift of saving faith, a gift first fully given to the Woman who is his partner in the work of redemption. The New Eve stands alongside of the New Adam, telling her children, “Do whatever he tells you.” The dying Christ reveals from the Cross that, in her union with him through compassion and unwavering faith, the Woman gives birth in anguish to his disciples. “Woman, behold your Son,” he said to the Woman, and “Behold, your mother,” to the disciple who represents every true disciple of Christ. The Christian Church grasped the full meaning of Genesis 3:15 only in the light of the Passion accounts of the Gospels and, simultaneously, saw in the protagonists of the Old Testament prefigurations of Mary, the New Eve. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council identified Mary’s mission in terms of a new motherhood in the order of grace.

It did not take long for Christians to realize that the enmity between the Woman’s seed and the Serpent’s seed would go on with increasing ferocity until the end of the world. St. Louis-Marie de Montfort lucidly explains this ongoing antagonism in his work, True Devotion to Mary: “God has established only one enmity— but it is an irreconcilable one — which will last and even go on increasing to the end of time. That enmity is between Mary, his worthy Mother, and the devil, between the children and the servants of the Blessed Virgin and the children and followers of Lucifer” (no. 52).

Revelation 12, the “Woman Clothed with the Sun,” in all of its complexity and mystery, brings the Protoevangelium to its full magnification. The text describes the final battle of the “Dragon, the Ancient Serpent” and the Lord’s disciples. The Serpent pursues the seed of the Woman but the Woman herself remains untouched. Her mission continues until the Lord returns. She is to protect and rear the Lord’s disciples, who on Calvary became her sons and daughters (Jn 19:25–27). She is the spiritual mother of all the faithful.

This brings us back to the conversation of Adele and the Woman. Mary visited Champion, Wisconsin, as the Woman of Genesis 3:15. She was concerned that her children, her seed, reborn in baptism, were in danger of falling under the influence of the Serpent through religious ignorance and indifference. Like many groups who had come to the USA, the immigrants from Belgium expended their energy in hard work in the wild country of Wisconsin. Often the immigrants fell away from the practice of the faith of the old country because there were no priests who spoke their language or catechists to instruct their children. The Queen of Heaven came to ameliorate that situation by giving Adele Brise a mission.

Before Adele could accomplish her mission as catechist, her own spiritual life needed some attention. Our Lady directed her to pray for nine days, evoking the nine days of prayer that Mary and the Apostles shared in Jerusalem before the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Our Lady of Champion also directed Adele to make a general confession. In those days, there was a clearer understanding than there is today of the importance of integral confession for a healthy relationship with God. A general confession required a thorough examination of conscience. To prepare, Adele had to go through the catechism’s teaching on the Ten Commandments. What does God command of us? What does he forbid? General confession entailed a review of one’s entire life and a clear, blunt confession of all mortal sins and the predominant venial sins that impede spiritual growth. Interestingly, in his second Conference, John Cassian describes confession as “pulling serpents out of dark places.” In other words, once a sin is confessed, healing begins and the sin cannot harm the perpetrator unless he consents to sin again. Did Adele have some “serpents” in her past life? The answer to this question is hidden in God.

A Catholic makes a general confession either because he or she is conscious of not having confessed all that needs to be brought before the tribunal of God in previous confessions or to renew contrition for sins as one embarks on a new vocation such as marriage, priesthood, or religious life. Francis de Sales, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, enthusiastically recommends a general confession for anyone about to begin some new work for Christ and his Church. Why did Our Lady ask Adele to make a general confession? The exact answer to that question is impossible to ascertain. It seems to me that if the young woman’s mission was to lead children to faith in Christ and conversion from sin, it was important for the teacher to have a vivid and personal experience of conversion motivated by love for Jesus Christ. In giving this direction to Adele, Mary was catechizing the future catechist. Adele obeyed the beautiful Lady and, after examining her conscience during nine days of prayer, she made her general confession and received Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners. Having received spiritual direction from the Queen of Heaven, Adele was ready to take up her vocation as catechist.

Our Lady of Champion posed a question: “What are you doing here in idleness while your companions are working in the vineyard of my Son?” This is a likely a reference to her childhood friends in Belgium who had joined religious congregations to teach children the Catholic faith. Adele’s pastor in the old country had encouraged her to accompany her parents and siblings to America and to join a religious congregation in the new world. “What more can I do, dear Lady?” said Adele, weeping. Mary responded, “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” “How shall I teach them, who know so little myself?” “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

The mission as stated seems exceedingly simple, but think about what this catechesis needed for salvation entails:

  • The proclamation of the Apostolic Kerygma, that is, Christ is the Son of God who died to save us from our sins and rose from the dead to bring us to Heaven. This includes not only the call to faith but also to conversion of morals. Repent and believe the Good News!
  • A thorough catechesis of the young in the history of salvation as summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. The reference to the Sign of the Cross implies a complete catechesis on the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Redemption.

  • An explanation of the encounter with God that takes place in the Sacraments, with special emphasis on the Eucharist. Adele was asked to help children believe in the Real Presence, the representation of the sacrifice of the Cross, and the dispositions needed for a worthy and fruitful Holy Communion.

  • A methodical catechesis on the Ten Commandments and the Christian virtues in preparation for First Reconciliation.

  • An explanation of Christian prayer using the Lord’s Prayer as the model for all prayer.

In short, Our Lady of Champion, articulating the inner dynamism of catechetical instruction that come to us from Christ through the Apostles, commissioned Adele to teach the children everything that is necessary for salvation. The Queen of Heaven brings the commissioning of the new catechist to a conclusion by assuring Adele of her abiding motherhood in the order of Grace: Go and fear nothing. I will help you! In her instructions, Adele will depend on Mary’s help to impart the full mystery of Christ to the children and depend on the parish priests to administer the grace of Christ in the sacraments.

To facilitate the important work of catechesis that so effectively thwarts the toxic influence of the Serpent and imparts faith in Jesus Christ, Adele spontaneously chose to live according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Although never canonically a religious, Adele lived in poverty, depending on Providence for all her personal and apostolic needs. She obeyed the bishop of the diocese even when falsely accused. She likewise obeyed the parish priests. She understood that the mission to teach the children was primarily their mission. She was simply assisting them! Her chastity was a gift she joyfully lavished on her Bridegroom for the sake of the children she catechized. Her way of life attracted other young women to embrace the evangelical counsels and give their lives to the Christian education of youth. Until her death, Adele faithfully lived the vocation she received from the Queen of Heaven.

The Mariophany of Champion, the New Evan­gel­ization & Priests Today

What might we, Fathers, take home from our reflection on the Mariophany of Champion? Three points come to mind:

First, since the current scandals broke on June 20, priests have told me that they have experienced a deep examination of conscience, especially in reference to past sins of commission and omission. One priest described his experience in a prayer meeting: “It is as if God is examining my whole life with a bright and penetrating light and allowing me to see myself in the radiance of his holiness.” This examination of conscience seems to be a grace that is related to the current crisis, but as with most graces, the Serpent knows how to impede our full cooperation with God’s action. In the current situation, as always, the Accuser brings confusion, misperception, and depression. It would be naïve to think that the lay faithful are not experiencing this internal clash of spirits.

This might be the perfect time for us to make a general confession or, at least, to bring those sins that we confessed in the past but that continue to trouble our peace of mind to Our Lord in the sacrament on his mercy. Unless bishops and priests use and promote the penitential discipline that Christ established in his Church, we will limp along in mediocrity and worldliness. Our people will not frequent this sacrament except perhaps once or twice a year. In the end, all of us will be doomed to fall into the vortex of worse sins. Priests have told me repeatedly that when they expand the confession schedule, people always come, perhaps not immediately, but they come.

I know that many people already come here to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. May more and more people discover this Shrine as a place where Our Lady of Champion crushes the Serpent’s head in their lives by leading them to Jesus, the Redeemer. May it be a place where clergy and laity confidently admit sins they never clearly or adequately confessed in the past, sins against the sixth and ninth commandments, sins of the abuse and neglect of the sacraments, the sin of unworthy reception of the Eucharist, the sins of priests who in cowardice do not communicate the integral doctrine of the Church to their people, every and any sin that impedes communion with God. The renewal of the integral confession of mortal sins (by name and number) as established in the Church by Our Lord will not only bring peace of mind to the penitent but, at the same time, make the Church flourish and deepen in holiness. The general confession Adele made at the beginning of her mission, her subsequent confessions, and the Holy Communions she offered for the conversion of sinner surely were the source of the catechist’s spiritual fruitfulness.

Second, in our ordination to the diaconate, the bishop, handing us the Book of the Gospels said, “receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are.” In our sacramental encounter with Christ in Holy Orders, Our Lord himself commissioned us to be his heralds. The ordaining bishop simply acknowledges that act of Christ. As we reflect on Adele Brise’s heavenly call to cooperate in the teaching mission of the Church as a catechist, it is important for us to examine our consciences on our involvement in the ministry of evangelization and catechesis. Bishops, are you ensuring that the full and unadulterated message of the Gospel is communicated in the seminaries you use, in your schools, religious education programs, and your catechumenates? Do you give more time to teaching the faith (your primary munus) or to bureaucratic busywork? Fathers, are you actively involved in the formation of those who assist you in your mission as the chief catechist in your parish? Do you personally prepare your people to receive the Sacraments? Do you guarantee that the full message of Christ resounds in your parishes through a thorough explanation of the Apostles Creed, the Seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer?

One thing that the present crisis makes abundantly clear is that the sexual sins of bishops and priests, whether heterosexual or homosexual, directly and gravely break the sixth commandment of God and violate the promise of celibacy made at ordination. The People of God know that violations of celibacy are incompatible with the priesthood and inflict deep wounds on the Body of Christ. I hope that all the pain we are enduring these days in communion with the pain of the victims of sexual abuse will inspire us to proclaim to our people with Gospel boldness the whole truth about human sexuality, including the evil of artificial contraception. The ministry of the Word of God that includes instruction in chastity is among our chief weapons against the wiles of the Serpent. Let us use it!

One might hope that one day a center of catechist formation will be established on these grounds in honor of the visit of the Queen of Heaven and the teaching mission she entrusted to Adele Brise.

Third, at the Second Vatican Council, the Church urged all Catholics to embrace, in a way appropriate to their state of life, the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Fathers of the Council explained this in chapter five of Lumen Gentium, The Universal Call to Holiness, as well as in the Decree on Priestly Life and Ministry, Presbyterorum Ordinis, and in many subsequent documents. In these texts, the Holy Spirit urges all diocesan bishops and priests to live Gospel poverty, chastity, and obedience. The counsels, the documents explain, are not ends in themselves. Rather, configuring the minister to Christ, they serve and facilitate our specific path to holiness, pastoral charity.

I strongly recommend an article by Fr. Jay Scott Newman that First Things recently published, entitled “The End of the Imperial Episcopacy.”1 It is well-worth reading. In my estimation, the true renewal of the priesthood and the Church will not happen until the bishops examine deeply their modus vivendi et operandi and all bishops and priests take the Gospel counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience to heart. There is no other way for our credibility to be restored. It will not be restored by policies, protocols, and review boards, important as these entities might be, but by Gospel holiness. In addition, according to the traditional teaching of the Church the safest path to Gospel holiness is in the observance of the Counsels.

At the end of September, Pope Francis asked the Universal Church to pray the Rosary, the Sub Tuum Praesidium, and the St. Michael prayer each day during the month of October for the protection of the Church from the assaults of the Serpent.

I conclude this presentation with the Sub Tuum Praesidium. It is the most ancient prayer of the Church to the Mother of God. It bears testimony to the fact that Christians turned to Mary in every crisis from the very beginning. We turn to her today, entrusting to her the victims of clerical sexual abuse and their families. We entrust all the pastors and their people to her maternal protection. We desperately need her help. She will remain with us!

We fly to thy Patronage, O Holy Mother of God.
Despise not our petitions in our necessities,
But deliver us from all danger,
Ever Glorious and Blessed Virgin. Amen.2

  1. Jay Scott Newman, “The End of the Imperial Episcopate,” First Things, Web Exclusives, Aug. 20, 2018, firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/08/the-end-of-the-imperial-episcopate.
  2. In 1917, The John Rylands Library in Manchester, England, acquired a fragment of papyrus on which this prayer was inscribed in Greek. Scholars have pointed out that this papyrus is from early third-century Egypt. Scholars of Mary have pointed out: 1.) the use of the title Theotokos in the vocative case; 2.) the verb, rysai (deliver), the same word addressed to God the Father in the Lord’s Prayer; 3.) the fact that this prayer predates the Council of Nicea perhaps by more than a century.
Fr. Frederick L. Miller, STD About Fr. Frederick L. Miller, STD

Fr. Frederick L. Miller, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, is presently spiritual director of the College Seminary of the Immaculate Conception at Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. He also teaches courses in Systematic Theology in the major seminary.

Comments

  1. Dear Father Miller,

    Thank you so much for this beautiful and inspiring article which I read today. I asked my husband to be sure to read the whole article! He forwarded it to me this morning, knowing I’d want to read it, since we both were blessed by your class at Franciscan University some time ago.

    It would take too long to list all the important items you included in this article but I’m totally convinced: we need Mary’s powerful intercession at this time in the history of the Catholic Church more than ever — for the forces of evil have become more fierce than ever before, it seems to me. Mary has come so often and yet too many seem to listen for only awhile and then drift off again.

    The current ignorance and indifference among both clergy and laity are so sad to me and to my husband! We continue to do, by God’s Grace, whatever we can for both children and adults; but we know so much more could be done. We pray the Rosary together each evening and especially today on this First Saturday of July, we will be praying in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for our sins and the sins of the world. The Deacon who is Spiritual Director for our parish Legion of Mary spoke about the Shrine at Champion and I’ve read a little about it, but I want to research it more after reading your article. I am going to send him a link to your article this morning and to our Legion of Mary Members as well. I am sure they will be grateful, as I am. Thank you again, Father, and may God continue to bless your work for His Holy Church, through Mary our Mother and Model.

  2. Avatar carl lordi says:

    What an Excellent word of Exhortation to the body of Christ at such a critical time in the Church’s History God Bless you Father MIller!

  3. Avatar Francis Etheredge says:

    Conversion is real, is rooted in the word of God, unfolds in the life of the Church and has many fruits; go to “The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends” for an account of the grace of God which begins where the sinner is and takes him where he cannot journey alone – into the witness of the love of God for all sinners (http://enroutebooksandmedia.com/familyonpilgrimage/). God bless you and thank you for a heartfelt account of the purifying agony to which we are all called, Francis.

  4. Dear Father Miller
    Are the nuns at Carmelite allowed to make phone calls or send emails or letters to family and friends?