Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Krakow Pilgrimage- Day Seven- Jasna Gora, Consecration to Our Lady of Czestochowa

Let us give ourselves to the Immaculata [Mary]. Let her prepare us, let her receive Him [Jesus] in Holy Communion. This is the manner most perfect and pleasing to the Lord Jesus and brings great fruit to us." Because "the Immaculata knows the secret, how to unite ourselves totally with the heart of the Lord Jesus... We do not limit ourselves in love. We want to love the Lord Jesus with her heart, or rather that she would love the Lord with our heart. (Saint Maximilian Kolbe)

Jasna Gora, Czestochowa

Today was a special day for me on my pilgrimage in Poland. The focal point of my trip was to see Jasna Gora, the monastery where Our Lady of Czestochowa resides. I had been contemplating seeing her for four months now, since booking my trip. The Blessed Mother has been an important part of my spiritual journey, and she has brought me closer to Christ over the years. In truth, I don't know where I would be without her. So today, the mid-point of my pilgrimage I also reach the pinnacle of my pilgrimage, Czestochowa. Before boarding the van to see Our Lady, I prayed the Rosary while walking the wonderful park surrounding Wawel Hill, seen below.

After a two hour trip through several villages in the countryside of Poland, we arrived. A little history here. Before the arrival of the icon of Our Blessed Mother at Jasna Gora, Czestochowa was a small insignificant town. Our Lady arrived here around 1382 by wagon. Prince Wladyslaw left Ruthenia taking the image with him, knowing the miracles surrounding it. It was however not so easy a task for him. First, the horses would not move the wagon. The prince brought more horses for a total of six, and still the wagon would not move. Prince Wladyslaw went to prayer and promised to build Our Lady a monastery if she should would let him move her. He also pointed out that she would be well protected in this monastery since enemy forces were always a threat in the current area. After having made his promise, the wagons moved and the Prince made his way. Silesia was the desired destination of the prince. As Our Lady would have it, Silesia was not where she wanted her final destination to be. While stopping in the tiny town of Czestochowa, the wagons again refused to move. No matter what the prince did, the horses would not go any further. So, up on the Bright Hill, Jasna Gora as it is now called, the prince decided to make her home, and build a monastery. Over 600 years later there I stood before the same miraculous image.

Approaching Jasna Gora
The beautiful icon is said to have been made by St. Luke himself on the table that St. Joseph constructed. Some claim the icon is of very early Byzantine origin. In either case, the miracles associated with this icon are well documented. Thousands have left votive offerings which can be seen all over the chapel, attesting to the many miracles Our Lady has provided. The blind, the deaf, the crippled have been healed by the thousands. As I approached the chapel, I was excited. There is a rail around the perimeter of the inside of the chapel allowing pilgrims to make there way around the icon. Many, as I did today, do it on their knees. As I approached the chapel from the left I could see her come into view. I passed her on the left and then circled around behind the altar where I saw countless votive offerings on the wall. I snapped one picture behind the altar. There are also countless crutches and other offerings around the entire area of the chapel. This was my first gaze upon Our Lady of Czestochowa.

On my knees I snapped a quick picture moving around Our Lady
A corner of the votive wall behind the altar
I arrived about 10:45AM. After circling around the altar I came back into the main chapel. The chapel area was very crowded so I made my way up closer to the enclosed part where the altar is located. I was not able to get to the inside area where the altar was. I stood in awe, gazing at her image, thanking Our Lady for bringing me here. I brought forth my requests from the many people who asked me to bring their intentions to her. Then I prayed a Rosary with her. At 11AM the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass began, so I was able to attend Mass with Our Lady as well. During my thanksgiving I made my consecration to Our Lady using the Saint Maximilian Kolbe act of consecration. This was very important to me on this pilgrimage. After Mass was over many of the priests got up and left their seats leaving a few open up front. Thanks to Our Lady I was able to move right up close to her by the main altar. I was able to spend about 10 minutes with her before the image was covered. Everyday the icon at 12PM is closed for a time, and there is a silver embossed cover that slides down over her. It was ceremonious as the Trumpets played a somber tone for about a minute or two, I watched the cover slid down over her. This was one of the most memorable moments I have ever experienced.

During Mass outside the altar area
There was something about this event that moved beyond just seeing an image, or an icon. It was more than a devotion in front of a sacred image. It was like spending time with a loved one and then saying goodbye. This event was personal, and also deeply theological. Our Lady brought me to Jasna Gora, I am convinced through her Rosary. Our Lady then led me to her Son, Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist! This is what she does. She brings us to her Son! She then took me under her wing in a special way through the act of consecration. Although I had done the consecration of St. Louis de Montfort years ago, this was different for me. Perhaps it has just taken me this long to understand what consecration truly means.

Finally, it was somehow fitting that she then said goodbye as the trumpets played and the cover came down over her. I was sad to see her go behind the cover, knowing that I may not ever see this magnificent icon again. Even more so I was very grateful to her for all she had done for me, not only on this special pilgrimage to Poland, but throughout my entire life. I know that she is always near me ready to interceded for me whenever I ask, icon or no icon. It is true there is no high enough praise for Our Lady!  "It is becoming for you, O Mary, to be mindful of us, as you stand near Him who bestowed upon you all graces, for you are the Mother of God and our Queen." (St. Athanasius)

In the main altar area
Up close with Our Lady

Saying goodbye. Notice the cover dropping down from above, the trumpets play

After having experienced this, I knew that the rest of the day was going to pale in comparison. I took a quick walk through town looking for icons before getting back in the van. I was able to find a couple of beautiful gems in one of the gift shops! On the way back we stopped at  Pieskowa Skala Castle, built in the 1500s, that has been turned into a museum. There were some beautiful old statues and paintings as you will see below. I didn't find out until after I made it through a couple of rooms that pictures were not allowed inside. Enjoy the few that I managed to get!

I got back to Krakow around 4:30PM after another fantastic day. One of the guides recommended that I try Pod Wawelem, a restaurant near my hotel. I had some sort of meat potato pancake dish with cabbage which was very good.

I'll end the day by posting the consecration to Our Lady written by St. Maximilian Kolbe so anyone reading can also make it!

O Immaculata, Queen of Heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and our most loving Mother, God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to you.  I, (name), a repentant sinner, cast myself at your feet humbly imploring you to take me with all that I am and have, wholly to yourself as your possession and property.  Please make of me, of all my powers of soul and body, of my whole life, death and eternity, whatever most pleases you. 
If it pleases you, use all that I am and have without reserve, wholly to accomplish what was said of you: "She will crush your head," and, "You alone have destroyed all heresies in the world."  Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands for introducing and increasing your glory to the maximum in all the many strayed and indifferent souls, and thus help extend as far as possible the blessed kingdom of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  For wherever you enter, you obtain the grace of conversion and growth in holiness, since it is through your hands that all graces come to us from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. 
V. Allow me to praise you, O sacred Virgin. 
R. Give me strength against your enemies. 

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