By Fr. James E. Shea, C.Ss.R.
Dear Parishioners and Friends:
He loved mystery plays. One evening he went to the theatre to watch a mystery play. The usher escorted him to a seat in the middle of the theatre. The man said, “Excuse me, Sir, but I much prefer watching a mystery in a front row seat. For a handsome tip, do you think you could find a seat for me up front?” The obliging usher motioned for him to follow. He directed him to a seat in the second row. The man dug into his pocket, pulled out a crumpled-up bill and gave it to the usher. The usher politely said, “Thank you” and turned. He glanced at the tip, expecting at least a 50-dollar bill. But no! The man tipped him one dollar. The usher burned with anger. He turned back to the man leaned over his shoulder and whispered into his ear, “Enjoy the mystery play. The wife did it!”
On June 27th, we celebrate the feast of a wife, a mother and a mystery woman. It is the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Sometimes we refer to this feast day as Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It seems that ‘Lady’ and ‘Mother’ are interchangeable. Both titles refer to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and she does so much for so many.
For many centuries people have turned to Mary for her intercession. Beginning at the wedding feast at Cana, when the guests exhausted their supply of wine, the waiters turned to Mary to intercede for them. Mary then turned to Jesus and Jesus performed his first miracle. Since then, the faithful have called upon Mary for her intercession with her son. We do not pray to Mary for favors. We pray that she intercedes with her Son so He can grant favors. Only God can grant favors. And through Mary’s intercession, the faithful have enjoyed countless miracles.
Many of us turn directly to Jesus for help. That’s exactly what Mary did. Mary holds a special place in Jesus’ heart and in ours. She is the Mother of God. She is our Mother. Because of Mary’s love for her son and for us, we call upon Mary’s intercession.
The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help has a fascinating and miraculous history, much of it shrouded in mystery. No one knows when icon was painted. No one knows who the artist was. After testing the wood, it seems that the icon was painted long before the 15th century.
Apparently, the icon came from the island of Crete. A merchant heard about the icon and the many miracles that were attributed through the picture. Wanting the icon for himself, the merchant stole the painting. Eventually he arrived in Rome where he fell ill. On his death bed, he confessed that he stole the icon. He asked his Roman friend to take the icon to a church where it would help others.
But the Roman took it home where his wife hung it in her bedroom. Apparently, Mary appeared to the Roman, beckoning him to share the icon with others. Probably under the influence of his wife, the Roman refused. Finally, Mary appeared to his six-year-old daughter, directing her to place the icon in the church between the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. Persuaded by his daughter, the obstinate Roman obeyed. In 1499, he gave the icon to St. Matthew’s Church, which was located between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.
Over the years the faithful visited St. Matthews, praying before the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In 1798 a French general under Napoleon, destroyed thirty churches in Rome. St. Matthew was one of them. Everyone assumed that the icon of Mary was destroyed in the flames.
But no! Nearly 50 years later, in a chapel many miles from the basilicas, a sacristan showed Michael Marchi, an altar boy,an icon which used to hang in St. Matthew’s church. The sacristan explained that the church had been destroyed but someone rescued the icon. Michael went on to become a Redemptorist priest. In 1853 the Redemptorists established their headquarters on a large estate between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. On the estate, they discovered the ruins of an old church. The Redemptorists researched the history of the church, only to discover that St. Matthew’s Church once housed the miraculous painting, but was lost in the ruins. Fr. Marchi quickly informed his brother Redemptorists that not only did the icon exist, but he knew where it was located.
After much prayer, the Redemptorists informed Pope Pius IX of the icon. Pius IX ordered that the icon be returned to Rome and placed in the new church between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The new church bore the name of St. Alphonsus.
Upon the return of the painting to Rome, it was placed in St. Alphonsus Church. In 1886, Pius IX commissioned the Redemptorists to: “Make Our Mother of Perpetual Help known throughout the world.” The Redemptorists embraced this command by preaching, writing and distributing literature of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in every parish that we staff and on every mission that we preach.
One year later, in 1887, a parish in Kansas City was founded on the corner which is now known as Linwood and Broadway. The Redemptorists were entrusted with the new parish. How fitting it was to place the parish under the patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I had the wonderful honor of pastoring this parish for 12 years before coming to San Antonio. Father Gary Ziuraitis came to San Antonio first and then went to Kansas City to be pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish.
Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.
May Mother Mary intercede with her son for all of us!
Fr. Jim Shea, C.Ss.R.