“If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7.14)
St. John Paul II frequently spoke about interpreting the signs of the times. Is the coronavirus such a sign to our times? The Old Testament is replete with such signs, indications to “Seek his Face” — to return to their covenant relationship, a call to conversion.
Egypt was given signs in the form of 10 plagues for not accepting the messages from Moses. King David was given a pestilence in punishment for his sin of taking the forbidden census (2 Samuel 24:16-18; 1 Chronicles 21). The plague stopped when he fulfilled the prophetic requirement of acquiring the land to build the Temple. An angel appeared there sheathing his sword.
The history of the Church records frequent recourse to penance in times of plagues. During the Roman plague of 591, Pope St. Gregory the Great led a penitential procession with the image of Our Lady, which continues to be venerated in St. Mary Major Basilica, entitled “Salus Populi Romani” — the Salvation of the Roman People. He had a vision at Hadrian’s tomb while approaching the Vatican. It was similar to David’s: an Angel sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague. A statue of such an angel is still visible on that site. Pope Francis prayed recently before this image of Our Lady for relief from the current pandemic.
Our Lady has frequently come to the rescue in such times. During the 1426 plague, she appeared to a peasant woman in Vincenza, Italy requesting a chapel in her honor for which she would reward them with the end of the pestilence. As soon as her request was fulfilled, she in turn fulfilled her promise. The plague quickly ended.
The story of the ladybug is that during a crop pestilence in medieval times, the people invoked Our Lady and suddenly small unknown bugs appeared and cleaned up the pestilence, saving the crop. The bugs were at first called Our Lady’s bugs, now shortened to ladybugs, a sign of good fortune.
The spectacular Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany has been taking place every 10 years since 1634 in thanksgiving for the town being spared the plague as was promised.
Our Lady is recorded as warning of pestilences. La Salette in France is a famous one. In 1846, she appeared weeping to two teenage cowherders. She spoke to them of an impending punishment in the form of a pestilence that would destroy all the wheat and grapes, causing famine, even children dying in the arms of their parents. The cause was the prevalent neglect of Sunday Mass and the constant abuse of the Lord’s name. She admonished the people through the children that they did not take heed of the previous year’s potato loss. But should they repent, seek the Face of the Lord, the crops would seem to plant themselves.
The saints come to the rescue as well
For our consolation, the Holy Spirit, through the official teaching of the Church, informs us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2156) that we are assured of the intercession of the saints. That is verified in the multiple miracles publicly declared by the canonization of the saints as well as private witnessing.
As we now face the coronavirus contagion, we should follow the wisdom of our faith through the communion of saints and pray to them.
An excellent example of this is St. Teresa of Ávila, Doctor of the Church who testified that “I do not remember ever having asked for any grace that he (St. Joseph) has not obtained for me,” And that included healing from a severe ailment.
St. Joseph, the Virginal Father of Jesus and the Virginal Spouse of Mary, has been providentially brought into the limelight in our times. That is evident by the great interest in consecration to him, especially through the popular book by Father Donald Calloway of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
Another monumental witness to St. Joseph’s intercessory power and compassion is the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal, Canada. There for about 30 years, St. André Bessette (+1937) had a healing ministry through St. Joseph’s intercession. This “Miracle Man of Montreal”, as the Brother was called, used holy oil or a medal of St. Joseph.
Now I must include my own experience of St. Joseph’s responses to requests for his kind help using St. Joseph holy oil or medal. I asked his aid especially for children and he replied generously.
There are two such healings of children that I wish to present. A primary grade student in our parochial school had a lump in her neck that had to be removed by surgery. Her mother had heard about the healings and asked that her daughter be anointed with St. Joseph’s oil, which we gladly did. As the little girl was ready to be brought into the operating room, her doctor decided to check on the lump. He noticed that it was not in the usual place, so he stopped everything until he got new X-rays to locate it. Since he could not find any trace of it, the doctor told the mother to dress her and take her home, since there was no need for any surgery.
Perhaps my favorite is that of a 2-month-old boy who needed surgery on his navel, which was red, raw, swollen and discharging putrid liquids. His grandmother called one Saturday morning requesting to have him baptized before the surgery, scheduled for the following Tuesday. We had the baby baptized that evening and I told them about the healings. They agreed to have the baby anointed with St. Joseph’s oil. The following morning at 6 a.m. the mother went to take care of the baby as usual. She rushed to the phone and excitedly told her mother that the baby had a normal “belly button” — no rawness or liquids — everything healed and normal. They went for the scheduled pre-operation appointment with the doctor the following day. After examining the child, the doctor declared that everything was fine and cancelled the surgery.
This is applicable to St. Joseph. In the Book of Blessings, the Church has provided us with an official prayer for the blessing of oil in honor of a saint. The oil can be ordinary olive oil available in stores and can be blessed by a priest or deacon.
Prayer for the blessing of St. Joseph holy oil:
“God of compassion, mercy and love, in the midst of the pain and suffering of the world, your Son came among us to heal our infirmities and soothe our wounds. May all who use this oil in honor of St. Joseph be blessed with health of mind and body. Grant this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” (Book of Blessings: 1185e or 1795e, depending on the edition)
Prayer of supplication to St. Joseph:
“O Glorious St. Joseph, whose power can render possible even things which are impossible, come to my aid in my present trouble and distress. Take under your protection the important and difficult affairs which I entrust to you, that they may end happily — (Pause and Petition) — My beloved Father, all my confidence is in you. Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain; and since you are able to obtain everything before Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness equals your power. Amen.
Father Stanley Smolenski, a canonical Baptistine hermit, is the director of the
diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Joyful Hope–Our Lady of South Carolina in Kingstree, South Carolina.