Our Lady of Hope —The Dawn of the New World
On January 28, 1871, as the Franco-Prussian War was coming to an end, the defeated French negotiated an armistice with the Germans. They agreed not to invade Paris and to allow food into the city. Why the Germans suddenly agreed not to take Paris is a mystery. Perhaps they thought it best to leave France in a position to pay war indemnities. Whatever was going on behind closed doors, the hidden causes behind the preservation of Paris remain just that: hidden. Hidden not only to historians, but also hidden to the history makers themselves who worked in diplomatic secrecy. God’s Providence is indeed mysterious, and He has his hand in everything — even things done with spurious intentions. Everything that happens in time, both good and bad, will serve Him and those who love Him. The events of history that we read about in books and newspapers are only the surface of things. It’s the events that we don’t see — the invisible conflicts between the angels of Dark and the angels of Light that began on First Day of Creation (Genesis 1:3-5) — that drive history from beneath the surface.
Eleven days before the armistice, on the evening of January 17, in the small village of Pontmain not far from the advancing Prussian army, Joseph Barbadette (age 10) and his brother Eugene (age 12) were working in the barn with their father Cesar. As Eugene looked out of the barn door into the evening stars, he saw a radiant woman in the clear night sky, smiling and wearing a deep blue gown, gleaming with golden stars. Her head was covered with a gold crown and a black veil. Upon seeing the vision, Eugene called his father and younger brother. Joseph saw the woman, but the father did not. As word spread, neighbors came out looking for the woman in the star spangled sky. Some other children saw the lady, but the adults only saw a triangle of three bright stars. Then, a banner appeared to the children which said: "PRAY, MY CHILDREN. GOD WILL ANSWER BEFORE LONG. MY SON LETS HIMSELF BE MOVED.” When someone read this message, the gathering spontaneously began to sing the popular French hymn “Mother of Hope,” which two days before no one would sing because of anxiety and fear for the lives of the 38 young men from Pontmain who were fighting in the war. When they sang “My Sweet Jesus,” the lady sorrowfully looked at a red crucifix that appeared in her hand, with a white placard scripted with the words “Jesus-Christ.” The village-folk continued the prayer vigil, led by their parish priest Fr. Guerin and some nuns. When the crowd sang “Ave Maris Stella,” the Cross vanished and the lady again smiled, though she still looked a bit sad. When the prayers ended, a white veil rose from Mary’s feet and slowly covered her, and she disappeared. “It’s over,” the children said. The apparition lasted three hours. The following year, on the Feast of the Presentation (February 2), the bishop of the Diocese of Laval, Msgr. Wicart, declared, “We judge that the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, truly appeared to Eugène and Joseph Barbedette, Françoise Richer and Jeanne-Marie Lebossé in the village of Pontmain on 17 January 1871.” This decree followed upon an intense investigation and numerous interviews with the visionary children. Eugene and Joseph became priests, Jeanne-Marie became a nun, and Francois dedicated his life to the Church. The bishop had a sanctuary built to honor the apparition under the title “Our Lady of Hope.” Pope Pius X elevated the sanctuary to a Basilica in 1905, and Pope Pius XI decreed in 1934 that the statue of the Mother of Hope be solemnly honored with a gold crown.
Our Assumed Lady’s appearances during critical moments in history show us that God has set strict limits upon the advances of evil and that He guides his faithful to the peace of Heaven. Just when evil seems to have won, something inexplicable happens that cuts it short. History is full of such cases. However, visions of the Assumed Mother of God, which are approved by the Church, are the most stunning interventions of God’s Providence that remind us of this. Moreover, these appearance seem to be God’s merciful way of preparing us for the End of the World. As history nears the End, the unleashed power of the Antichrist, who works through the dark angelic power of the Evil One, will seem to have free reign on man. By all human reckoning, the cause for Hope will seem lost. The Church and all good people will be persecuted and tempted to give up their Faith in Christ. But it will all be definitively and historically ended when Christ personally strikes down Satan and the Antichrist at the Second Coming (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 675-677). St. Thomas Aquinas says in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 that, throughout history, the spirit of Antichrist is “at work in false men who seem good and yet are evil” and that “these play the role of the Antichrist.” Aquinas further adds, ”The Devil, in whose power the Antichrist will come, has secretly begun to work his wickedness through tyrants and deceivers, because persecutions of the Church…are figures of that final persecution of all good men, and are as it were imperfect by comparison with it.”
All of history partakes of a supernatural battle between Good and Evil — between the Woman and the Dragon — that will be consummated at the End of Time. This is the dynamic of history. The dynamics of every human struggle in time is explained in this passage from Revelation 12: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne.” (Rev. 12:1-5).
The appearances of the Virgin Mary during the 19th century, most notably those in France (such as LaSalette, Lourdes and Rue de Bac) — like the early 20th century apparition in Fatima — were appearances of our Assumed Mother, encouraging her children to pray and trust Jesus, and to flee the power of Dragon with the help of St. Michael the Archangel. They are echoes of St. John’s vision of Mary on the Isle of Patmos, which are recorded in Revelation 12. By appearing to simple, devout and innocent children, our Assumed Mother prepares us for the coming trials of Faith that are leading up to the final trial that will precede the End of Time. It is Mary’s role to prepare us for the End of the World, the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. Likewise, the 16th century appearance of Our Lady of Guadeloupe to St. Juan Diego prepared Mexico, and all of the Americas, for a long embattled history with the forces of darkness. It is also prophetic — and apocalyptic — that the Second Vatican Council chose “Mother of the Church” as the preeminent title for Mary in the modern world. In my opinion, this is the most significant title given to Our Lady since the Council of Ephesus called her “Mother of God” (Theotokos) in the 5th century. The fathers of Vatican II gave her an apocalyptic title, “Mother of the Church,” which identifies her with the Woman in Revelation 12, who is all at once (a) the fullness of Israel, (b) the perfection of the Church, and (c) Mary the Mother of Christ.
In Pontmain, Mary’s appearance as the Woman of the Apocalypse gave hope to the people of a rural village who were losing hope. She inspired them with a supernatural courage to stand firm against the Dragon: "PRAY, MY CHILDREN. GOD WILL ANSWER BEFORE LONG. MY SON LETS HIMSELF BE MOVED.” Our Assumed Lady is the “Dawn of the New World,” as she is called in the Litany of Our Lady Hope. Pope Francis perhaps best explains the apparition of Our Lady of Pontmain at the end of his encyclical Laudato Si. Though he probably did not have this particular apparition in mind when he wrote it, he most certainly was looking to the prophetic and hopeful presence of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, the Dawn of the New World:
“Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom” (Laudato Si 241).
Prayer to Our Lady of Hope (Pontmain)
O Lady of Mental Peace, Mother of Tranquility and Mother of Hope, look upon me in this time of my weakness and unrest. Teach my searching heart to know that God’s Love for me is unchanging and unchangeable; and, that true human love can only begin and grow by touching His Love. Let your gentle peace which this world cannot give be always with me. And help me to bring this same Peace into the lives of others. Our Lady of Mental Peace, Pray for us. Amen.