“The Lourdes of Germany”: Our Lady of Altötting and the World Day of the Sick

In southeastern Germany, in the region of Bavaria, there stands an octagonal chapel which dates back to A.D. 660.  The chapel, constructed of native stone, is home to a small limewood statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, darkened by age, by the smoke of thousands of candles which have burned there, and by a fire which nearly destroyed it in A.D. 990.  The chapel is known to native Germans as the Shrine of Our Lady of Altötting or the Chapel of Grace (in German, Gnadenkappelle).

For over 500 years, the shrine—which is served by the Capuchin friars—has been a popular pilgrimage site for devout Germans.  In 1489, a grieving mother brought the body of her young son, who had been drowned, and laid him before the Blessed Mother, and prayed for a miracle.  The boy returned to life.  Since then, many miracles and cures have been attributed to Our Lady of Altötting, and the shrine has been dubbed the “Lourdes of Germany.”

The porch surrounding the shrine is filled with votive offerings left by devout pilgrims and with small, silver urns bearing the remains of German noblemen, who arranged to have their hearts placed here after death.

In November 1980, Pope John Paul II visited the shrine—accompanied by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was born in a nearby town.  On September 11, 2006, Ratzinger, newly elected as Pope Benedict XVI, returned to the shrine to donate the episcopal ring he had worn while Archbishop of Munich.  That ring is now a part of the scepter held by the Blessed Virgin.

Plenary Indulgence for the World Day of the Sick

On February 7-11, 2013, the shrine will be the site for the celebration of the 21st World Day of the Sick.  In a decree published January 28 and signed by Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro and Bishop Krzysztof Nykiel, respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Pope Benedict XVI grants a Plenary Indulgence to the faithful who participate in this World Day of the Sick.

According to the decree:

Persons following the example of the Good Samaritan, who “with a spirit of faith and a merciful soul, put themselves at the service of their brothers and sisters who are suffering or who, if sick, endure the pains and hardships of life … bearing witness to the faith through the path of the Gospel of suffering” will obtain the Plenary Indulgence, once a day and under the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Holy Father), applicable also to the souls of deceased faithful:

A) each time from 7–11 February, in the Marian Shrine of Altotting or at any other place decided by the ecclesiastical authorities, that they participate in a ceremony held to beseech God to grant the goals of the World Day of the Sick, praying the Our Father, the Creed, and an invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Faithful in public hospitals or any private house who, like the Good Samaritan, charitably assist the ill and who, because of such service, cannot attend the aforementioned celebrations, will obtain the same gift of Plenary Indulgence if, for at least a few hours on that day, they generously provide their charitable assistance to the sick as if they were tending to Christ the Lord Himself and pray the Our Father, the Creed, and an invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, with their soul removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of carrying out as soon as possible that which is necessary to obtain the plenary indulgence.

The faithful who because of illness, advance age, or other similar reasons cannot take part in the aforementioned celebrations will obtain the Plenary Indulgence if, with their soul removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of carrying out as soon as possible the usual conditions, spiritually participating in the sacred events of the determined days, particularly through liturgical celebrations and the Supreme Pontiff’s message broadcast by television or radio, they pray for all the sick and offer their physical and spiritual suffering to God through the Virgin Mary, ‘Salus Infirmorum’ (Health of the Sick).

B) Partial Indulgence will be conceded to all the faithful who, between the indicated days, with a contrite heart raise devout prayers to the merciful Lord beseeching assistance for the sick in spirit during this Year of Faith.

Cardinal Monteiro de Castro said that the special indulgences were authorized by Pope Benedict XVI during this Year of Faith “so that the faithful, truly repentant and moved by charity and the example of the good Samaritan, with a spirit of faith and a merciful soul, would place themselves at the service of their suffering brothers and sisters.”

The Pope also hoped that Catholics who are sick would endure “the pains and sufferings of life, raising their hearts to God with humble trust and offering witness to the faith.”

MATTHEW TALBOT: Inspiration and Hope for Alcoholics

He was not wealthy.

He was not educated.

He was not well known.

He was an alcoholic.

But Matthew Talbot is on his way to becoming a saint.

 *     *     *     *     *

 Matthew Talbot was born in 1856 to a poor family in the North Strand area of Dublin, Ireland—the second of twelve children.  His father was a heavy drinker, as were most of his brothers.

Matthew left school at the age of 12 to work in a wine merchant’s shop. It was there he began drinking, and he continued to drink after he found work in the whiskey shops near the docks.  Like many young Irish lads, Matthew Talbot frequented pubs in the city with his brothers and friends, spending all his wages and running up debts.

One night in 1884, out of money and out of credit, Talbot was unable to buy a drink.  He returned home and told his mother that he was prepared to “take the pledge” (stop drinking). After sixteen years of heavy drinking, Talbot did stop that day—and he maintained his sobriety for the remaining 40 years of his life.  From that time, he worked earnestly to repay all of his debts.

It is now known that the rehabilitation program he implemented incorporated the “Twelve Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous—although these steps would not be formulated for another fifty years.

Talbot had been an indifferent Catholic during his drinking days; but in sobriety, he grew in holiness.  He became a Third Order Franciscan, and he gave of what little he had to help the poor and the Church.  He lived an austere life, sleeping on a plank bed with a piece of timber for a pillow.  He relied on the grace which came from daily attendance at Mass, and from constant prayer.

Matthew Talbot died on his way to Mass on June 11, 1925.  The medical examiner was surprised to find that Talbot had wrapped heavy penitential chains and cords around his waist, arm and legs.  Word of his holiness spread quickly throughout Ireland, and the cause for his canonization was begun almost immediately.

On October 3, 1975, Pope Paul VI declared him to be Venerable (worthy of honor)—the first step along the way toward canonization.  He is the patron of alcoholics.

 Matt Talbot Included in a Station of the Cross

In St. Mary Magdalen Church in Media, Pennsylvania, the Stations of the Cross have been recreated by artist Robert McGovern.  Each painted Station includes an image of a saint or a holy person, inspiring the faithful to greater holiness.  Matthew Talbot is pictured in the Third Station (Jesus Falls the First Time).

 Official Prayer for the Canonization

of Venerable Matt Talbot

“Lord, in your servant Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence of the Holy Sacrament.

May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Father, if it be your will that your beloved servant should be glorified by your Church, make known by your heavenly favors the power he enjoys in your sight.

We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

C.S. Lewis Goes to War

One imaginative moment seems now to matter more than the realities that followed.  It was the first bullet I heard—so far from me that it “whined” like a journalist’s or a peacetime poet’s bullet.  At that moment there was something not exactly like fear, much less than indifference; a little quavering signal that said, “This is War. This is what Homer wrote about.”

–C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis in 1917 (left) with friend Ernest Moore during World War I. Moore would later be killed, as were many of Lewis’ friends. (wilsonstation.com)

I was delighted to see in The Blaze an article featuring some never-before-seen photos from World War I.  Of particular interest was a photo of British author, broadcaster and philosopher C.S. Lewis as a young soldier in 1917. 

Lewis rarely spoke about the war, but he did talk about his experiences in his autobiography Surprised by Joy.  Speaking of the difficulties of war, he wrote:

Through the winter, weariness and water were our chief enemies.  I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself marching still.  One walked in the trenches in thigh gum boots with water above the knee; one remembers the icy stream welling up inside the boot when you punctured it on concealed barbed wire.  Familiarity both with the very old and the very recent dead confirmed that view of corpses which had been formed the moment I saw my dead mother.  I came to know and pity and reverence the ordinary man:  particularly dear Sergeant Ayres, who was (I suppose) killed by the same shell that wounded me.  I was a futile officer (they gave commissions too easily then), a puppet moved about by him, and he turned this ridiculous and painful relation into something beautiful, became to me almost like a father.  But for the rest, the war—the frights, the cold, the smell of H.E., the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night until they seemed to grow to your feet—all this shows rarely and faintly in memory. 

But beyond these sobering memories, Lewis’ reflections touch on the humorous:

The rest of my war experiences have little to do with this story.  How I “took” about sixty prisoners—that is, discovered to my great relief that the crowd of field-gray figure who suddenly appeared from nowhere, all had their hands up—is not worth telling, save as a joke.

He reflects on having been wounded:

…the moment, just after I had been hit, when I found (or thought I found) that I was not breathing and concluded that this was death.  I felt no fear and certainly no courage.  It did not seem to be an occasion for either.  The proposition “Here is a man dying” stood before my mind as dry, as factual, as unemotional as something in a textbook.  It was not even interesting.

And through it all, what emerges is the transformation of a man of letters.  During his recuperation from a wartime infection and during his convalescence after being wounded, he read and studied, considering life through the works of Bergson and Goethe, Titian, Christopher Wren, and the Psalms.

If you haven’t read Surprised by Joy, may I recommend that you put it on your wish list and read it soon?

And take a look at The Blaze to see the other newly published photos from the War.