Know it or not, we all have patron saints. It may be the saint whose feast day we were born on, or a saint we especially admire. Countries, dioceses, and professions each have their own patron saint. It is claimed that in certain cases a saint will choose you. This is what happened to me with Our Lady of Czestochowa, whose feast day is tomorrow (August 26th).
Our Lady of Czestochowa is the patroness of Poland. Not being Polish, I knew nothing about her growing up. I’d seen the icon of the Black Madonna, but in all honesty, I always felt a bit repelled. It looked so foreign. Our Lady looks so sad and…angry. Not a hint of a smile can be seen, at least not in the original.
Other more benevolent-looking versions have been created, but they aren’t the same. As in most other icons of the Madonna, she is holding the Infant Jesus, who is similarly dark (the dark color of the icon is supposedly due to being exposed to the elements at various times in addition to incense and candle smoke.) She holds her hand over her heart, as if to say it is broken. A dark streak runs down beneath her eye as though she has been weeping. Even more distressing, her face has two long slash marks across it.
Saint of My Oblation
I was clothed as a novice oblate of Clear Creek Abbey in 2014. Later that year, my roommate decided to move out of state. Trying to reduce the amount of stuff she had to transport to her new home, she handed me an unframed holy card of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa and asked me if I’d like to have it. I said sure. I peered at the solemn face of Our Lady, stuck it in a book somewhere, and forgot about it.
Earlier that year, I had been clothed as a novice oblate. After the requisite year of novitiate, I could ask to make my final promises, but I didn’t follow through. Despite my regularly attending Mass at a Benedictine Abbey, I had never really wanted to be a Benedictine, and I wasn’t finding life at Clear Creek particularly comfortable (ticks, chiggers, heat, humidity, tornadoes, skunks, potholes, flat tires—you get the idea.) I still had hopes of entering religious life, preferably as a Carmelite. But God, as He often does, had other plans.
The years went by and I struggled along, trying to learn the Office and trying to pray it when I could. Before I knew it, three years had gone by, and I was still just a novice. If I didn’t make my promises soon, I could re-apply to become an oblate, but I’d have to do my novice year all over again. I didn’t want to do that, so I made my promises on August 26, 2017. Despite my initial lack of enthusiasm, I’ve never regretted it. The graces I have received, not to mention the feeling of connection with the monks and the other oblates, has gradually grown over the years into something I truly cherish and am thankful for beyond telling.
After my oblation, I looked at August 26th on the calendar, but I didn’t see anything remarkable in terms of saints I could have selected as a special patron of my oblation. But Our Lady of Czestochowa isn’t on the universal calendar. I didn’t realize I had made my promises on her feast day until later. When I did, I began reading up on the story of the icon and the pivotal role she played in Polish military history—and it’s extraordinary. I won’t recount the whole thing here, but I encourage you to read it for yourself. It’s amazing. The resilient Catholicity of the Polish people today speaks volumes. Remember Jakob Baryla?
I used to shop at a second-hand store about a half hour from my home until they stopped opening on Saturdays. Living in a mostly Protestant area, I never came across many Catholic items there. One day, I was amazed to find, you guessed it, a large poster of Our Lady of Czestochowa. But it wasn’t framed, and again, I didn’t want to look at that angry expression, so I left it there. [Slaps forehead] What was I thinking? I went back to search for it a few weeks later, but it wasn't there.
In the course of my spiritual journey I, like many others, have benefitted greatly from Father Chad Ripperger’s books on spiritual warfare for the laity. These books contain numerous prayers one can say to assist in reducing and eliminating demonic influences, including prayers to Our Lady under the title of “Virgo Potens,” or “Virgin Most Powerful.” I had never prayed to her under this title before except occasionally when I prayed the Litany of Loreto. I had trouble trying to imagine gentle, humble Mary as the Virgo Potens, but after reading the story of the icon, I began to see her in a different light.
Cardinal Burke Leads the Way
Despite all this, I still hadn’t developed a strong devotion to Mary under this title. The image was just too depressing. Then one day something remarkable happened that made me reconsider my reluctance. I had signed up to receive notifications from Cardinal Raymond Burke’s website a few years back. Somehow I got an email letting me know that His Eminence would be celebrating Mass and praying the Rosary at Jasna Gora, the location of the Shrine housing the Miraculous Icon in Poland. I didn’t have a lot of spare time, so I didn’t open the email for a couple of days. I thought it would be nice to watch the recording, even though it was obviously going to be going on in the middle of the night due to the time difference between the US and Poland.
I opened the email, and to my shock and amazement, the Rosary led by Cardinal Burke at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa was starting at that very moment! I clicked on the link and there he was, and there she was. It was an incredible feeling to know that somehow, Our Lady of Czestochowa wanted me to wake up and pay attention to her.
Archbishop Vigano Drops the Bomb
One year after my Oblation, August 26, 2018, I opened my email before going to Sunday Mass only to discover the damning letter from Archbishop Vigano of the day before, spilling the beans on Theodore McCarrick and how deep that corrupt connection ran in the Vatican and beyond. Naively I was convinced that Pope Francis would be forced to resign. I was wrong, of course. Still, a major volley had been fired by Vigano’s willingness to risk his reputation (and possibly his life) for the sake of revealing the truth.
It felt strange to be marking my first anniversary of oblation with this shocking revelation. But somehow the image of Our Lady looking sad and angry finally seemed to fit. I began to realize we were at war, and I had been conscripted. Our Lady was showing me how to take a hit and keep going. It was going to be a long haul, and I needed to toughen up.
Terrible as an Army in Battle Array
In the traditional Office, I learned to pray the following verse from the Canticle of Canticles, Chapter 6, in honor of Our Blessed Mother:
 Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?
This description of Our Lady (or the Church) as a formidable military leader appears twice, not only at verse 9, but just above it at verse 3:
 Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely as Jerusalem: terrible as an army set in array.
In other words, Mary is much more powerful than she is given credit for in some circles. We have this image of Our Lady as a sort of pious, simple maiden who was pure and humble and good. She is all those things, of course. But she is also the Woman Clothed with the Sun (see Apoc. Ch. 12). She is the Woman Who Will Crush the Head of the Serpent. She is the Virgo Potens, and we desperately need her intercession in these troubled times. She is fighting for the Church. Are you feeling wounded lately? Turn to her. Give your sufferings to her. She will fight for you as well.
My Immaculate Heart Will Triumph
Triumph. Triumph is a quasi-military term. As in winning the war. As in defeating the enemy. In Heaven, the Church is Triumphant.
I thought of Our Lady of Czestochowa again a few weeks ago when I read the announcement in the Boston Globe that Theodore McCarrick is about to be arraigned in court in Massachusetts for crimes committed while holding a position of trusted authority in the Catholic Church. He will finally have to face the judge. He can no longer hide.
The date of his arraignment? August 26th. What a coincidence. But I no longer believe in coincidences.
So as we come to that date in the calendar this year, I invite you to meditate on the face of Our Lady as represented in the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. I urge you to contemplate the wounded face and neck, the steely gaze, the resolute chin. In her loving heart pierced by a sword so that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed, the heart whose blood flowed to the Heart of Jesus growing in her womb and which was shattered by grief on Good Friday, she holds the Church and the world in a mother’s embrace and vows to defend us, and her Son’s honor, with a mother’s fiercely protective love. Every time one of her children is wounded, she is wounded as well. And how many are those wounds? Scandals, divisions, and sacrilege are rife. And yet, she doesn’t dissolve into tears of self-pity. She doesn’t run and hide in the background until it’s all over. Rather, she leads us boldly into battle, and she promises the victory—the Triumph—to all those who love and serve Her Son. They tried to destroy her at Jasna Gora, and they are trying to destroy her today. But they will fail.
Hail, Full of Grace. Hail, Holy Queen. Oh Virgin Most Powerful, Our Lady of Czestochowa, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
*Theodore McCarrick's arraignment date has been moved back to September 3.
The opinions expressed on this website are my own personal views and do not necessarily represent those of the Catholic Church.
If I have erred in any statement, whether directly or by implication, in any matter pertaining to faith or morals, I humbly invite fraternal correction.