Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Black Madonna--Queen of Poland

Meditations on Our Lady of Czestocowa

Father John J. Lombardi 

 I recall the majesty of the Icon itself: the entrancing black Madonna holding the innocent-Baby Jesus. Enframed by silver and gold, hanging behind a tall iron grill, over a darkened altar, seemingly suspended--as a "spiritual bridge" between Heaven and Earth--simply motionless, timeless in the child-mother embrace, we humans bustled about, on the threshing floor of Earth, competing to be near them

I remember venerating the icon like the Poles themselves: getting on our knees and gingerly approaching the Icon (the physical posture elicited an instant humility I seldom felt before) and proceeding-still kneeling--around it, one knee-movement at a time, in rapt-silence, through a small darkened "tunnel", while listening to rosaries ching and small prayers sputter about: we humans were spiritually circling Great Mother and Child.

A few years ago this Chaplain took a whirlwind and inspiring pilgrimage--with my jubilantly adventurous Mom-first, to France (where her brother was killed in the Normandy D-Day invasion), and then to Rome, to meet the Slavic Pope--John Paul II (Mom enjoyed speaking Polish with him), and then, lastly, to Krakow, where we saw an amazingly preserved city flourishing anew (our first meal there was not Polish-kielbasa-- but Chinese noodles--yum!).

Our pilgrimage continued to the countryside of southern Poland (similar to Emmitsburg-and as beautiful) to the infamous "concentration camp" of Auschwitz-it was grey outside, and inside our hearts, too. Then we went to my grandmother's birthplace and hometown of Wadowice (pronounce the "w's" in Polish as "v's") --where her and the Pope were born, and baptized in the lovely church of Our Lady of the Presentation, and where they both grew up. We eventually made it to the "Shining Mountain" ( Jasna Gora), where the famous Icon is located and protected within a beautiful monastery.

We finally made it to the actual place, where millions each year visit and pray, finding hope and respite amidst the world's sorrows. Our visit there brought us peace, and a "tasting" of our ancestral roots, and a spiritual connection to a great intercessor--the Black Madonna.

The Madonna is not Pollyanna (a trite, tinsel character). It is not "Christianity lite". It is for souls who find this pilgrimage through life as a form of exile who need both the sober truth about life and the serenity of Heaven--the Icon offers both. It has been worn by time, shadowed by endless wars, abducted by intruders, cast away as trash, and disfigured, scarred, lanced and bruised by life-by soldiers, sinners and satraps; it has been darkened by sorrows, weighed down with dust and tears from myriad pilgrims…I speak both of the Icon itself and the Madonna and Child.

We, at the Grotto, now have, thanks to the generosity of two Grotto Friends, a print of Our Lady of Czestochowa, in front of the altar in the Glass Chapel-timely for Lent.

Just what is the history of this Icon, before which young Karol Wojtyla quarryman, pilgrim, seminarian and then Bishop Wojtyla, and finally, Pope John Paul, has prayed?

From, Fr.John Hardon, A Catholic Dictionary: "A History, from Czestochowa. There is a legend that the picture of Our Lady and her Son at the shrine was painted by St. Luke on a tabletop made by Jesus Himself when He was an apprentice carpenter to St. Joseph. Hidden during the early persecutions, it was brought by St. Helena (255-330) to Constantinople. In the troubled eighth century it was stealthily taken from that city to a forest in Eastern Poland. From there it was removed to Czestochowa.

In 1430 a great Gothic cathedral was built around the precious relic, but in the war with the Hussites they stole the picture. When their horses refused to move their cargo beyond the village boundaries, they threw the picture by the roadside, where it lay broken. All attempts to repair the damage have failed. In the next three hundred years the Polish people believed that their welfare was identified with this miraculous picture.

When the Turks were at the gates of Vienna, Sobieski (1624-96), the Polish king, dedicated his crusade to Mary, and the West was saved. Under Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) the people came secretly on their pilgrimages to Czestochowa, and in 1945, at the end of World War II, they came 500,000 strong to thank Mary for their liberation. In 1947 over 1,500,000 came there to beg Mary to save them from Communism. "

Further, spiritual meditations

SUBDUED SERENITY: The Virgin and Child are depicted in a sober, yet peaceful way. There is a sadness-indicating to us, that, yes, life is hard, but if we hold on to Jesus and Mary in a similar intimacy, we can overcome anything, and accept life's difficulties in a more peaceful, spiritual way.

HOPE: Millions of Polish people have pilgrimage to, and venerated, this image, as a channel of spiritual aspirations and longings inherent to searching souls who want a deeper connection to God and His power, through the love of the Virgin. This Icon has helped Poles and countless others, to live on amidst and through various wars, pillaging and weeping (both on the national and personal levels) moving on, renewed with heavenly intercession -precisely because Jesus and Mary themselves moved on-together, and thus help us along in our trials.

MOTHERLY LOVE: We can detect a silent love of Mom and Child, inviting us into the same intimacy if we cultivate prayers and frequent conversations to Jesus and Mary-as real, live beings who love us (the "Hail Mary", or aspiration, "Jesus, Mary, I Love you", etc.). By this Icon we notice how much Mary went through-what she did to bring us Jesus: the piercings in the Icon, on her right cheek, from a soldier who threw a lance at it in a battle (the Icon apparently emitted tears, and changed the course of the battle in favor of the Poles), epitomizes her great love of us and Jesus, and, while the scars are still present today, they communicate a still-current sadness-a solidarity with us, while yet not cloaking her maternal beauty.

This Icon helps us to experience life in its fullness-without flinching. There is a beauty here, a "terrible beauty"-as the poet Rilke once said-which displays a rich, earthy, and yet lovingly elevating wisdom of how life is-as a sadness since we are, really, "outside the Garden (of Eden)-but not leading us to despair: because, if we keep our eyes and hearts on the Virgin and Child-as great Poles have done-we will prevail through this world…God can bring us to full humanity-as in the Virgin; and the Woman can bring us to true Divinity-Jesus the King.

MEDITATION on Suffering: "He's never been more beautiful," said Jean Vanier, founder of the international network of L'Arche (The Ark) communities in which volunteers live fill-time with the mentally handicapped. He was speaking of Pope John Paul II. "It is a blessing to have someone so fragile---he is an incredible sign for the world," added Vanier. "He is teaching an incredible lesson in assuming his disability, his fragility and trusting in St. Paul's words: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"-Ntl.Catholic Register: Feb. 2002.

Read other Sermons by Father John J. Lombardi