On June 3 of every year Messina celebrates with great joy the feast of the Madonna della Lettera, (Our Lady of the Letter).
This feast reminds us of how our Blessed Mother sent a letter to the people of Messina. The story goes that when St Paul went to preach the gospel in Sicily he found that the people were all willing to listen and covert to Christ. Hence, when the Apostle of the Gentiles was prepared to go back to Palestine some Messinians asked him if they could accompany him in order to become acquainted with Our Lady.
Thus, they sent a delegation with a letter in which the inhabitants of Messina not only professed their faith but also sought Our Lady’s protection with St Paul. Upon their arrival our Mother Mary received them with great love and sent back with them a letter to all the Messinians. The ending of the letter, Vos Et Ipsam Civitatem Benedicimus (We bless you and your city) is currently in large block letters under the statue of the Madonna della Lettera which is splendidly put in the harbor of Messina.
Here is the English version of The Letter:
“I, Virgin Mary, daughter of Joachim, humble servant of God, Mother of Jesus crucified, of the tribe of Judah, the offspring of David, Health to all in Messina and the blessing of God, the Father Almighty. We know by what public means your great faith have been quickly accepted, and through the Ambassadors you have confessed that our Son, begotten of God, is God and man, and that after the Resurrection He ascended into heaven: You have the way of Truth through the preaching of Paul the Apostle elect, and for this reason I Bless You and Your City and I want to be your perpetual protectoress.”
Mary rejoices for the Messinians acceptance of the Gospel. But she also rejoices when she sees us loving her Son and Our Saviour Jesus Christ. In the following Medjugorje messages we can magnificently her joy at this.
Dear children! Today I thank you for every opening of your hearts. Joy overtakes me for every heart that is opened to God especially from the parish. Rejoice with me! Pray all the prayers for the opening of sinful hearts. I desire that. God desires that through me. Thank you for having responded to my call (Medjugorje Message, April 18, 1985).
Dear children! I rejoice because of all of you who are on the way of holiness and I beseech you, by your own testimony help those who do not know how to live in holiness. Therefore, dear children, let your family be a place where holiness is birthed. Help everyone to live in holiness, but especially your own family. Thank you for having responded to my call (Medjugorje Message, July 24, 1986).
Having said that Our Lady’s rejoicing is not in vain. She rejoices because she wants us better. She rejoices in order to encourage us to live our Christian vocation with more vigour. And, in Mother Mary’s rejoicing there is always a commitment to engage with. Here are are some examples from her messages:
Hence, Mary’s rejoicing is an encouragement for us to be joyful witnesses and intercessors for those who do not believe. Little children, today also I invite you to rejoice and be joyful Christians, responsible and conscious that God called you in a special way to be joyfully extended hands toward those who do not believe, and that through the example of your life, they may receive faith and love for God. Therefore, pray, pray, pray that your heart may open and be sensitive for the Word of God (Medjugorje Message, November 25, 1997).
Mary’s rejoicing is an encouragement for us to put Jesus’ first, the only good, in our lives. Dear children! Also today I rejoice with you and I call you to the good. I desire that each of you reflect and carry peace in your heart and say: I want to put God in the first place in my life. In this way, little children, each of you will become holy. Little children, tell everyone, I want the good for you and he will respond with the good and, little children, good will come to dwell in the heart of each man. Little children, tonight I bring to you the good of my Son who gave His life to save you. That is why, little children, rejoice and extend your hands to Jesus who is only good. (Medjugorje Message, December 25, 1997).
Mary’s rejoicing is an encouragement for us to prayer with the heart. Dear children! Also today I rejoice with you and I call you all to prayer with the heart. I call all of you, little children, to give thanks to God here with me for the graces which He gives to you through me. I desire for you to comprehend that I want to realize here, not only a place of prayer but also a meeting of hearts. I desire for my, Jesus’ and your heart to become one heart of love and peace. That is why, little children, pray and rejoice over everything that God does here, despite that Satan provokes quarrels and unrest. I am with you and I lead you all on the way of love (Medjugorje Message, July 25, 1999).
Finally, I want to share with you a beautiful reflection given to us by Fr Slavko Barbaric on May 25 2000 message when he speaks about why Mary says I rejoice with you. Fr Slavko writes:
Mary rejoices and the visionaries have testified that Mary comes with joy. Mary rejoices, Mary is in Heaven where eternal joy awaits us and where there is no suffering — not even a shadow of suffering. Mary lived her life in such a way that she was able to enter eternal joy and she suffered much during her life. She experienced the deepest of all possible sorrows, as any mother does who watches the death of her own child and then afterwards holds it in her own lap and then with a few friends carries it to its grave. She lived through the sorrow and the suffering in faith and in love and it can be said that because of this she was able to enter into eternal peace, joy and love. She says …
I REJOICE WITH YOU
… and our question is whether we rejoice. We humans are created in such a way that one could say we are created for joy. We want, we search and we yearn for joy in our lives. But we must discern between true joy which comes from God and which creates and signifies a condition in our souls which can at the same time carry suffering and sorrow. Every person yearns for joy and there are only two ways to joy — the way that Jesus shows us and the way that the world offers us. Many people take the way to joy that the world offers them, but this is a temporary and very superficial way to frivolities that for instance drugs and alcohol offer them, but at the end they remain sad, disillusioned, without a purpose for life and most of all without peace. True joy, as Jesus teaches us, comes from love that is ready to offer itself for the others, and that is ready to suffer. Therefore it is so important for us to follow Mary’s message of April (2000) when she tells us to reflect upon eternal life with joy. If we do that we will also carry our cross, our sufferings and even our death with joy when we know that this life does not end here, but continues in eternal joy and love. That is the reason for joy. That is why Jesus says: “When you have suffered, when one has said every evil thing about you, when one has done every evil thing to you, then be joyful because your names will have been written into the Book of Life.” We may also be joyful when we suffer because we know that when we suffer God will take us into eternal joy. Mary, one can say in human terms, is joyful also because she is able to see many fruits due to her apparitions. Many people have here again begun to pray and have discovered and experienced true peace and true love, and many people by way of the Sacrament of Confession have again been able to find the strength to forgive and to begin their lives anew with the others and with God. This is a reason for joy. Mary is joyful about every family that prays and about every prayer-group. And these are also reasons for our own joy.
Mary, God’s our loving letter, pray for us to forgive, to love, to suffer for what is right and be merciful to others so that we, like you, may have joy and have it abundantly! Amen!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap