It all began in 1990. I was attending a Rosary Congress weekend in Massachusetts with a youth group from my parish, and one of our parish priests. We were blessed to have found free lodging in the local town through a connection our priest had with someone in the area. Each morning we would go to the local church to celebrate mass. It was then that I first saw her. I remember thinking how strange she looked, this Lady of Czestochowa, with her black face and scars on her cheek and throat. I asked our parish priest about her since I had no knowledge of the icon. He himself knew little about her except that she was Polish, so I vowed to ask a Polish friend of mine about her when we returned home. My friend was also lacking in knowledge except to tell me that the picture had been damaged in a war and that was how the face was scarred. It was not until much later that I learned more about this mysterious image of Our Lady.
About six months later, I went to confession in a neighboring parish. I was feeling very down at the time, struggling with many difficulties, most prominent my battle for healing from an abortion I had had while in my teens. Though many years later and deep into my faith, I still experienced times of despair. I couldn’t seem to grasp the forgiveness of God, to feel it in depths of my soul. The priest in the confessional had just returned from a pilgrimage to Poland, and as my penance he gave me a 3-day novena to Our Lady of Czestochowa.
I don’t know exactly why, but I didn’t stop after 3 days. The prayers to this Lady became a part of my daily prayer time, still not knowing much about her but drawn to her inside of myself. She was trying to tell me something, this Mother of Mercy, and I trusted in her intercession through this image, which somehow had a very strong impact on me.
After some research, I found out various things about the icon. The picture is sometimes called the Black Madonna and is said to have been painted by St. Luke. Many miracles have been associated with the icon, which was moved various times and saved from destruction during the siege of Jerusalem. It was moved by St. Helena who gave it to her son Constantine the Great who then erected a Church at Constantinople dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary. There it became very famous and many graces and miracles were received by all that prayed before it. It was in the reign of Casmir the Great that the icon made its’ way to Poland and was placed in the Castle of Belz which was attacked by Tartars.
The bow of a tartar warrior entered the chapel and struck the throat of the virgin, a mark that to this day remains. Many attempts were made to restore the icon, but no matter what was done or how various artists covered the scars, they would reappear again. It was obvious Our Lady was making a statement, and it was then that I realized the significance of the icon in my life – how our society tries to cover the scars of abortion in our times. There is a refusal to acknowledge the very real suffering, and even in the best of circumstances the feelings of those who mourn are often not legitimized. Even in the church these feelings are often pushed aside by well meaning clergy who tell those in pain to “ forget about it,” “you are forgiven,” “it is in the past.” But, the wounds keep on appearing and crying to be heard.
It has been a struggle for me, but through much prayer and counseling, and a devotion to The Divine Mercy of God, I have found peace. Healing has been, more than anything, a spiritual battle with Satan, I am sure, trying to keep power over me, flinging his lies at me at every turn, but with a trained counselor, good spiritual direction, and endless prayer, healing came. There on the cross with our Beloved Jesus I was given the graces necessary, and the only love deep enough to heal the wounds. There on the cross I found peace with my child, God and within myself.
“Jesus I trust in you” must be lived in order to be healed of the atrocity of abortion. He must be clung to in the depths of despair and all the torments passed through in the healing process. You must believe His mercy and love are bigger than any sin you have committed and trust in His promises. He will never let us down. I know, for I am a miracle of His mercy.
In thanks giving for my healing, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA. How could I ever express my gratitude? When I went into the chapel in Stockbridge, I was not surprised to see a stained glass window of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It was then that I realized it was she who had led me to her son and healing. I also, for the first time, realized how recently it had become more publicized that Pope John Paul II had a great devotion to the Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Czestochowa and I cried realizing how he must pray for us, his children, to these devotions, and that through his prayer unbeknown to me at the time, I myself was probably drawn into these devotions. I thought of the Holy Father’s great devotion and my own consecration to Our Lady, and thanked God for Our Holy Father, Our Lady who always leads us to her son, and Jesus who in his infinite mercy took pity on me, a poor sinner, and lifted me up to himself allowing me to experience the depths of His love and mercy…a love waiting for each and every one of us, no matter what the sin.