Sadly ironic, isn’t it? Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus’ Visible Head of the Church: the Pope, Jesus’ Blessed Mother Mary: three pillars of our Catholic Faith are equally three stumbling blocks to unity among all Christians.
Since it is Saturday as I write, I’d like to focus on Mary, principally because for more than half my adult life, I was more Protestant than Catholic in my attitude and relationship with Mary—not that that is something to write home about. But my experience, does, I think give me a connecting point from which to share changed attitudes. I hope that my story might be useful to others—Catholics and non-Catholics alike--who struggle with accepting the Catholic Church’s reverence for Mary, not as adoration or worship that is due only to God, but as right and fitting devotion offered to the Mother of God.
In many ways, my attitude toward Mary was worse than that of my Protestant friends. They kept Mary in her place as the Madonna to be appreciated as Mother of the Savior at Christmas time, but disregarded her place in Salvation History pretty much the rest of the year. Having served as the human vessel of delivering the Redeemer into the world, they saw her job and role as done—not that they did not like her; just that they focused on the Scriptural truth that there is no salvation outside Jesus Christ and that no one journeys to the Father except through Jesus. In their minds, since Mary isn’t mentioned in that context; therefore, Mary isn’t needed.
Sorry to say, I didn’t stop at their relative practical indifference, which on their part, bears no animosity. No, as an “adult,” I not only put aside my “childish” devotion to Mary, but worse, I also looked askance at Marian devotion. As many times as I heard that as a wife and mother, I had every reason to turn to Mary, I didn’t see it. We had nothing in common, I thought. She, the sinless Virgin Mother of God. I, a pitiful sinner. I will go right to Jesus, thank you. The way I saw it Mary had led a privileged life; nothing like mine. In my unholy jealousy, faced with the challenges of life as a wife and mother, I resented her dispensation from fallen human nature; I resented, too, her presumed “easy” domestic life.
The conversion point in my relationship with Mary took place following a head-on crash with a pick-up truck. In an interesting mix of hypocrisy, tainted with continued resentment toward the Mother of God, the first thing I did following the accident was literally to reach for the Rosary beads I had last held when my husband handed them to me as I headed into labor with our first child. Holding tight to those beads with no thought of Mary, only of Jesus, I called out more plaintively for and grasped more tightly on to Jesus’ protecting Hand.
In a desperate effort to spend as much time as possible in Jesus’ Eucharistic Presence, I attended a special Mass at a neighboring parish, even though the Mass was being celebrated in honor of Our Lady of Fatima. I was cynical before Mass as I watched women, both young and old, most crying unashamedly, as they brought flowers to honor her through the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima. What is wrong with these people? I thought with disdain at their highly emotional public display of Marian devotion. Not me. I will keep my focus solely on Jesus.
The morning after that Mass, as I had been doing incessantly since the accident, I was calling out to the Lord, professing my love, begging Him to heal me from both the physical wounds and the psychological wounds from the head-on crash. At a certain point in my prayer, I clearly heard, in my heart, the Lord convicting me with just ten words. Ten words I never have forgotten. “You can’t say you love Me and hate My Mother.”
Uh-oh. So Jesus knew. I hated His Mother. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Jesus knows everything, and I was pretty obvious in my disdain, disregard, and disrespect for His Mother. “You can’t say you love Me….” This part of the equation was news to me. What did Jesus mean? Of course I could and did love Him; my feelings toward His Mother had nothing to do with my feelings toward Him.
Regardless of what I thought, I knew that Jesus is God. I had to confess that He knows what He’s talking about. I might have had feelings of love, but Jesus said if we loved Him we would keep His commands. In giving His Mother to His disciple’s care at the cross, the Church teaches that Jesus gave Mary as Mother to all of us. Many spiritual writers say that the only human possession He had left to give, having given His very Self, was His Mother.
Reject the Mother as Gift from the Son; reject the Son.
No more rationalizing. No more fooling around. If I wanted a fully genuine relationship with Jesus on His terms, I needed to change my attitude toward His Mother. They were a package deal.
On the one hand, Jesus had convicted me at my lowest, most vulnerable point, which on a human level seems unfair. But given that God’s timing is always perfect and His motivations always for our good, our spiritual growth and salvation, I would say that Jesus gently but firmly reached out to me with an invitation to change my attitude toward His Mother at a time when I was most receptive—and desperately needy for His Mother’s loving protection. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I needed help—Jesus’ help. Big time. If being nice to His Mother, if point-blank not hating her would get me His help--I was in! …
Now, admittedly, if I were Mary, I wouldn’t have been so quick to come to my aid. I’d maybe wait till the subsequent years of loving equaled the number of previous years of hating. Not our Mother Mary. After all, Jesus is her Son, and she is His most faithful disciple. Like the Son Who embraces the lost sheep, so does the Mother. His Mother. And what a Mother I found in Mary!
Jesus dishes out tough love. (If you don’t believe that, read His merciful tough love words in Sacred Scripture, e.g. Matt. 7:21, 16:23, Mark 9:42-47, Luke 14:27.) As the only human and the only woman born without original sin, Mary has a capacity to love, to forgive, to discern that far exceeds anyone else ever born of two human parents.As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen liked to invite his viewers and readers to speculate, if you were God and were creating your mother, what kind of woman would you have made?
I know now that Mary is a most compassionate Mother. Yes, she had a privileged birth, but she also suffered; she does understand our sufferings. (Given that I was baptized under her patronage in Our Lady of Sorrows Church, how that fact escaped me for so many years, I do not know, except that jealousy and pride are blinding.)
Thank God the blinders are off! Thank God I can appreciate Mary’s ongoing salvific role in our individual lives and in the life of the Church. Thank God that I have made a consecration to Jesus through Mary, that I pray the Rosary daily, and I cannot imagine life without Mother Mary to counsel, comfort, correct, and console me. Has devotion to Mary interfered with or obstructed worship of Her Son, Jesus? Absolutely not. Quite the opposite. “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) Mary is His best disciple; she wants her spiritual children to love and to obey Him. She is His biggest Faith cooperator. She teaches; she models; she leads. As the woman who crushes the head of the accuser, she is an incomparable Mother-protector/advocate.
When I’ve tried to explain to my Protestant friends why I am so devoted to Mary, particularly in her intercessory role, I rely—not only on their understanding and experience of seeking a human mother’s intercession with a father, for example—but on their faith experience of seeking prayer partners, of being part of an intercessory prayer community. Yes, I can and do go directly to Jesus. But as Archbishop Sheen instructed, since Jesus came to us through Mary, it is more humble and more pleasing to go to Him through Mary. Jesus could have come on earth directly, without having been born of a woman. He didn’t choose to do that. He chose to have a Mother. He gave us that Mother. We do well to accept her maternal intercession and protection. Wouldn’t you agree?
Also, on a human level, we know about networking; we know about the power of the chief administrative assistant to screen and to deliver messages to the CEO, for example. Further, in the context of the Communion of Saints, Mary is the Queen of Angels and of Saints. If we have prayer partners or intercessors who still are with us on planet Earth, how wonderful—how more potent!—are the prayers of those already in heaven. Among all the saints in heaven, whose sway is more powerful with the Lord Jesus than His Mother’s?
When I try to explain to my Jewish friends why Mary is held in high esteem, “all” I have to say is that Mary is the most solicitous of Jewish mothers, always seeking the best for her children. Through Baptism and membership in His church, we are her children in faith. By ethnicity, Mary remains Jewish; pray for her help, I encourage my Jewish friends. Claim her through blood. She’s at least your sister, even if you cannot accept her as your mother.
I love what one of my Jewish friends said in response. First she shared how often before she falls asleep, she ponders the Greatness of God revealed in the Psalms, especially Psalm 8, and wonders—sometimes even worries-- if she will make it to heaven. After explaining that she just cannot accept that Jesus is the Messiah, my friend said, “Every time I read something about him, I substitute 'God' for his name.”
That’s it! I thought. You’ve got it! …Now let His Mother grab hold of you. You’ll make it to heaven.
Which reminds me of another Marian saying of Archbishop Sheen’s. When he gets to heaven and meets Jesus, he hopes to hear Jesus say that He knows him because His Mother told Him all good things about him.
It sounds good to me. I’m counting on her putting in a good word for me, too. What about you?
In case you still have any doubts about Mary’s maternal instinct toward you, consider what she told St. Juan Diego, when she appeared to him expectant with Jesus, in the image we call Our Lady of Guadalupe. She tells the same thing to you:
“Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?... Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?”
There is no greater mother in heaven or on earth than God’s Mother. If you haven’t already claimed her as your Mother, do that right now, as a gift to yourself in this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which begins on December 8th, her Immaculate Conception feast day.
She is your Mother of Mercy. …What are you waiting for? Run to her! Her arms are outstretched to embrace you.
…No matter what your age, don’t be too shy (or too proud) to accept Mary as your Mother.
Remember what her Son Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)
You heard Him. Let’s not miss our chance to be a child of Jesus’, through being a child of His Mother Mary’s!