Go to Mary, Your Mother
One of my earliest memories was of the time when my mother tried to teach me to pray the Rosary. I don’t think I was more than two or three years old, but I recall the scene fairly well. My mother owned a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, painted according to the vision of St. Bernadette– blue girdle and white veil– which she kept in a shrine-like setting in our living room. The statue stood on a table with a couple candles and holy cards, and it often had a set of rosary beads hanging from her folded hands. In this memory, my mother brought me into the living room and we knelt down together before the image of Our Lady, and she placed a rosary in my tiny toddler hands and began to pray with me. I recall that it was probably about mid morning, for the sun was slanting through the blinds of our bay window and cast a soft light across the room. As we knelt there, my mom began the prayers of the rosary quietly yet articulately, carefully pronouncing each word so that I could hear them and copy them, even though I didn’t understand them. I remember understanding that we were praying, though, and that prayer was important, so I did my best to say the words like mom, though my mind would wander and I couldn’t remember all of them. My mom and I knelt there for a bit, saying our “Hail Mary’s” and I recall gazing at the statue, marveling at how beautiful she was. After a couple minutes, my mom stood up and told me to continue praying without her, as she walked into the kitchen to finish some work she had begun. As my memory fades out, I remember feeling I had a responsibility to finish the prayers, and though I couldn’t remember the prayers, I remained kneeling and watching and mumbling what I could, proud to be pleasing my mother.
This memory fills me with good humor and gratitude when I reflect on it. It’s laden with some of the peace and comfort of childhood, and so characteristic of my mom and her prayerful life. It’s edifying and endearing to recall how my mom was patiently, earnestly teaching me to pray and yet how ordinary the memory is, how routine it was for her to pray with me, like making dinner. I am grateful that my earliest waking memory is centered on prayer with my mom and with Our Blessed Mother as my mom tried to set me solidly in the Way of Christ, the Catholic faith. But what I find most significant is how my own mom exemplified to me Our Lady’s role in the salvation of each Christian: Our Lady lives to set us on the path towards Jesus, the path of true discipleship, prayer, and sacrifice, and she earnestly desires to make us more like her Son. As I’ve grown in faith and understanding, I’ve discovered how life-giving and powerful our Holy Mother’s prayerful influence has been in my life and in the lives of others devoted to her.
Devotion to Mary is as old as the Church herself, no matter how you look at it. Her first devotee was the Blessed Trinity– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– thus no Christian can set aside His decision to honor her above all creatures, for God’s will norms and orders the universe. From the moment of her existence, God chose her to be the most privileged among humans, preserving her from all sin and guiding her to the moment of the Incarnation, when her “Fiat” to the archangel’s announcement gave God her free, willing acceptance to bear His Beloved and Eternal Son. She was charged with the unthinkable task of mothering and raising Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to the full stature of man and then offering Him back to the Father for His mission on our behalf as the perfect sacrifice and savior of all humanity. Of course God loved Mary most profoundly and in His love He entrusted her with His very self; and, in response to God’s love, Mary gave herself entirely to God, entrusting Him to bring about His plan of salvation in and through her.
Her mission did not end in Nazareth, for Mary has a vocation beyond being the Mother of God, as astoundingly wonderful and infinitely significant as that is. Mary is called to mother and raise all members of Christ’s Body to fullness of sanctity and maturity in Christ. While God’s Marian devotion has been from all eternity, our Marian Devotion began at the foot of the Cross, where Jesus told her, “Woman, behold, your son,” and then to St. John, “Behold, your mother.” At that moment, Jesus gave Mary to John (who represents all Christians), to cherish, honor, and obey as his own mother; and to Mary he gave John, to love, guide, and nurture as her own son. Hence, we read, “from that hour the disciple took her into his home,” and, as faithful disciples of our Lord, we also are expected to take Mary into our homes and our hearts [John 19:26-27]. Therefore, it is our privilege, our benefit, and our duty to know, love, and honor Mary as our Mother, for we are bound to her by God’s salvific will.
It makes perfect sense when you pause to consider it: if God would entrust His Son, Jesus Our Savior, to be raised by Mary and, through her, to go about His saving mission, why would He not entrust his adopted children– His Church– to be raised by Mary and, through her, take up their role in Christ’s saving mission? If we follow Christ, who took her as Mother and entrusted Himself and His Church to her, we ought to take her as mother and entrust ourselves to her. Honoring Mary as our Mother means going to her as we would to a loving mother: conversing with her in prayer, sharing our sorrows and joys and accomplishments, consulting her for advice or asking her for help, and asking her to teach us about Jesus and the things of God. We might take up St. Louis de Montfort’s Marian consecration and keep Mary and her virtues as our ultimate example of how to live and act as Christians, for, as he points out: “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and [we] surrender [ourselves] to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus.”
Throughout Scripture and salvation history, Mary exemplifies perfect Christian discipleship, and by imitating her virtues and relying on her aid, one grows in holiness in a natural and holistic way. In her we find fiery charity, attentive obedience, continual prayer, life-giving purity, heroic patience, unflagging courage, profound humility, welcoming gentleness, divine wisdom, active faith, and selfless sacrifice for others. The Father desires us to be saints and no less, with all our unique traits and quirks, and Mary delights in cultivating our sanctity and raising us to be the great women and men God calls us to be. Her whole mission is to make us like Christ, images of her divine Son and to bring us back to the Father through Jesus Christ as His fully mature children. We all need Mary’s example as a continual reminder, because nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a virtuous Christian, especially since there are so many competing and contradictory narratives about what it means to be a “good person” and so many worldly values disparage the Gospel. But with her as our mentor and mother, we need not fear being lost, for she will bring us to God.
I never noticed it until I was striving for my master’s in theology, but in every significant step of my life journey, Mary has been there, often silently in the background. The month of May has always been a favorite of mine, because of the blossoming of spring and the closing of the school year, but May 13th, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, holds a special place in my heart. Four years ago, May 13th, 2016, I boarded a plane and left the religious community within which I had spent nine months discerning God’s call. It provided a suitable bookend to my entrance day on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th, and gave closure to a year of immersive enclosure and growth, as in a garden in the heart of the Church. This is but one example I’ve noticed of how Mary has diligently guarded, accompanied, and prayed for me throughout my life, and I believe that she offers the same personal, intentional care for each of her children.
Cultivating an authentic devotion to Mary, our Blessed Mother, is something accessible to Catholics of all ages. It can be as simple as reading more scripture to know Mary better, committing to praying a daily rosary, or inspiring affection in oneself or in family members through art and Marian hymns. This last suggestion is particularly effective for small children who are so open to beauty and wonder. I chuckle when I consider how beautiful I found that one Lourdes statue, though when I see it now, it’s really not that pretty. The paint is misapplied and Our Lady’s face looks a bit cartoonish, but I suppose for a small child with a vibrant imagination she looked real and lovely enough. It indicates how my mom’s simple yet sincere efforts to place me under Mary’s protection and inspire devotion to her set me on the path towards Jesus at a very young age. Just after delivering me, she named me for our Blessed Mother and consecrated me to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been a pious kid, inquisitive and zealous about my Catholic faith, for Our Lady never takes our petitions lightly and it’s not a gift for which I can take credit. At any rate, I feel especially blessed to have such devoted mothers and to have the powerful protection of the Queen of Heaven. And although I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve not always faithfully kept up with her, Mary has been quick to take me back and offer her love like any merciful mother, even after months of failing to return her calls.
So today, I hope I’ve elucidated Marian devotion, its roots and purpose, and encouraged you, dear reader, to go to Mary as a mother and enkindle a relationship with her. She is your Mother and we are so blessed to have her. Her love and influence are real and life-giving, she shows us the way of perfect discipleship, and we cannot be more generous than she. As St. Louis de Montfort wrote: “We never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son.” I hope you take some time to get to know your Mother, to devote yourself to her and bring her into your own home, for she loves you and will bring you closer to Her Son, Jesus Christ. Mary, Mother of God, our Blessed Mother, and our Lady of Fatima: pray for us!
Maria M. Miloscia, M.A.T.M. | Campus Minister at Aquinas House