Dear friends in Christ:
As you probably know, my family’s religious background is somewhat “confused”. My natural father was a non-practicing Catholic, my mother was Baptist and my step-father is a non-observant Jew. I grew up going to a Catholic elementary school and attending the Baptist church and serving as an altar boy in a Catholic church. Got a headache yet? As a result, I did not grow up with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism. I never prayed the rosary or attended a novena or invoked the intercession of the saints. In fact, I had family members, good people trying to be good Christians, who I remember condemning Catholics and warning me as a youngster to stay away from the “idolatrous” actions of “those Catholics”. This was at the same time as Vatican II when many Catholics were abandoning devotions, traditions and pious spiritual practices. As a result my devotional practices have come about and developed gradually over the course of my life. Because I did not “inherit” a devotion to the Blessed Mother or the saints, I have had to discover them on my own. What I can say about my devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints is that my love and appreciation for them is continually growing.
May is the month of the year specifically dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. For us in the northern hemisphere it is a particularly fitting month as it is Spring. When I look at the depictions of Mary in sacred art, I almost always see a tenderness, a sweetness, a fairness, a comeliness. When I read the accounts of Mary in the gospels, I experience the same. I am always struck that as one of his last words before dying on the cross, Jesus says to St. John “Behold your mother!” In his agony and in hers, Jesus thinks of his mother and of his disciples. How can we be a true follower of Jesus and not “behold” Mary as our mother? While I think most people think of Mary in connection to the birth of Jesus, there is so much more to her and to her “discipleship” to her son. In a wonderful way, Mary is the very first Christian as she “accepted” and believed in Jesus before any other human being. Likewise, Mary is the very first evangelist as she carried “The Word of God made flesh” to others – to St. Joseph, to Sts. Anne and Joachim, to Sts. Elizabeth, Zechariah and John the Baptist and ultimately to the shepherds, the Magi, Sts. Simeon and Anna and to the whole world! (And to think she did not even have her own television ministry!)
There is a Latin saying, Ad Jesum per Mariam (To Jesus through Mary). This represents the spirituality of a 17th century French priest, St. Louis De Montfort. Some have perhaps misconstrued this, and admittedly the language St. Louis de Montfort used in the 17th century is a bit awkward for many today, but the authentic understanding of this phrase and this spirituality is quite fitting, necessary and beneficial for us today. As God the Father has chosen to bring Jesus to us through the instrumentality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can rightly approach Jesus through Mary as well. In doing so, we do not put Jesus in an inferior position. We do not in any way elevate Mary above God, but in beholding Mary as our spiritual mother given to us by Jesus himself, we rely on her and seek her assistance in growing closer to Jesus. Mary never simply brings souls to herself. Mary always brings us to Jesus and Jesus to us. She always helps us to follow him with greater devotion and greater love. Not by coincidence or accident are the very last recorded words of Mary in the entire Bible “Do whatever he tells you!” (Jn 2:5).
To love Mary is to love her son! To be a follower of Jesus is to do whatever he tells us and Jesus does tell us to behold Mary as our Mother!
If it is not part of your regular prayer life to pray the rosary, try it! If you seldom or never pray to the Blessed Mother begin by coming once a month (or even weekly) to our Novena on Wednesday evenings. If all you know is the Hail Mary, try praying the Regina Caeli (Queen of Heaven) or Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) or the Memorare (Remember O most gracious Virgin). These are beautiful prayers which can and will deepen our devotion to Mary and Jesus.
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately