As I peeked around the roadblock of authority, excited by all the knowledge and mysteries to discover about early Christianity, I caught sight of someone who caused me to hesitate. Someone I had been carefully avoiding for years. If I wanted to go any further, I was going to have to meet Mary.
I used to look at Mary as a reason Catholics had gone astray, as if she was the most obvious example of idolatry. Her name is always on their lips, especially as they kneel and bow before her images and statues as if they are worshiping her (spoiler alert – they’re not praying to her as if she were God, they are asking her to pray for them).
A reality check was needed to calm my initial fears.
- Do I already have any images and statues in my home or church to remind me of my faith? Crosses ✔ nativity scenes ✔ necklaces ✔ pictures and quotes from the Bible ✔
- Do I ever pause in front of pictures of my loved ones and smile, maybe even sending up a prayer, as I think of them? ✔
- Do I ever ask others to pray for me? ✔
- Do I feel confident that God allows images and statues to be used as a part of worshiping Him? ✔ (I learned this about God as I read His instructions for building His tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, including statues of angels.)
As I looked deeper, I realized that my lingering concern about Mary was not idolatry, it was actually her own humility. She’s barely mentioned in the Bible, and it’s said this is because she rightly wanted all attention turned toward her Son. So I always wondered why Catholics didn’t honor this request and stubbornly kept bringing her back to the front of the line.
But maybe, just maybe, I was the stubborn one.
“From now on, all generations will call me blessed.” ~Luke 1:48 (NIV)
When I first met Mary, I didn’t even recognize her. I was giving money to a homeless man, and he returned the favor by giving me a handmade necklace. I innocently hung it over my car mirror, the Crucifix dangling in plain sight, as the man held his hand over his heart as if he had just given me his most sacred possession. I assumed God was giving me a sign to keep helping the homeless. But when I posted about it later, I found out it was much more than a necklace. It was a set of Rosary beads. I wouldn’t find out until I tried it that besides being more Biblical and acceptable than I had thought, the Rosary is the most powerful prayer that I have ever lifted to Heaven.
That is how she came into my life. Quietly. Humbly. The answer to my prayer (Lord, show me how to do this for real.) was Jesus – and Mary was my guide, ready to take me to Him. I still didn’t know it was her leading me, as I blindly followed a longing to a prayer retreat center. While there, completely unaware of what God wanted from me, I stumbled onto a path, not even knowing what it was. Mothers are like that, you know. We don’t always see the influence they have on our lives right away. But they are there while we take our baby steps – guiding, protecting, setting us gently on the right path and praying we will make good use of it.
That path was the Way of the Cross. As I was following the steps of my Savior through fourteen stations of His Passion, in complete awe of His sacrifice, I was also retracing the steps of His Mother. A Mother filled with sorrow and love who is said to have counted and followed every step He made, revisiting His Passion again and again after His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. It has been said she continued walking this path of devotion even after she moved from Jerusalem to Ephesus, carefully measuring and marking the Way of the Cross. The same Way of the Cross that so many Christians follow today. The same one she led me to in the middle of nowhere.
Ever since those first two encounters, she has been patiently waiting for me to want to know more. And when I finally looked closer, I found a beautiful treasure. A gift so precious and carefully guarded that I would almost rather protect her than share her. She is the new Ark of the Covenant, the holy vessel holding the mystery of Christ.
Mary is now so vitally important to my faith that I can clearly see why I almost walked away from Christianity years ago. Why I felt so lost – because I was trying to do it without her. And without her, it just doesn’t make sense. Not logically, not spiritually, not even physically.
Consider this concept from Saint Louis de Montfort. God…is become fruitful by Mary, whom He has espoused. It was with her, in her, and of her that He produced His Masterpiece, which is God made Man, and that He goes on producing daily, to the end of the world, the…members of the Body of that adorable Head. This is the reason why…the more He finds Mary, His dear and inseparable spouse, in any soul, the more active and mighty He becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul…
Sounds complicated enough to require several readings, I know. But the way God has chosen to produce our salvation actually boils down to a familiar concept of family and some very simple math.
Father + Mother = Son
Holy Spirit + Mary = Jesus
All Christians nod their heads in unison as we accept this is what happened physically. And so it follows that this is what must happen spiritually in our souls to fill our hearts with Jesus.
I am one hundred percent confident of this truth because I have witnessed it in my own soul. When I removed myself from the equation, allowing room for Mary’s virtue to work with the Holy Spirit’s power, my soul came bursting alive with Jesus. The sensation of my Savior rushing into my heart knocks me to my knees on a daily basis.
When the physical and the spiritual are acting in tandem, that is the definition of living our faith.
That is how we do this for real.
Desiring to express my overflowing love and gratitude for the gift of her Son, I can see how my original view of Mary’s humility was not helping to complete my faith. Her nothingness on earth is a good thing, truly in line with the teachings of Christianity. And it’s in line with how I experience her in my own life – she came in unannounced, asking for nothing in return for her service except my devotion to her Son. Yes, humility is a great virtue that she continues to demonstrate, and we are to practice it to the point of dying to self.
But there is more. We don’t die to self in order to remain dead forever. We believe in a glorious resurrection. Remember what Jesus said in the Beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. ~Matthew 5:2-3 (DRA)
He promises that humility on earth results in inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven. So it makes sense, to see this promise come to fruition, that the most humble creature to ever walk the earth should in fact inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. We see this reality, this example of a glorious resurrection, in full color and splendor through Mary. If she were still nothing after her death, how could we believe this promise of resurrection from Christ to be true?
He whispers to my soul. My promises are always true. Don’t just say it. Believe it. Witness it happening in front of your eyes and inside of your heart. Live it.
Mary is not a roadblock. Mary is an essential part of the equation, necessary for the complete production of Jesus in our souls. Mary is holding the lantern, guiding those who are seeking Him. Mary raises us to know and love Him.
For we cannot follow Him completely if we don’t fully know and love Him.
And if we want to know and love the Man, we should start by asking His Most Holy Mother.
The Virgin Annunciate by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-87)
For a thorough description of The Rosary, click here.
For a glimpse into Mary’s life, I highly recommend The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To learn more about Mary’s purpose, I highly recommend True Devotion to Mary.