January 21, 2011

Learning to love the Mother of God

"Let us not imagine that we obscure the glory of the Son by the great praise we lavish on the Mother; for the more she is honored, the greater is the glory of her Son. There can be no doubt that whatever we say in praise of the Mother gives equal praise to the Son."
-Saint Bernard of Clairvaux


When I was a Fundamentalist Protestant, I never gave much thought to Mary. She was sometimes given brief obligatory mention around Christmas, but even then my pastors were careful not to talk about her too much. The fear of giving her a role of importance was almost tangible.

In casual conversations with other Christians, any admiration of Mary was almost always preceded with, "I don't agree with the attention Catholics give to her, but..."

I was probably the worst about it. I criticized all forms of devotion to her with a rather puffed up, self-satisfied mind. I scoffed at the so-called "visions" that "allegedly" appeared to people. If anything appeared to anyone, I said, it was the devil. To have a statue or picture of her was idolatry. And to pray to her? Well that was outright sacrilege.


Later, as I began embracing the Catholic Church for its truth and historicity, my rhetoric on Mary softened. A fiery priest made an indelible impression on me when he rumbled through the radio, "If she was good enough for Jesus, she's good enough for you!" Needless to say I was taken down a notch or two that day. Eventually I grew comfortable saying the Hail Mary. I purchased a statue of her for my home. I began meditating at greater length on her role in Jesus' life, and finding inspiration for my own role as a mother. I even obtained the Brown Scapular in devotion to her, although I didn't wear it regularly.

But the awful truth is that even up until the present day, having been a Catholic now for almost two years, when it came to the Blessed Virgin I still kept putting on my Protestant-tinted glasses. In fact, I have been most terribly critical, scrupulous, and superficial towards her. It has taken a frustrating and deeply humbling spiritual struggle to realize it.


The specifics of the struggle is not so much important as is what it has revealed to me. And what it revealed to me is that I've been full of disgusting pride about my inner spiritual life, specifically in regards to Mary. See, I thought I could be a holy and devout Christian without her.

It started when I read what I'm sure was a well-meaning Catholic apologetics book by a former Protestant that assured his readers that one need not have any real Marian devotion to be a "good Catholic." He talked up the fact that Mary hadn't been mentioned in his particular Catholic parish for an entire year, and that one need not say a single Rosary in their lifetime if they don't want to (which is true -- there is no requirement that a Catholic has to have devotion to the Rosary...but the greater point made to me was that Mary was dispensable to conducting a pious life).

This book encouraged me to keep my Protestant glasses firmly on my face. I found myself rather pleased with the idea of not having need of any real Marian devotion besides rattling off a few Hail Mary's here and there.

As time grew on, I began devouring writings by the Saints. St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese, St. Padre Pio,and more. I became interiorly troubled when I realized that all of them either demonstrated by their spiritual practices or directly preached about the critical need for every Christian to cultivate a deep and abiding relationship with Mary. In fact, I read over and over that to have true devotion to Mary was the surest and most direct route to knowing Christ and becoming holy.

In my pride I thought to myself, "Surely that does not apply to me. I'm sure I can be a most devout Christian without going to Mary! After all, why go to her when I can go directly to Jesus? Certainly that is the better way."

So I ignored her. I said the Divine Mercy Chaplet to the exclusion of the Rosary because I felt it was more centered on Christ and thus more "effective." I would sometimes modify traditional Catholic prayers to God that started by saying, "Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,..." I felt like I was sometimes a better Catholic than others because I didn't focus on her very much. I actually imagined God was pleased with me for acting this way!

It is just in this last week that I've begun to see just how essential Mary must be to me, and how every Christian needs her desperately if they are ever going to know her Son. I plead for her help...I'm going to need it very much.

"Just as in nature and bodily generation there is a father and a mother, so in the supernatural and spiritual generation there is a father who is God and a mother who is Mary. All true children of God have God for their father and Mary for their mother; anyone who does not have Mary for his mother, does not have God for his father. This is why the reprobate, such as heretics and schismatics, who hate, despise, or ignore the Blessed Virgin, do not have God for their father though they arrogantly claim they have, because they do not have Mary for their mother."

-- St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin

9 comments:

  1. I don't think it's wrong to read about her and ponder on her life and her impact of Christ. She was his Mother afterall and it would be neat to know about her life as the Mother of our Savior. I don't think it's wrong to want to be like her in a Mothering way,if that makes sense.

    I just haven't ever caught on to praying to her. I always heard that the Catholic church did,but I never understood and still don't. Like you said why pray to her when you can go to Jesus yourself as the Bible clearly states. Not trying to start anything,just commenting!

    And I don't think pictures of her are idolatry,nor pictures of any disciple of even Jesus. I have several in our home.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The simplest way I can explain it Heather is we honor her and ask her for her help in becoming Christ-like because it pleases Jesus that we do so. :) Jesus gave her to us as our spiritual mother while he was on the cross dying (John 19:26-27). We also believe Jesus has made her Queen of Heaven (Rev. 12:1-5) and thus Queen over all the saints and angels who abide there. We believe it has pleased God to give her these uniquely special graces and that He has done so for our benefit, aside from His own glory.

    Since she is so perfectly united to Jesus in Heaven, he told us to embrace her as our own, and he has gone out of his way to give her great glory and honor, we believe it pleases him that we approach her with our petitions and desires. We don't think of her as a 'rival' to Jesus' glory and power, but that to draw close to her is drawing close to him. Because her only will is to make Jesus better known and understood to us. We believe Jesus always looks kindly on those who love his mother and that he sees it as a sign of humility and respect for HIM that we go through her, just as we are infinitely more pleasing to God the Father when we approach his throne through Jesus Christ.

    I know the concept is a bit hard for Protestants to accept, but look at it this way -- Protestants have no qualms about asking others here on earth to pray for them. Why? Because essentially they believe it will have greater influence with God. Especially if the people praying for them are truly righteous. Isn't that why churches have prayer groups, prayer chains, etc? Well it's the same for Catholics, its just that we also ask for those we know are in Heaven to pray for us also because we know they are perfect there and so they can be an even better advocate for us. And the most perfect and glorified human advocate in Heaven is Mary. :)

    Anyhow, I didn't mean to ramble on for so long. Sorry! I hope I helped explain the Catholic perspective in a way that is a little bit easier to understand.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Was it Mrs. Hahn (Scott Hahn's wife) who first said "I had three obstacles to becoming Catholic: Mary, Mary, and Mary" ? Whoever said it, I can relate. I have so much to learn. Thank you for posting this.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Christina, that sounds familiar. I do remember she had significant issues with Mary when Scott began converting. I think it's pretty natural for all Protestants, given what we are taught.

    ReplyDelete
  5. One thing to remember is that whenever Mary asked Jesus to anything, Jesus did it to please His mother. Jesus truly did emulate the respect we are to have for our mother (and father). If we ask Mary to go to Jesus with a certain petition, how is Jesus going to deny His mother's request?
    Of course, if it's not God's will, then it will not be done...which is why not everything that is asked of the Blessed Mother is automatically granted. :)
    Great post Erika!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Erika, it makes sense to pray to a living person,but to me,not someone who is dead. Not being offensive. I've never really heard in the churches I have attended anything downing Mary or saying not to look up to her. She is an awesome figure,but even without her Jesus would have been perfect and still an awesome man. I'm going to just hush now. I don't want it to get in bad spirits. Thank you and Tina for trying to explain to me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Heather,

    Mary is not dead, in the ultimate, most important sense, because no one is dead *in Heaven*. Mary is with God, and she is more alive than any of us can be while in our weak, sinful frames on this earth.

    If Mary is alive with God, right now, in Heaven, why should I not ask her to pray for me, similarly to the way that I would ask you, or any other Christian, here on earth, to pray for me? This is what the Biblical author means, when he writes that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses! It's an amazing truth! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Erika,
    First of all I'd like to say that your blog is absolutely beautiful - in form AND content. Second, I chuckled to myself as I was reading this post. This is very much how I felt in my conversion until recently! Learning to love Mary has been a process, but I am in awe over the difference devotion to her has made in my life - and how much closer it truly has brought me to Our Lord and Savior! Keep up the fantastic work, I'm excited to read more.

    ReplyDelete