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