That was my relationship with Mary, our Blessed Mother. She was ever virgin, ever holy and, seemingly through religious art, ever young – about as far away as possible from whom I saw myself to be as a woman, wife and mother, especially as I got older.
But a friend pointed out to me that my problem was really in not knowing Mary well enough. He advised me to mediate on her life, to learn more about what it was like to be a woman, wife and mother in her culture and time, to imagine her joys and her pains and to think of her as someone who would have a deep empathy for my own struggles.
I made him a promise that I would try, and so, little by little a relationship grew, perhaps not the same kind so many other Catholics might have, but a relationship none-the-less. We didn’t talk much, Mary and I, in the way I often talked to God, but I found that when I was troubled, fearful or in need of prayers for someone I would say “Hail Mary.” Sometimes that is all I would say, other times I would say the entire prayer. It became second nature.
I found a statue of Mary someone had given me as a gift and put it on my kitchen counter. I put a small votive holder in front of it, and every night I would light a candle, thanking Mary for listening to my prayers and lifting them up to God, and then I would go through the litany of prayers still needed for family members. I still do this every night, and when things get really crazy, during the day, as well. It is a ritual that brings me comfort and settled, for the most part, with peace of mind.
But his past weekend one of my sons was diagnosed with pneumonia, and on top of it, was hit with one crisis after another in the space of 24 hours – a pattern that is frequent in his life, contributing to often overwhelming stress for him, and, subsequently, for me.
I felt like I was coming unraveled and decided he needed a St. Benedict medal to serve as a constant silent prayer for God’s blessing and protection, and for peace, which has been a Benedictine motto for centuries. I was searching on-line for what seemed like an hour for a medal that came with a chain, was affordable and would arrive within two days – since anything could happen in my son’s life within 48 hours.
Then, as we often do in times of extreme stress, I lost my composure and good sense. I had to get ready for an appointment, couldn’t find what I was looking for and exclaimed out loud, “I need help! Please, someone help me find the medal I want for my son. He needs it.”
A moment later, as I hit the page button one more time, the perfect medal showed up on the screen. It was for a man, on a chain and would be delivered in 48 hours. I burst out in tears when I saw the name of the company which was offering the medal: Hail Mary Gifts.
I realized in that moment what a gift Mary has been to me, and to my son, who is the one most often lifted up in prayer. I realized that through my daily requests to Mary for prayer, I was moving through each day, no matter how difficult, with a renewed sense of hope. I realized that relationships take many forms, and while I do not yet pray the Rosary daily or preach Mary to the crowds, or even to family or friends, the relationship I have with her is still meaningful and fruitful in my life, especially in the absence of my own mother who died so many years ago.
I realize, also, that In the grand scheme of things, especially with so many people experiencing tragedy and profound struggles, wanting a medal for someone is not a cause for divine intervention. But I do believe that God intervenes, whether it is through the saints or angels, other people, or especially through Mary, when he wants us to have faith in his desire to be in a relationship with us.
In his May 10 General Audience, Pope Francis offered some inspiring words on our relationship with Mary: “We are not orphans: we have a Mother in heaven, who is the Holy Mother of God. Because she teaches us the virtue of waiting, even when everything seems meaningless. She always trusts in the mystery of God, even when He seems to be eclipsed by the evil of the world. In times of difficulty, may Mary, the Mother Jesus has given to us all, always support our steps. May she say to our hearts: ‘Get up. Look ahead. Look to the horizon. For she is the Mother of Hope.’"