A crucial development in my life in the Lord occurred some 17 years after I first began to walk with Him, with my consecration to Mary, the Mother of God. She led me to a whole new level of loving Jesus; and she entered into my maternal need and filled it.
As I noted in my post, Mom, my mother was a remarkable woman. But she herself admitted that – sacrificial, hard-working, engaging, and gifted as she was – she was not particularly warm or nurturing during her time raising us. There was also a perfectionism, directed at herself as much as us, that we learned to chuckle at – eventually. For example, her very Irish-motherly response to my getting a doctorate was, “Well, you know, Sean, you’re not the first Ph.D. in the family!” When I’d told her the theme of my master’s thesis, on which I’d labored many hundreds of hours, her tactful response had been, “Isn’t that kind of obvious?” You get the picture. She was a very hard act to follow and not easy to please, although she mellowed considerably in her later years.
Perhaps due in part to my mother’s not-terribly-motherly style, I found that Marian hymns always got to me, even as a child. I’d get teared up at the “fairest child of fairest mother” line of “Sing of Mary”; as an adult, I found Mary’s gentleness and humility (“I am the handmaid of the Lord”; “Do whatever He tells you”) moving and arresting. During one retreat I attended shortly after college, I went to a very difficult Confession to a wonderfully Marian priest. His compassion was profound. As we sat in a bit of silence, he, for no apparent reason, observed, “You’re Mary’s child, aren’t you?”, and I started to cry. I said, “Yes, I am! I don’t get it; I don’t know why she gets to me so; but I am.” It touched a deep place in my heart; a healing occurred then.
Despite this, it was not until years later that I came into a relationship with the Blessed Mother. Just as I’d been unaware that I could have a relationship with Jesus until I was a senior in high school, I was unaware I could enter a relationship with the Blessed Mother until I was in my thirties. A friend invited me to a men’s prayer group led by two priests with a strong devotion to Mary. I became aware that, while loving Mary, I also held her in some suspicion: amid many positive experiences with Protestant brethren, I had been negatively influenced by their strong reservations about the Blessed Mother. The priests kept talking about “consecrating yourself to Mary”, and I didn’t at first know what that meant. I did know it had something to do with surrender, with placing myself in her hands. But wouldn’t that pull me out of Jesus’ hands?
On one level, I knew that the devotion of so many saints to Mary, and the constant teaching of the Church on the benefits of such devotion, argued strongly for the legitimacy of consecration to the Blessed Mother. But I couldn’t shake the fear that she would somehow come between me and Jesus, despite reassurances. “Mary loves Jesus more than any other human being has; how could she lead anyone away from Him?” This made sense to me; yet the reluctance remained.
One of the men in the group embodied a gentle, peaceful, powerful masculinity that greatly impressed me. I essentially asked him, “What’s your secret?” He attributed that gentleness and peace amidst an uncompromised masculinity to his relationship with Mary. This was the first time I realized that relationship with Mary was possible, just as relationship with Jesus was; and that this relationship was the purpose, the result of, consecration.
One of the priests leading the group made the purpose of consecration clearer. He said that all of those who have gone to Heaven (the saints, canonized or not) experience complete union with the Trinity. Relationship with any of the saints is possible, just as relationship with any brother or sister in the Lord on Earth is. The saints are the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) cheering us on as we run the Christian race. Because of their union with God, the saints share His knowledge of us and love us with His love.
The priest continued: We know that fellowship with devout Christians on Earth naturally leads us to closer fellowship with Jesus. The saints, by definition, have complete fellowship with Jesus, according to their capacity. The Blessed Mother has a preeminent capacity for union with Jesus: of all the saints, she loves Him most. So she, most effectively, “waves us on” to Jesus. This is consecration to her is especially encouraged. Moreover, as Mary is truly the mother of Jesus, she is truly the mother of His mystical Body, the Church, and truly mother of each individual Christian. In her womb, she formed Jesus into Jesus; in the Church, His Body, she forms us into Jesus, through her intimate union with the Holy Spirit.
My doubts were alleviated. There was a prayer, “My Queen, My Mother”, that the men’s group would recite whenever they met. I had never recited it with them, not wanting to recite a prayer I didn’t fully believe. I was ready now to do so. I in fact did do so at home, not wanting to wait until the next meeting.
Something happened. The relationship began. I came to know Mary as a real person, a real mother, just as I’d come to know Jesus as my Lord and my Savior almost two decades before. Finally, I understood. Far from coming between me and Jesus, Mary became like the ruby in the laser, that takes an ordinary beam of light and makes it immeasurably more powerful. I had honestly believed I couldn’t possibly love Jesus any more strongly, but Mary took that love multiplied it a thousand times. She gave me HER love for Jesus. It was breathtaking.
More: with our earthly mothers, we get glimpses – some quite powerful, but mediated through their human limitedness – of God’s infinite maternal capacity. (All good things, including maternity, ultimately come from God.) With Mary, I experience, mediated through her sanctified humanity, God’s maternal qualities in their completeness: through Mary’s total nurturing, acceptance, availability, gentleness, other-directedness, and peacefulness. Now I have a perfect Mother, as well as a perfect Father. Praise be to God.