Monday, October 7, 2013

Per Jesum ad Mariam (and back, of course!)

Ok—before you call me a heretic or criticize my admittedly non-existent Latin skills[1], please do read all of this post, written in honor of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary…

I’ve been wanting to write about Mary, the Mother of God, for a while, especially since a lot of people I’ve met lately (even dedicated Catholics) don’t seem to be able to connect with her. I used to be one of you. I grew up in the Bible Belt of East Texas, where Catholics might well be seen as “Mary-worshipers,” though to be fair, I can’t remember ever being personally faced with this accusation. Even so, I wanted to prove that I did not, in fact, worship Mary, and therefore I kept my distance. Also, I had and do have a very close relationship with my mother—I couldn’t imagine needing any other mother. And, finally, if I did, how was the teenager in a lacy veil whose portrait hung on my bedroom wall supposed to fill that role—she was probably younger than me! For many years I guess I made my heavenly mother a pretty rebellious daughter.

Tightly wound up with the story of Mary and me is the story of me and the rosary. When I was little and couldn’t sleep, my mom would pray a rosary in German and I’d be out. (Sometimes I still try that strategy…) Probably in middle school, I tried saying a rosary every day. I ended up grumbling so much about it, though, that it brought more negative than positive energy into my life, and I decided to stop. When I got to college, however, it seemed as if all my friends were rosary-obsessed! I remember one semester, when my three roommates would kneel lovingly around a little picture of Mary, light a candle and pray a rosary almost every night. I never did feel like joining them, but one night, as I was hunched over some homework in the next room, trying not to listen to the prayers, I realized that this resistance was all pride and that I was being very hard of heart. So, humbling myself, I joined their prayer, eventually making it down to my knees in the warm little candle-lit living room.

The next major part of my journey with the rosary came late senior year. As a German major, I was obsessed with literature and films about the Second World War. It was this kind of torturous fascination—depressing as the stuff was, I couldn’t stop reading it. But being of German background, I often felt immense guilt in the process. One night I simply couldn’t sleep, overwhelmed with the weight of the world and its history, so I decided to pray a rosary in German, like my mom used to do with me. Praying in the language that had been so horribly twisted in the war felt like a wave of redemption as I refused to accept the guilt of other people in other times and places (goodness knows I’ve got enough of my own). I felt close to Mary in a way that I’d never felt before, remembering the kindness of my mother and grandmother and coming closer to peace with my ethnic history.

A major reason my devotion to Mary grew during college was probably the sheer fact that I was separated from my “earthly” mother. Aside from that, however, I remember a few moments that really impacted my relationship to Jesus’ mother. Watching “The Passion of the Christ” during my sophomore year, I was struck especially by Mary’s role in the film. She was older by now, no longer the teenager bravely facing an unexpected pregnancy but a grown woman with many joys and sorrows written into the lines on her face. Her expression throughout most of the film remained one of sorrow and shock, face pale and eyes staring ahead in horror at the torture of her son. People kept coming to her for help, though, asking what they could do, perhaps most strikingly Pontius Pilate’s wife. Almost automatically, Mary would comfortingly hold the hand of whoever came to her, lost. Even in her worst pain, it was still her nature to be there for others.

Another moment occurred in the chapel one day, as I was praying the glorious mysteries of the rosary in the sunlight illuminating the tabernacle. At the mystery of the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven I suddenly (perhaps inspired by all the little kids running around) imagined Jesus as a little boy who has built up a kingdom in his backyard and is proudly showing it off to his mother, thrilled at the prospect of crowning her queen with a little chain of slightly crumpled dandelions that he spent the last hour weaving.

Here would be a good moment to address the seemingly heretical title of this post. In a way, I really did come to Mary through Jesus. When I was little, I’d think of how much I love my mother, and how sad I’d be if everyone else didn’t love her, too. So I’d imagine how Jesus must feel, and I’d ask him to help me love his mother more, to make him happy. Later, as I started growing into the awareness that each of us is called to a Lover-and-beloved relationship with Jesus, I started thinking of how, when I really like someone, I can’t wait to introduce him to my family. So I’d imagine Jesus beamingly introducing me, his beloved, to his mother, and the pleasure he must take therein. Ultimately I’d end up loving Jesus more by loving Mary as well.

One final thought. Since I’ve been living in Germany, about two years now—going on three, I’ve developed an affection towards Our Lady of Guadalupe. This image of Mary, seen absolutely everywhere in Texas, from statues in churches to stickers on oversized pick-up trucks and tattoos on big-muscled men’s arms, is a pretty rare sight over here. So on the few occasions I see this image, like on a pro-life prayer card or on the back of a song book, I feel a little bit of home. (This has also started to happen with hearing spoken Spanish in general—who’d have thought?) When I think of Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe, I think of the sister in Georgia who was always ready to heal hearts by having a diaper ready to give to an immigrant parent in an emergency, or the sister in Amarillo who taught me how to make tortillas from scratch. When I think of Mary in general these days, I often think of her hands. Not the perfect porcelain hands you see on the statues, but warm hands with short, practical fingernails and chapped skin from washing dishes. The hands of my mom making school lunches at five in the morning every day for years. As I work to transition from a helpless little girl into a capable woman, I am inspired by Mary at the wedding in Cana, knowing what to do and when to do it, taking initiative and encouraging others to follow Jesus.

[1] For my fellow non-Latin-knowers, per=through and ad=to. The real phrase is “Per Mariam ad Jesum”.

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