Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ave Maria

"I guess I have forgiven myself. Although sometimes in the night my dreams will take me back to sadness, and I have to wake up and forgive again. But Mary is always there. I feel her at unexpected moments. She will suddenly rise, and when she does, she does not go up into the sky, but further inside of me."
- The Secret Life of Bees

In reflecting on how the second part of the Secret Life of Bees quote inspired me, I thought it pretty "coincidental" that the month of May is the "Month of Mary" in the Catholic world. And in light of Mother's Day, I thought it appropriate to explore the influence of Our Blessed Mother.

Many people do not understand the Catholic belief of Mary, mostly out of ignorance. I remember the first time I was asked about this. The setting was 7th grade health class. A fellow classmate informing me that I "worshiped Mary" and insisted this to be true even after I corrected that I, in fact, did not worship the Mother of Our Lord. Let me be clear, I do not expect anyone who is not Catholic that reads this blog to necessarily believe what I believe, but to learn the reasons why and understand.

For me, Mary, "the mother of my Lord" as Elizabeth addressed her, is the perfect example of joyful obedience to the Lord's will. There are many times in our lives when we have our own plan, and more often than not, those plans for me do not end up being the same as Our Lords. Often when I am learning to follow a path I had not planned, I think of Mary's selfless "yes". She truly had an "unplanned pregnancy" and gave up her life for her Son.

Many people have asked why I "pray to Mary". Allow me to be clear in this, in "praying" to Mary, there is never any worship of her, or belief that she is God, or anything close to it.

It may be beneficial to start at the bottom here: saints in general. The easiest way for me to explain the Saints is to explain the interaction between the members of the body of the Church. When our loved ones enter heaven, they are still part of the body of Christ, but more perfected as they are no longer affected by sin and the things of this world. Just as I would ask my friend to pray for me, I also ask saints to pray for me. And why might their prayers be more beneficial than my brothers and sisters still on earth? Simple, they are fully with God now. Their prayers are unified with his will, and without sin to affect them, they are able to purely pray, knowing better than those on earth what I need. In the same way that I would probably ask my minister or friend that has a strong faith to pray for me over someone who is not as close to our Lord, it makes sense to ask those who are fully in the presence of God over those still on earth.

All souls in heaven are saints, and some have been confidently declared to be in heaven. These Saints are often deamed "patron" of something (teachers, struggling marriages, mothers, lost souls, etc.). In these cases, while that Saint was on earth, he or she dealt with the same circumstances, and lived through them successfully following Our Lord. They are an example for us (just as Michael Phelps may be an example for swimmers). So, as a youth minister, I may look to both youth ministers I respect here on earth for an example, along with someone like Saint John Bosco, patron of youth, who also worked with youth.

Not only are these patron saints a good example of their particular areas, they are also one to ask for prayers. It would be fitting to ask a parent who has lost a child to pray for someone else who has lost a child. Someone who has had that experience has a much better idea of what heartache and struggle consists in losing a child. Their prayers will be much more direct to the needs of that person, as they have experienced those struggles and know what details to pray about. In the same way, a mother with a rebellious child might ask St. Monica for prayers.

In all of this, I hope I have been clear that these are simply our "champions of the faith", those who have finished the race and fought the good fight. Those who have endured life as we are, who have experienced what we are experiencing. Those who can pray for us without the influence of this world and with knowledge of our circumstances.

Now, back to Mary. All of this works in the same way with Mary. However, Mary is Jesus' mother and obviously very close to her Son. When Elizabeth addressed her as "mother of my Lord", this meant more than what it may mean today. "Mother of my Lord" was the title for the queen, the mother of the king. And as a brief history lesson, if someone had a request, they would not go directly to the king. They would place their petition before the queen, who would then take it before the king. She was their "intercessor". This is where we get the idea of intercessions. It is not that we cannot pray directly to God, it's just like another avenue (just as asking friends to join in prayer for you strengthens your prayer). And Mary, as Jesus' mother, is clearly closest to her Son. She brings our needs to His feet, just as we do.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." - The first half is the words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:28-35). The second half those spoken by Elizabeth (Luke 1:42-48).

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen." - Acknowledging Mary's position as holy and mother of Jesus, and asking her to pray for us.

In my personal experience, Mary has been a beautiful example to me of joyful obedience, the most beautiful example of the patient and loving mother and wife I desire to be, and a woman that has endured the greatest heartache in watching her Son scoured and crucified.

I pray that these explanations have been helpful in understanding Catholic beliefs!