I've always struggled with my relationship with Mary. Jesus? No problem. Mary? More of a struggle. Now, understand, I've never had any difficulty with any of the prayers to her or the doctrine concerning her. Theologically, she and I are good. But my relationship with her has been fairly, well ... nonexistent.
Somehow though, while getting Elizabeth asleep for her nap, I realized that I needed Mary. She wasn't optional. She wasn't like one devotion among many, one saint, you could take her or not. She isn't the Queen of Apostles and the Mother of the Church arbitrarily. She is special. She is necessary. And overlooking her or neglecting her is to one's own detriment.
Without her we can never get to Our Lord, because He came through her. She is not to be compared to Our Lord, for she is a creature and He is a Creator. But if we lose her, we cannot get to Him. That is why we pay so much attention to her; without her we could never understand how that bridge was built between Heaven and earth. - Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Am I saying Christ himself is not enough? Of course not! What I am saying is that I of myself am not enough. Plain and simply, I need all the help I can get. I need Mary. This was no small revelation for me given my lifelong difficulty in forming any relationship with her. I figured, while I had nothing against her, it wasn't important whether I fostered any devotion to her or not.
But, like all devotions, God doesn't give them to us to glorify the saint or angel of that devotion. God gives them to us because we need help and lots of it. And while God Himself gives us various devotions to help us, Jesus Himself gave Mary from the cross and specifically told us to behold our mother. He sets up saints before us in every era for us to see, to copy and to praise God but Mary wasn't just held up, she was verbally given and we were commanded by Jesus himself to "behold" her as our own mother. This is not an option. It was commanded, indeed, from the cross. Even as He is dying, Christ knew we'd need help accepting His gift fully. And who would better know not only how to accept His gift but how much help we'd need in accepting it than she who accepted it perfectly?
To behold is not to just see, but to gaze upon. We are not to just notice Mary is there. We are to gaze at her and not just as an example. He doesn't say, "Behold my mother," but rather, "Behold your mother." We are to gaze at her and take her as our own mother. Jesus commands us to recognize her as our own mother.
As May was approaching, it seemed like as good a time as any to begin deepening my relationship with Mary. I wasn't quite sure where to start. Certainly prayer was good but, if you've seen my other blog posts, you know that May was no routine month at our house.
So I stopped by the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception's book shop to see what they might have to help me understand Mary not in any theological sense, but in a more personal, a more human sense. I have a degree in theology, but I haven't had the Blessed Virgin over for tea. I searched through books on devotions and theological explanations. Nothing like what I wanted. Then, I found one. I'd never heard of it nor the author. There was nothing on the book about the author at all. It looked like what I wanted but how did I know it wasn't just some quack's imagination run amok on Mary? I took a gamble and bought it and set my theologian husband on finding out who the author was.
Turns out Franz Willam is a respected theologian, quoted even by Pope Benedict XVI. I spent the month of May reading his book Mary the Mother of Jesus. I have to heartily recommend it. He founds everything on Scripture but applies historical knowledge of the culture and times in which she lived and common sense to paint a very faithful and realistic picture of Mary and what her life was like. I loved this book and cannot recommend it enough. It was fascinating.
Some of the little things helped put Mary in perspective. For example, the soldiers gamble for Jesus' garment because it was seamless and they didn't wish to divide it. Such a garment, without a seam, would have had to have been woven on the loom. Weaving the family clothes would have Mary's responsibility and, as Jesus was the head of the family, it is reasonable to assume that garment the soldiers gambled for was, in fact, woven and made by Mary herself. Willam points out that, any parent who's child is dying or just died, would treasure the clothes that child was wearing, particularly if they had been hand-made for that child. So the gambling of Jesus' garment takes on the added significance in light of the suffering of Mary. It is little wonderful insights like this that make this book a real gem.
He has written a similar book on the life of Jesus. I'm hoping to get my hands on it at some point. But I digress.
For those like me, who enjoy learning by reading books, it was certainly helpful but as someone relatively new to this relationship, I am wondering how others build their relationship with Mary? What do you do? Any suggestions while I am waiting for her to accept my invitation for tea? :)