Like many evangelical protestants, Jeffrey Johnson found it difficult to stomach the Catholic Church's devotion to Mary.
Born and Raised in Fayetteville, N.C., Jeff believed that the Catholic Church's devotion to Mary was misguided, to say the least. His main objection was that Catholics venerate Mary so much that they obscure the basic belief in Jesus Christ as the only Savoir of the world. Two years ago something extraordinary happened in Jeff's life that changed his way of thinking regarding the Church's devotion to Mary: He started to pray the rosary.
How did it all happen? In a recent phone conversation, Jeff told me, “I began a couple of years ago to study the Catholic Church's devotion of the rosary in order to discredit it. To my surprise, the more I studied the rosary, the more I learned about Christ.” When I asked Jeff what initially motivated him to pray the rosary, he responded immediately: “The mysteries. They helped me to focus and reflect on the life of Christ.”
It's not surprising that, not long after Jeff started praying the rosary, he felt God was calling him to become Catholic. During the Easter Vigil last year, Jeff was received into the Church.
Jeff and I share this experience in common. For I, too, began praying the rosary before becoming a Catholic.
Few Catholics recognize that the rosary has a very attractive ecumenical dimension for some Protestants. Like Jeff, I experienced a spiritual affinity for the rosary because of its Christocentricity. Praying the rosary didn't dim the light of Christ in my life; on the contrary, it helped it to shine out more clearly. The fact that the prayers of the rosary were strongly biblical helped me, when I was Protestant, to recognize its credibility as a profoundly Christian devotion. Through the rosary, I would come to realize that there could be no competition between devotion to Christ and devotion to Mary.
Indeed, devotion to Mary cannot be correctly understood except in the light of Christ, from whom Mary received all that makes her great. Consequently, true devotion to Mary is truly Christocentric.
The fact that the rosary points to Christ makes it an agent for ecumenical unity. Meditating often on the mysteries of the rosary helped me to arrive to the conclusion that Mary is a perfected model of how we ought to live as Christians. In the mystery of the Annunciation, I was always very impressed how Mary said Yes to be the Mother of God: Let it be done unto me according to your word. She didn't demand any conditions from God. She just said Yes.
October is the month of the rosary and the Pope has called for daily rosaries after Sept. 11.
This is our everyday challenge as Christians: to say Yes to God in every circumstance of our life. To live Mary's unconditional Yes to God each day with faith and love is what makes ordinary Christian men and women into saints.
The mystery of the visitation narrates how Mary set out quickly to a town in the hill country of Judah to help her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Here Mary practices an active charity. Her love for others is more than words. It is works, as well. Mary's example of service to neighbor reminds us that there can be no true love of God without a vivacious love for others. In short, Mary's entire life summarizes the two great commandments of our Lord: Love of God above all things and love of neighbor.
Praying the rosary convinced me that every Christian should venerate the Virgin Mary with special devotion because she is, as the “Hail Mary” states: “Mother of God.” In other words, the source of Mary's dignity rests on the truth that she is mother of the Redeemer. When we call Mary the Mother of God, we are not using an honorary title. We are stating a reality.
But Mary's motherhood is not merely physical. It is spiritual, too. On the cross, Jesus said to his mother, “ Woman, behold your son” and, to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” All Christians should, like the beloved disciple, take Mary into their homes; that is to say, their lives. To let Mary, as a mother, into our lives is to trust in her intercession: Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.
We see Mary exercising her motherly intercession at the wedding of Cana. As she interceded to Christ for the needs of the couple at Cana, she continues to intercede to her Son for the many needs that men and women have today. Some may wonder if Mary's intercession contradicts St. Paul's assertion to Timothy: “There is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus …” When speaking about the role of Mary's intercession, the Second Vatican Council teaches: “Mary's maternal function toward mankind in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its efficacy.”
October, the month of the rosary, has a special meaning for people like Jeff and myself who, as Protestants, discovered a great spiritual treasure in the rosary. I'm sure that Our Lady of the Rosary will continue to be for all Christians the Stella Maris (star of the sea) that leads to Christ and his Church.
Father Andrew McNair teaches at Mater Ecclesiae International Center of Studies in Greenville, Rhode Island.