All Over the World, People Are Finding Mary, Our Spiritual Mother
“Mary's function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power.” (CCC 970)
Mary, our Spiritual Mother, has a way of bringing former Catholics and Protestants to her motherly spiritual arms — sometimes in extraordinary ways.
As the director of a Marian shrine in the Bible Belt — Our Lady of Joyful Hope/Our Lady of South Carolina in Kingstree, South Carolina — I have been expecting that it would create interest, if not some curiosity. The place of the Eucharist, Mary, the Saints and the Petrine office bewilders many. But it was surprising to be asked whom we worshiped. I was indeed very grateful when a beautiful life-size statue of Jesus with outstretched arms was donated to our Shrine. It was appropriately placed before a large cross on the front lawn, manifesting that we are Christians!
Then one day, I read a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, which addresses the Marian dilemma, referring to Matthew 1:20: “Like Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.” On the same day I providentially read the May 2021 issue of The Coming Home Network International newsletter. The front page feature article was a conversion story, “My Heart was in the East,” by Allan Osser, a former Baptist minister in Nova Scotia, Canada.
He found Mary while browsing through a thrift store. He came across the book The Miracle Detective by a very experienced Rolling Stone reporter. It detailed the investigations he made of the Marian apparitions around the world. It resulted in his becoming a Catholic. Osser was struck by the author’s learned presentation of the subject. One specific alleged European apparition caught his attention. To his surprise, he later came upon two books in the same store that gave further information about that story.
The minister mentioned Mary only at Christmas and then put her away with the season’s ornaments. But he found his idea of Mary “worship” being corrected so much so that, as he read further about this universal mother, he confessed, “I discovered a deep longing in my heart for a spiritual mother.”
He had the notion that Jesus was directing him toward this relationship. With it came a strong desire to visit that current apparition site. But as a Baptist he had to make sure of the correctness of what he was doing. He and his wife decided to pray for a providential sign. It came at a Protestant conference where one of the speakers spent extensive time on the growing friendlier relationship with Catholics. With this information he could now plan his desired pilgrimage without any fear of error.
As a birthday gift his wife offered him his desired pilgrimage with a group of Catholics. He said that the cordiality with which he, a Protestant pastor, was received made it “one of the most delightful experiences” of his life. The daily program of religious services at various locations gave the impression of “having church all the time.”
The best gift he received there became evident to him: “I left with the firm assurance that Mary was my true mother in the faith.” It was further strengthened when he delved into Eastern Christianity, which mentions her frequently in their liturgy. He would eventually discover that this dimension of revelation was firmly rooted in Sacred Scripture, Catholic Tradition and the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
After years of clarifying other misconceptions of Catholic faith and practice, he was at peace to enter the Catholic Church. “I knew that it was Mother Mary and my other prayer partners, the saints, who had not failed in their intercession for me,” he wrote. He finally felt that he arrived at his spiritual destination.
The Coming Home Network International reported in its May 2017 newsletter the account of Charlotte Wiley, who was born into a Catholic family but who already in her pre-teens had serious doubts regarding the faith. At 16 she began attending Protestant churches. She came to believe that Catholics were not Christians. She and her Protestant husband became missionaries in Peru for several years and then returned to the United States.
At her mother’s death, her father emphasized to them that she had loved Jesus as strongly as they did. That made her husband investigate the Catholic faith to see how that could be true. That began his conversion process. As he explained to her his finding the truth about the Church, the more stubborn she became in not wanting to return to it. She began feeling guilty for rebelling against her husband’s good will when he tried to explain the peace he was experiencing since investigating the Catholic Church.
She occasionally watched The Journey Home program on EWTN with him. One of these conversion stories was by a former pastor of a denomination somewhat like theirs. As she reported, he “spoke of a miraculous fragrance that God used through the Virgin Mary’s intercession to bring him into the Catholic Church.” She was skeptical, but it must have touched a Catholic memory because she responded that she “found it weird but very intriguing.”
Charlotte and her husband had long shared a similar faith, but now that union was no longer apparent. Yet she desired it. Off-handedly but with some seriousness, she remarked how she needed a miracle like that or something similar. Heaven heard her plea for help. About a week later she was awakened by an incredibly sweet and fragrant aroma of flowers in their bedroom. She instantaneously recognized it as the same gift she heard described on that program. It “shocked, scared and overwhelmed” her. The disinterest in Mary she had was now altered.
Now the reunion in faith with her husband commenced. They could research the Catholic faith and eventually enter the Church together.
The Stories Grow
Charles Rogers, Jr., originally an Episcopalian from Darlington, South Carolina, was curious about a book entitled Kibeho and bought it on a whim. It was about the apparitions of Our Lady there in Rwanda. He was impressed by the piety of those Africans, expressed especially through the Rosary. So, he taught himself that prayer and rose early each morning to pray the 20 decades with the help of Scripture. He says that Our Lady “introduced” herself to him shortly thereafter by “an overpowering floral smell.” He immediately deduced that it was “supernatural.” That was confirmed by a website reporting similar experiences connected with the Rosary. She inspired him to improve his life, such as helping him overcome weekends of heavy drinking. He describes what was impressed upon him: “I needed to be at prayer every day and that the Rosary was the prayer to be used.”
After a couple of years of such “tutoring” by Mary, Charles who visited our diocesan Marian Shrine, assessed his experience of her presence in a litany of admirable terms: “She is a real person, personable, warm, dependable, faithful, and always right.” He points out, “She will not compromise her Son’s will for us.” Furthermore, “She will guide us to change for the better in a very gentle way.”
Charles continues, “Our Lady never condemns us but guides us perfectly as we are.” Importantly, “She will not impose and therefore we have to ask her as an expression of our free will.” His filial disposition is noticeable when he advises that, “She wants us to have a true relationship with her.” He shows how the Blessed Mother expresses her maternal concern for us when he states that, “She always has our best intentions at heart.” This love is constant: “Our Blessed Mother is aware of and is watching us at all times.” She is truly dependable: “She will never abandon us.” He emphasizes that, “For this a consistent prayer life is essential.”
“At first,” Charles admits, “I did not want Mary around me; now I don’t want to be far from her.” He also admits, “I wish I had her earlier as a lifelong guide.” The presence of Mary in his life brought forth many interesting effects. “I had to allow her to help me.” This is because, “When I am under her care, I am happy and content.” He summarizes his union with Mary by stating that, “I belong to Our Lady and will always belong to her.”
It seems that the spiritual motherhood of Mary comes easier to those of Islamic background since the Quran shows a very high regard for her, higher than for Muhammad’s daughter Fatima. An Iraqi convert recalled seeing his Moslem mother and sister going to Catholic churches to light candles at Mary’s shrines. During one of my Holy Land pilgrimages, several Muslim women joined our group as we processed in the Holy Tomb of Mary, venerating her icons with lighted candles. Thus, they have little trouble accepting her spiritual motherhood.
Mother Mary Heals Catholic Wounds
The fact is that there are many Catholics as well who need to learn and act according to this revealed reality. The catechesis on Mary has been weak in many, if not, most places. At one point it was canceled completely. Seminaries had no courses on Mariology. At Fatima Our Lady complained that children were not taught to know and love her as their spiritual mother. She said that reparation to her Immaculate Heart for this grave injustice was required. This intention is included in the First Saturday devotions she requested. There have been great improvements in Marian education and devotion as statues of Mary and the Rosary have returned to parochial life. Pilgrimages to her shrines and prayer groups honoring her have increased.
There was a circumstance at our shrine in which a Catholic suddenly discovered Mary’s motherhood. One day a young couple on their second date came to visit. While they were walking the grounds outside, our director of pilgrimages gave them her usual introduction to the shrine which includes its history, charisms, and examples of special graces pilgrims have reported. As she brought them inside the church, she noticed that the man started to tear up and she knew he must have just received a special grace. She decided not to ask about it as they had agreed to stay for Mass which was to begin shortly.
After Mass, I was introduced to them and started to talk about St. Joseph and his fatherhood role and the example he is to all men. He started to tear up again so the director of pilgrimages decided to ask him if our current discussion had anything to do with the grace he received when he entered the church. He acknowledged that it did and would be glad to share what had occurred so it could be added to her stories of graces received at the shrine to benefit other pilgrims. He then proceeded to share with us that he had never known his father and that he had always carried this wound with him through his life. However, upon entering the Church he felt Our Blessed Mother wrap her arms around him in consolation and the love he felt at that moment was so strong that he became emotional.
This may be of great significance in understanding the mission of Our Lady which the Church presents as bringing us to her Son, his sacrifice and to the Father. Just as this young man suffered a lifelong wound from ignorance of and separation from his natural father, so in a certain sense, all of mankind suffers spiritually by the ignorance of and separation from God Our Father. This was caused by the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus is the Divine Son become incarnate to heal that universal wound. Jesus said that whoever sees him sees the Father [John 14:9]. Likewise, here, in a certain sense, it can be said that whoever experiences Christ experiences God the Father. We experience Christ thanks to the holy motherhood of Mary. So, the young man experienced the maternal love of Mary as he stepped into her “home,” the Shrine. Now, by his fidelity to the Church, that maternal love will lead him to the eternal paternal love of God the Father through sacramental union with God the Son, especially through the Eucharist. In this way, he will discover his identity as an adopted son of God the Father — who embraces us dearly as did the father of the prodigal son.
The Church does not treat the spiritual motherhood of Mary lightly but very seriously. Besides encouraging personal and communal acts of consecration and entrustment, such as that of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe and Schoenstatt, it celebrates this unique gift liturgically with a special Mass, the “Commending of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” It is found in the Sacramentary of the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The parting words of Jesus on the Cross, “Behold, your son.” and “Behold, your mother,” manifests gifts to the recipients, his mother and his disciple. Being divine, his words create what they express. In this case, it is a spiritual relationship similar to a natural one.
It is succinctly and heartily expressed in the Preface of that particular Marian Mass:
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. At the foot of the cross of Jesus, by his solemn and dying wish, a deep bond of love is fashioned between the Blessed Virgin Mary and his faithful disciples: the Mother of God is entrusted to the disciples as their own mother, and they receive her as a precious inheritance from their Master.
She is to be forever the Mother of those who believe, and they will look to her with great confidence in her unfailing protection. She loves her Son in loving her children, and in heeding what she says they keep the words of their Master.
In this way, the disciples become, in the words of the commentary, “living signs of his own love for her,” and she becomes a living sign of his love for them.