How the Rosary Led Me to Christ

rosary-1024x632As a young child I was very close to God. I spoke to Him in a very natural way and He spoke plainly to me. Although I have very few memories of my early childhood, I vividly remember how close I was to God. When early puberty approached, though, I began to slip away, drifting into the rebellious and angry years of my teens. As the flesh came more alive, my spirit submerged.

The culture of the time didn’t help, either. It was the late 1960s and early 1970s and rebelliousness and the flesh were celebrated as “virtues.” Somehow we thought ourselves more mature than our pathetic forebears, who were hopelessly “repressed.” There was the attitude among the young that we had come of age somehow. We collectively deluded ourselves, aided by the messages of rock music and the haze of drug use, that we were somehow “better.”

So it was the winter of my soul. The vivid faith of my childhood gave way to a kind of indifferent agnosticism. Though I never formally left Church (my mother would never had permitted that as long as I lived in under my parents’ roof), I no longer heard God or spoke to Him. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that when I was in high school I joined the youth choir of my parish church. This was not precipitated by a religious passion, but rather by a passion of another kind: there were pretty girls in the choir and I “sought their company,” shall we say. But God has a way of using beauty to draw us to the truth. Week after week, year after year, as we sang those old religious classics a buried faith began to awaken within me.

But what to do? How to pray? I heard that I was supposed to pray. But how? As a child it had been natural to talk with God. But now He seemed distant, aloof, and likely angry with me. And I’ll admit it, prayer seemed a little “goofy” to me, a high school senior still struggling to be “cool” in his own eyes and in the eyes of his friends. Not only that, but prayer was “boring.” It seemed an unfocused, unstructured, and “goofy” thing.

But I knew someone who did pray. My paternal grandmother, “Nana,” was a real prayer warrior. Every day she took out her beads and sat by the window to pray. I had seen my mother pray now and again, but she was more private about it. But Nana, who lived with us off and on in her last years, knew how to pray and you could see it every day.

Rosary Redivivus – In my parish church of the 1970s, the rosary was non-existent. Devotions and adoration were on the outs during that sterile time. Even the Crucifix was gone. But Nana had that “old-time religion” and I learned to appreciate it through her.

Ad Jesum per Mariam – There are some, non-Catholics especially, who think that talking of Mary or focusing on her in any way takes away from Christ. It is as though they consider it a zero-sum game, in which our hearts cannot love both Mary and Jesus. But my own experience was that Mary led me to Christ. I had struggled to know and worship Christ, but somehow a mother’s love felt more natural, safer, and more accessible to me. So I began there, where I could. Simply pole-vaulting right into a mature faith from where I was did not seem possible. So I began, as a little child again, holding my Mother’s hand. And gently, Mother Mary led me to Christ, her son. Through the rosary, that “Gospel on a string,” I became reacquainted with the basic gospel story.

The thing about Marian devotion is that it opens up a whole world. For with this devotion comes an open door into so many of the other traditions and devotions of the Church: Eucharistic adoration, litanies, traditional Marian hymns, lighting candles, modesty, pious demeanor, and so forth. So as Mary led me, she also reconnected me to many things that I only vaguely remembered. The suburban Catholicism of the 1970s had all but cast these things aside, and I had lost them as well. Now in my late teens, I was going up into the Church “attic” and bringing things down. Thus, little by little, Mother Mary was helping me to put things back in place. I remember my own mother being pleased to discover that I had taken some old religious statues, stashed away in a drawer in my room, and placed them out on my dresser once again. I also took down the crazy rock-and-roll posters, one by one, and replaced them with traditional art, including a picture of Mary.

Over time, praying the Rosary and talking to Mary began to feel natural. And, sure enough, little by little, I began to speak with God. It was when I was in the middle of college that I began to sense the call to the priesthood. I had become the choir director by that time and took a new job in a city parish: you guessed it, “St. Mary’s.” There, the sterility of suburban Catholicism had never taken hold. The candles burned brightly at the side altars. The beautiful windows, marble altars, statues, and traditional novenas were all on display in Mother Mary’s parish. The rest is history. Mary cemented the deal between me and her Son, Jesus. I became His priest and now I can’t stop talking about Him! He is my hero, my savior and Lord. And praying again to God has become more natural and more deeply spiritual for me.

It all began one day when I took Mary’s hand and let her lead me to Christ. And hasn’t that always been her role? She, by God’s grace, brought Christ to us, showed Him to us at Bethlehem, presented Him in the Temple, and ushered in His first miracle (even despite His reluctance). She said to the stewards that day at Cana, and to us now, “Do whatever he tells you.” The Gospel of John says, Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him (John 2:11). And so Mary’s intercession strengthened the faith of others in her Son. That has always been her role: to take us by the hand and lead us to Christ. Her rosary has been called the “Gospel on a string” because she bids us to reflect on the central mysteries of the Scripture as we pray.

A Woman Wrapped in Silence – A Consideration of a Brief Remark in Pope Benedict’s New Book

Along with many of you, I am reading Pope Benedict’s latest book, volume 3 of Jesus of Nazareth, on the infancy narratives. I was very moved at a very brief reflection that he made on Mary, as the Angel Gabriel left her. His remarks consider on her faith in a very touching manner. I must say that I have always been moved by the faith of the Blessed Mother and intrigued too, for she is a woman wrapped in silence. The Pope’s words capture both her faith and the mystery of her.

Here is what the Pope says:

I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke’s Annunciation narrative: “And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger–in which her whole life is changed–comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing around her. She must continue along the path that leads to many dark moments–from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy, to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mark 3:21; John 10:20) right up to the night of the cross.

How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” And the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!” The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God,  a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch. (Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Kindle edition (loc 488-501))

I am moved by this picture of Mary there all alone, perhaps wondering how it would all unfold, and if what she just heard was real and an accurate memory. The angel depart, and there she is, all alone (yet never alone).

I would like to say by background, that I have at times read accounts of Mary’s life that placed her in such rarefied air that I could no longer relate to her. I vaguely remember reading some accounts of various visionaries, a few of whom said that Mary did not even have to do housework, for the angels swept the house but, did dishes and so forth. Some other accounts spoke of how she had detailed knowledge of everything that would take place in her life and in that of Jesus. I even recall one purported visionary as writing that Mary had extensive theological discussions with Jesus, even while he was still an infant.

I do not remember who all these alleged visionaries were, by name or even if any of them were approved visionaries. And yet it was common in the early 1980s for quite a large number of books to be published containing the utterances of various visionaries.

Such utterances often left me cold and made me feel distant from our Blessed Mother. They also did not seem to comport with the Scriptures which present mother Mary is a woman of great faith, but a woman who, like all of us, had to walk by faith, not by perfect site. She wonders at Gabriel’s greeting, is troubled and does not understand how it will all work out (cf Luke 1:29).

Yet she presses on and we next see her having made haste to the Hill country, now rejoicing in ecstatic praise with her cousin: My spirit rejoices in God my savior! She still does not know how it will all work out, but though not knowing what the future holds, she is content to know the One who hold the future. It is enough for now.

Years later when she finds Jesus in the Temple after agonized days of searching for the “missing” Jesus, she does not fully understand his explanation (Luke 2:48-50), but must, and does ponder these things within her heart (Luke 2:51).

At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus seems almost to rebuke his mother. And though the text leaves many of the personal details out, there must have been something of the look only a mother can give her son. By now, her understanding of her son had surely deepened. She had known him, and pondered and reflected in her hearts of him for over 30 years now. She simply looks at him, he looks at her, as a look only the two would have known. But something passed between them, a look of understanding. Whatever it was remains wrapped in silence, none of our business, something only she and her Son could know. But what ever it was,  she turns, and with confidence, knowing it will be well handled, she simply says to the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5)

Of the three years to follow, we know very little. We know she is not far off. We see her in Mark 3:31 as she asks after Jesus, seemingly concerned that others are saying “He is beside himself!”

And we find her gently, and supportively present at the foot of the cross. Now, at length, the sword which Simeon had prophesied (Lk 2:35) was thrust through her heart. Some thirty years before, she could only marvel, and wonder what Simeon’s words meant that her child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her own heart (Luke 2:33). But in the years that followed her faith had surely deepened, and now, here she was, at the foot of the cross. It was her darkest hour, but surely all those years of pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart now sustained her.

Yes, Mother Mary is a woman wrapped in silence. We know so little, for she is reflective, quiet, saying little, silently standing by, silently supportive in Jesus publicly ministry, and now, again silently,  at the foot of the cross.

Yes this is the Mary, the mother that I know. A woman of faith, but a woman like you and me. And, as the Pope suggests, she is a woman who had to make a journey of faith, not necessarily knowing how everything would work out. Not with the omniscience that some visionaries ascribe to her. She knew what the angel said, but it seems clear she did not know how it would all come to pass. She like us, walked with faith, not with earthly sight.

She is the perfect disciple, the woman of faith, the one who presses on, not know all, but pondering and reflecting everything in her heart.

The Word Becomes Flesh

As we prepare to walk with Our Lord toward Calvary, this reflection from Saint Leo the Great for the Feast of the Annunciation helps us to understand what it means that God became man and willingly took on our sinfulness to offer us salvation.

He took on the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, no the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself….He who is true God is also true man. There is no falsehood in this unity as long as the lowliness of  man and the preeminence of God coexist in mutual relationship. (Epistle 28 ad Flavianum).

Seeing the Magnificat for the Bold and Edgy Prayer It Is

I pray you might indulge me a little speculation that cuts against the usual “visuals” surrounding the Magnificat. And, if what I say does not please your sensibilities I ask pardon now, and once again your indulgence.

In our western culture we tend to think of Mary in very soft focus, humbly praying, head bowed, quiet and almost shy in her demeanor. And this may all be true. But as I read Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat day after day, and as I read it today’s Gospel, I cannot help but be struck at how bold and charismatic it is. Many of its phrases are taken from ancient Israel and stitched together by Mary in a wondrous and creative way. But as a prayer, it is no gentle meditation. It is one that makes you want to jump to your feet.

My soul Magnifies the Lord! My Spirit REJOICES in God my Savior!

As I have prayed this prayer every day for the last 25 years I have come to experience that I cannot see Mary saying this prayer with hands folded and head bowed. I see, rather, a joyful, young woman, filled with exuberance, head raised in serene confidence and hands upraised in joyful, yes, even charismatic, gestures. African American Catholics often refer to this joyful disposition as “havin’ church,” and would say something like: “Mother Mary and Sister Elizabeth were havin’ some church up in there!”

Havin’ Church – The scene sets up with Mary traveling “in haste” to see Elizabeth. Mary arrives and greets Elizabeth and John the Baptist starts leaping for joy in her womb. You might say he gets things started. The text from Luke then says Elizabeth “cried out with a loud voice: Most blessed are you among women…!” Mary goes on to respond how her soul rejoices in God her savior. No sour-faced saints here, these women are radiant with joy and exuberantly expressing it. Their havin’ church alright, joy beyond all measure is theirs. This sort of exchange is not uncommon among some of the African American women in my parish. A not un-typical dialogue might go something like this:

A: Girl, you are looking radiant!
B: Yes Lord! Your sister girl is blessed and highly favored! God’s been GOOD to me!
A: Go on!…. God IS good!
B: All the time!

Yes, it seems, from any straightforward reading of the Lucan text, that the Magnificat was not recited, it was boldly and joyfully proclaimed in a moment celebrated by two women. One who had come in haste bearing our savior, and another, filled with the Holy Spirit and her infant dancing for joy in her womb. Two women filled with the joy of God, two women celebrating what God was doing in their lives. Mary proclaims, and she rejoices and says:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; My spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

And it is also a prayer that is also bold, even edgy in its critique of the social order:

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones. He has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.

Mary announces a great reversal that is come. Her Son Jesus echoed it: Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matt 19:30). Some may which to spiritualize these words, and they surely do have a spiritual meaning. But their critique of the vainglory of this world cannot simply be seen as an abstraction or a generality. They have real meaning for the social order here and now. They surely mean we must learn to esteem the poor, the disabled, the weak. In this world they may need us, but as for the world that is to come, we will need them and their prayers to gain entry. And they, if they had faith, will have first places of honor. The reversal is coming, be careful what you call a blessing and what you call unfortunate. Be careful who and what you esteem and who and what you do not esteem. Yes, this is a bold and edgy prayer. It cuts right to the heart of the world’s vainglory.

So again, I beg your indulgence. I am aware that many have rather specific notions of what Mary is, or should be like. The portrait I have here presented is not the usual one in Western culture. But in the end, at least here, I see a portrait of a joyful, exuberant woman who is bold, even edgy in expressing what God is doing for her and for all Israel.

How do you see it?

Mother of Us All – A Brief Pondering of the Question, "What does Mary look like?"

It is a notable fact that our Lord and his Mother lived in a time long before photographs, even at a time, and among a people, where drawings and portraits of people were almost unknown. Also notably absent in the Sacred Scriptures are any details regarding the physical appearances of most Biblical figures, unless a detail is necessary for the story (e.g. Zacchaeus being short, Goliath tall, Leah being less attractive due to her misshapen eyes). But generally there seems to be an almost complete lack of preoccupation with such things in the Biblical narrative. And even when we are told that David was handsome or Bathsheba was beautiful, we are not really told how.

We live in a polar opposite world when it comes to images. Everything is visual, and we are quite obsessed with appearance and looking acceptable and good, and how other people look.

We attach great meaning (for better, but usually for worse) on our physical appearance. We divide out over race, skin tone, hair etc. We also prize thinness and ridicule fatness, we worry if we are tall enough, pretty enough, if our hair is too straight or not straight enough, if we are tan enough or too dark skinned, and when age sets in many head for the cosmetic surgeon.

Instructive! Thus when we wonder as to what Jesus or Mary “looked like,” it may be instructive for us to reflect on why the Lord would have them live in a time and place, where this data would NOT be supplied us. For, in the end, they look like us. And some historical sketch or painting, had one ever been made, would only tend to limit our vision, rather than allow us to identify with them.

To the question what did Mary look like we may garner five possible answers:

  1. None of your business.
  2. Why do you care?
  3. She looks just like you think she looks.
  4. She looks like you, because she is your mother.
  5. She is far more beautiful than you ever imagined (My favorite answer).

But answer four is probably the most helpful when it comes to accepting the diverse ways she is depicted.

Most of us American Catholics see her in very European terms. Historically this may be dubious, by why shouldn’t we see here as looking like us. She is after all our mother.

As I walk though the dozens of chapels in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, I see her as Chinese, American, Lithuanian, Mexican, Filipino, Korean, African, Lebanese, Irish, Ethiopian, and so on. And why shouldn’t these various Ethnicities  see her as looking like them, she is, after all their mother.

In her various apparitions her look varies too. La Virgen de Guadalupe “La Morena”  (= dark skinned) is surely different than the descriptions we have from other sights such as Fatima or Lourdes. But here too, why can’t the heavenly beauty of Immaculate Mary, so brightly reflective of God’s glory, not refract through the prism of human experience in different colors and ways?

What does Mary look like? She is our Mother, she looks like us. Jesus is our brother (and Lord), he looks like us.

Happy Feast Day

Questioning the Questioners: Why Do You Not Honor Mary in Accordance With Scripture?

Most of us who are Catholics eventually get asked, “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” More often than not the question is not a real question it is a rhetorical question. A “rhetorical question,” is a “question” whose purpose is not to seek an answer, but, rather, to make a (usually hostile) point. For example the expression “Who do you think you are!?” is in the form of a question but it does not seek an answer. Instead it is meant as a rebuke. And so it usually is when we Catholics get asked the “question” Why do you worship Mary?” we’re usually aware that it is not a sincere question seeking a sincere answer. However, for those cases where an answer really is sought I might propose the following approach:

“Well, of course we don’t worship Mary since that would be a terrible sin. Worship belongs to God alone. We DO honor her though. After all, she is Jesus’ mother.

But let me ask you a question. Why in your church, do you NOT honor Mary at all? Doesn’t scripture say Every generation will call [Mary] blessed because God who is mighty has done great things for [her]? (Luke 1:48-49) It seems to me that we Catholics are fulfilling Scripture but that in your denomination you are not fulfilling or following it. So why don’t you honor her at all? Why don’t you call her blessed as the Bible says?”

Now stop there and wait for an answer. Don’t keep going. Just stop and wait. Have them answer for a change. We Catholics are always on the defensive, always in answer mode. But we ought to ask a few questions too. When asking, try to avoid a merely rhetorical or hostile tone. Try to allow this question to be genuine, respectful, one meant to provoke thought.

It is possible that many Protestants have never been asked this question or pondered an answer. Now it is also possible that your interlocutor will try to change the subject or evade an answer by piling on about Catholics but just repeat the question respectfully and ask for an answer. Remember your point is not to argue, be hostile or win an argument. Your point is to provoke thought and get a real answer. And even if the conversation ends badly or with no answer, you’ve planted a seed, a question that they will ponder even if they don’t admit it. Jesus often asked questions to provoke thought and conversion. I will be doing a post on this next week.

Another way to explain out devotion and love for Mary is that we are imitating Jesus. We love, honor, respect and entrust ourselves to her care because Jesus did all these things, and we want to be just like Jesus. Consider that the very Son of God, dwelt in Mary’s womb, nursed at her breasts, was held in her arms, sat on her lap and entrusted himself to her care. Our Lord could have chosen to enter our world in other ways. Perhaps He could simply have entered the world as a full grown man. The fact is that He freely chose Mary to be his mother and he was truly her Son. As her son he loved and honored her as any good son must and as her son he entrusted himself to her care. All of this serves to highlight Mary’s dignity and to show us how devotion to her is in perfect imitation of Jesus himself.

What more need we say: Jesus our Lord and God honors and loves Mary, and his very Scriptures sing her praises; so too His Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit,  and countless saints. When we honor Mary we imitate the very Son of God and fulfill Holy Scripture. Certainly our Lord is pleased that we love and honor his mother.

Painting above by French artist William Bouguereau (19th Century)

Update: Mary and the Muslims – A Very Good Video Now Available

You may recall that some months ago I wrote a post on Mary and the Muslim World. If you don’t recall it you can read it here:

Mary and the Muslim World: Is she the key to evangelization?

I recently saw a very well done video on Mary and Jesus in the Qur’an. If you get a moment to watch this video below,  it is a real eye-opener, not only because of its depiction of the story of Mary and Jesus in the Qur’an, but also because it depicts Muslim interest and devotion to Mary. It is a non minute video. But please consider watching it, it is most informative and encouraging.

Mary and the Muslim World: Is She the Key to Evangelization?

I have often heard that Muslims hold our Blessed Mother Mary in high regard. This reverence may stop short of devotion but there is said to be a respect for her in the Muslim tradition.

 Now, I first learned this from the great Archbishop, Fulton Sheen in his book, The World’s First Love. I read it 25 years ago and have pondered it ever since. I would like to present excerpts from the chapter entitled “Mary and the Moslems” [sic], reflect on its significance and ask a few questions. Please note that the book was written in 1952 and therefore some of the spellings are not the modern ones. Here are the excerpts:

The Koran, which is the Bible of the Moslems, has many passages concerning the Blessed Virgin. First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception, and also, in her Virgin Birth…..The Koran also has verses on the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. Angels are pictured as accompanying the Blessed Mother and saying, Oh Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and elected you above all the women of the earth. In the 19th chapter of the Koran there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. There is such a strong defense of the virginity of Mary here that the Koran in the fourth book, attributes the condemnation of the Jews to their monstrous calumny against the Virgin Mary. 

Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text Fatima is made to say; I surpass all the women, except Mary. 

This brings us to our second point; namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this 20th Century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son too. 

   Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed. 

Missionaries, in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ himself is born. In any apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which the people already accept. Because the Moslems have devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and develop that devotion, with the full realization that our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a “traitor,” in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, bit will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son.

 A beautiful reflection by Archbishop Sheen and one we can surely hope will come to pass. Relations are much more tense however between Christians and Muslims today than in 1952.

This leads to my first question.

Do Muslims today still manifest the reverence to Mary that Sheen described in 1952? I have seen a few people in Muslim garb at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception here in D.C., but I was not sure if they came to pay homage to Mary or just tour. I think we Catholics ought to be careful before we presume too much of what Muslims today think of Mary. The lines in the Quran quoted by Sheen are impressive but that does not mean that Muslims either know them well or interpret them as we would wish. Hence, I am merely posing a question here. If any of you know of good sources that answer the question of the Muslim stance on Mary I would be grateful if you can point it out. The answer to this question has a lot of bearing on my speculations to follow.

Astonishing Fact – I must say,  I have always considered it nothing less than astonishing that Mary should appear in a town called, of all things, “Fatima.”  Surely this is no mere coincidence and, as Sheen aptly points out, heaven does nothing without purpose. That we are not to merely pass over this detail, is very clear to me. One of the more well known modern titles of Mary is “Our Lady of Fatima.” Fatima is the daughter of Muhammad. This is hugely significant.

Third Secret of Fatima?  For many years, before its revelation,  I was sure that the Third Secret of Fatima  had something to do with the Muslim question. Frankly I figured it likely described a great conflict with the Muslim world that would arise and lead to great suffering for the Church, even a kind of Babylonian captivity, but that ultimately Mary’s Immaculate Heart would triumph by the power of God. Imagine my chagrin when the third secret was finally revealed with a less than worldwide, apocalyptic content. Granted, the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II was a serious and significant matter but it was less than the worldwide conflict I had expected. It is also true that his would-be assassin was Muslim, but the plot was likely more communist and Russian in origin. In the end my theory was rocked back on its heels and fell flat.

But still we are left with Fatima. Why Fatima? Why a town bearing the namesake of Muhammad’s daughter? It seems clear that Mary will play an important role in the years ahead as the Muslim/Christian conflict likely grows sharper. Perhaps, as Sheen notes, she will be the bridge that connects two vastly different cultures, the common mother who keeps her children talking. Right now this connection seems little pursued, even,  as far as I can tell,  by the Vatican. But here too allow a question from me. Are there any of you who know if Our Lady of Fatima has any role in Vatican-Muslim dialogue?

The Guadalupe connection –  I wonder too if  the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe presents some historical parallels to our current struggle with the Muslim world. In the early 16th Century in Mexico, missionaries had made only meager progress in bringing the Aztec people to Christ. It was a combination of  the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the indiginous people by the Spanish soldiers, and also of the fearful superstition surrounding the Aztec gods. These gods required horrific human sacrifices and kept the people locked in with this fear that, unless they fed these gods,  their  greatest god,  the sun,  would no longer shine.

Into this fearful and suspicious setting entered Mother Mary. The miraculous image she left in 1531 was richly symbolic: Her face  is a mother’s face, gentle and compassionate, unlike the frightful Aztec gods who wore fierce masks. Her features seem to be both an Aztec and European, two cultures are combined in kindness and peace. Her attitude is one of humble prayer, so she is clearly not a god. She is a merciful mother who consoles and prays for us. She is to be honored but not adored. The black band around her waist means that she is with child and offers Jesus to the people. Her message is about him. The sun was the greatest of the Aztec gods and, by standing in front of the sun, Mary shows that she is greater than all their gods. The moon represented to them the god of darkness and death. That she is standing on the moon is a sign that these powers too have been defeated by the son she bears.

 Mary brought the breakthrough. Within ten years over 12 million Mexicans came to Christ and entered the Catholic Church.

This history is paralleled in many ways today in the current tensions with the Muslim World. In many Muslim lands today conversions are few. Part of the reason for this is  a strong aversion for the western culture from which Catholicism comes. Another reason includes many alleged grievances that Muslims have of American and Western “mistreatment.”  Finally,  a large factor is fear. Leaving the Muslim faith is likely to get you killed in many parts of the Muslim world. So, it is a combination of a wide cultural gulf, alleged grievances, and fear, that keep conversions low. All not unlike 16th Century Mexico.

Is Mary key? It took Mary to bridge all these similar gaps between the Aztecs and the Christian Missionaries. Might Mary also be that bridge today when similar gaps divide? Time will tell, but one of her greatest Modern titles is Our Lady of Fatima.  And then,  there is the crescent moon upon which Mary stands in the image of Guadalupe. In modern times the crescent moon is the symbol of Islam. Mother Mary of Guadalupe, by God’s grace, was victorious and overcame the false religion of the Aztecs with love and humility.

Might this crescent moon on which Our Lady of Guadalupe stands also point to our times, and the crescent moon of Islam?  Might it indicate that her victories, by God’s grace, are not at an end. Perhaps we can hope that what our Lady of Guadalupe was to the Aztec people of Mexico, Our Lady of Fatima will be to the Muslim people of the world.

As always, I invite your comments and answers to my questions.

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Here is “Immaculate Mary” sung in Arabic