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I confess, I’ve never really had much of an attachment to Mary. It’s not that she bothered me in any way — I just never “got” her or our Church’s devotion to her.
Like many Catholic “re-verts,” upon coming back to Christ and his Church, I enjoyed a sort of honeymoon period where everything seemed so new and brilliant. I went to Mass nearly every day; I joined every ministry that would take me, even applying for, and being accepted into, the Diaconate program in the Diocese of Trenton and spending a year in formation there.
But Mary? Nope; never really made a connection.
So you would be forgiven to think it strange that I have a life-sized print of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the control room at my studio. There’s another one in my office, and the seat I take at daily Mass is right next to yet another full-size print. The image is on my memory card holder; I have a T-shirt with the image in my shirt draw, and if I ever get a tattoo, I know that yes, it will be of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I really can’t explain it. Every one of these images has made their way into my life through a different channel — I never sought or bought a single one, but if someone were to accuse me of “Mary worship,” there would be enough images, all around, as evidence to convict me.
Yet I have had no such affinity.
I have tried saying the Rosary. Everybody — I mean everybody — tells me I should. My attempts have led me to either drift off the highway or fall asleep in mid “Glory Be.”
How can you have a devotion to Mary if you can’t say the Rosary? I figured: you can’t.
One day, though, while doing an file search, a photograph of the original image from Juan Diego’s tilma filled my monitor.
Studying it, I began to realize just how surrounded I am by her image, and wondering: why, if I had no special feelings for Mary, was the Guadalupe all around me? Could it be possible that Mary might be trying to get my attention?
Here’s the thing: it is always the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that is around me; not any other. And it is a miraculous image, divinely wrought, right? I am a photographer; an art director, an image guy. And how, exactly, do you get the attention of an image guy? Maybe by showing up, continually, in the one depiction we have on earth of Mary, not made by human hands or imagination. Not drawn, not sculpted, not painted, not photographed.
All right, she got my attention, but what was she trying to tell me? Pray the rosary? Really, that’s all?
I came to realize that whenever Our Lady of Guadalupe caught my eye, I would become aware of her and stop what I was doing — sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes just for a second — and regardless of how long, I got this sense of complete peace but also a sense of something else that got my internal voice running.
“Do whatever he tells you,” is what Mary said to the servants at Cana. Was the Guadalupe telling me there something I should be doing that I was not? Lord knows there were plenty of things that I shouldn’t be doing, went the chatter.
And then it hit me: I needed to listen. Mary was saying, “Shut up. Otherwise, how will you hear?”
And she was right. When I would pray, I would blather on about everything: home, work, the universe. I would never “take a breath.” I guess I thought God needed me to tell him what needed fixing, because the Creator of the Universe needed my advice, right?
Maybe this is how spiritual growth comes sometimes — with a mother’s presence, haunting you at every turn, telling you to pipe down and listen.
So there was my answer: she was being a mother to me, and really, a pretty typical sort of mom.
It turned out that I needed Mary after all, and while my relationship with her might not be like other people’s — and I may never get the hang of the Rosary — it’s beautiful.
To those of you with those strong devotions, I don’t need to tell you how much her presence in your life means, and to those of you who might be skeptical or just curious, you might want to spend a little time getting to know her. Take a good look around, you might realize, as I did, that she was very nearby — in fact, all around me.
Thanks, Mother Mary, for getting my attention, and for turning me toward your son, that I might know him better. And if you please, help me to find a good tattoo artist!
PS: I am told St. Therese could never make it through the Rosary either!
Jeffrey Bruno is art director for Aleteia.org.