Why I now understand Mary as a godly woman I want to emulate.
While on vacation, I agreed to sit for an interview by a writer covering the “Living Rosary” group I’d started. It was 9 a.m. in Florida, and I was bleary-eyed as I hugged a cup of coffee and stared out at the ocean and answered her questions.
At the 30-minute mark, I blurted out one response to her query so quickly, and with such certainty, that I knew it was an epiphany I needed to share.
I joined the Catholic Church 30 years ago as an adult. Although I’ve often said that Mary brought me into the Church, quite honestly (having been raised in a Protestant tradition) I often struggled with how I should relate to Our Lady. For years, I thought of her as distant, the image described in Revelation, a queenly figured wearing a crown surrounded by stars, standing on a globe with the “serpent” crushed beneath her feet. “Hail, Holy Queen!”
And then there was the Rosary, “Mary’s Crown” – the stumbling block for so many newcomers and cradle Catholics alike.
To be honest, my mind often wandered as I tried to say an entire Rosary. Which is why after reading an article about a Living Rosary — where a group of people commit to saying just one decade of a Rosary per day — I was inspired to form such a group within my church. My hope was that over the course of 20 weeks I would form the habit of saying the Rosary each day and begin to understand what drew people to the prayer — people who encountered it as something they looked forward too, rather than a chore.
I’m sorry to say that I failed to meet even this small daily goal more times than I succeeded, and I frankly still didn’t understand the devotion felt by others.
So, I felt a like a fraud when the interviewer asked how the Living Rosary had changed my relationship with Mary. That’s when I blurted out, “Saying the Rosary humanized Mary for me. It made me understand that she is a model of how we should live in relationship to God!”
Where did that come from? I’d never consciously had that thought before. Yet, once I said it out loud it made perfect sense. During the weeks of saying the Rosary, I realized that each of the 20 mysteries is a Scripture-based event from the life of Jesus, from the visitation Mary first receives to Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Rosary points to the Bible, because it’s based on events from the Bible.
As I thought about this, I imagined one of the first scenes in which we encounter Mary, as portrayed in the First Joyful Mystery, when the Angel Gabriel appears and greets Mary saying, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1:28)
Mary’s response, ultimately, is “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” And this is where I finally began to understand: God has given Mary a unique purpose for her life, but never against her will. She is being asked to step out into the unknown, to accept that God’s plan for her life is better than anything she could accomplish on her own.
We are also asked by God to accept that he has a unique plan for our lives that first requires our trust.
After Jesus is born, we catch glimpses of Mary relating to Jesus as a mother relates to her child. I smile every time I think about Mary asking Jesus to turn the water into wine. This helped me to understand that God seeks an intimate, familial relationship with each of us. He wants us to come to him each day with our hopes, our grievances, our sorrow, and even our most ordinary requests.
Mary’s love for Jesus allows her to follow him all the way to the end, to stand at the foot of the cross as he is crucified. She demonstrates the trust to remain firm in our commitment to God even in our darkest hour, when all hope is lost.
Mary’s loyalty is rewarded by Jesus’ consolation when he says to one of his disciples, “Behold, your mother,” and to Mary, “Behold, your son.” Just as Mary is never left abandoned by Jesus, so we also will never be deserted in our desolation.
I now understand Mary as a godly woman I want to emulate. I want to surrender to God’s better plan for my life. I want to include God in every area of my life. I want to love God until the end of my life, when my heart is broken and when Jesus fills it with joy.
Having never quite “gotten” the meaning of “To Jesus through Mary,” I now look forward to saying the Rosary with this new understanding of Our Lady — the preeminent model of how we are called to a deeper relationship with God.