A priest makes a pilgrimage to a Florida shrine, and finds evidence of prayers answered, and even miracles.
Ever since my college days at Conception Seminary in Missouri, I have been mesmerized by the Nursing Madonna. In the Madonna Collection housed at the Abbey, one statue prominently displayed the Child Jesus nursing at his mother’s breast.
It was an unusual, and at first startling, image to me, but over time, as I passed by the statue on my way to the library, it inspired me to contemplate Mary’s role as both mother and nurturer. When I went to the Holy Land in 2014 with Mundelein Seminary, the story of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem captivated me, especially the evidence presented of thousands upon thousands of children whose conception and birth were a direct answer to prayers offered there. I’ve sought to promote devotion to the Milk Grotto and share the image ever since, and believe I’ve witnessed miracles in the lives of families who come in touch with the Madonna of the Milk Grotto.
On a recent visit to Florida, my bucket list included a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Milk (La Leche) in St. Augustine.
Because of the singular graces associated with the La Leche shrine, I made a point, before the pilgrimage, of inviting people on social media to message me with the intentions of those they might know who were struggling with infertility. I was very quickly flooded with requests, by email or message. Locals from my parishes began texting me, and people from all over the world requested prayers for family members, co-workers and friends or for themselves, often sharing in depth about their struggles. My heart was profoundly touched by all who responded, and while I prayed for them at the Shrine, I am resolved to continue those prayers throughout 2018, especially through the intercession of Our Lady of the Milk.
Mary’s fertile prayers
Stories abound from the Grotto in the Holy Land, and the shrine in St. Augustine, about children born to parents who had struggled for years to conceive or had been told there was no hope.
During my brief time at the Shrine, I met one couple, Ron and Christy, who brought their two children — affectionately referred to as their “La Leche children.” Their pilgrimage was one of thanksgiving, fulfilling the promise they made to the Virgin. Struggling to conceive, the couple began praying daily the prayer to Our Lady of the Milk, often together on their commute to work, and other times by themselves. After a visit to the Shrine, and their commitment to pray daily, their prayer was answered. God has now blessed them with two beautiful girls.
Ron and Christy’s story is not unique, though. Many couples have similar stories, making return visits to give thanks for the grace of pregnancy.
Why do Mary’s prayers facilitate such a grace for couples? Perhaps Mary’s life provides the answer.
According to some traditions, Mary’s parents Joachim and Anne were themselves struggling to conceive. They turned to God in prayer, and in time, that prayer was answered by Mary’s nativity. Not only did God hear their prayer, he did something even more extraordinary: God chose to preserve her, from the very first moments of her existence, from original sin. In her conception, she was immaculate.
Eventually Mary became betrothed to Joseph, and some traditions hold she took a vow of virginity. That didn’t prevent God from asking her to do something extraordinary—to become the mother of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, miraculously the infant Jesus takes life in her womb. Mary experiences the power of God. And if that wasn’t enough, the angel Gabriel tells her that her elderly cousin, who was barren, is also miraculously with child. Over and over again, Mary experienced the miraculous when it came to maternity.
Perhaps this is why so many who seek her intercession find their prayers answered. And perhaps her heart is further moved by having seen the mourning of mothers whose children were slaughtered by Herod. Mary’s motherhood has known all of the beauty, joy and pain that comes with the role. She understands a mother’s hope, and a mother’s heart.
Whatever the reason, countless families give witness to the reality that when they prayed, what they were told was impossible, becomes possible, “for nothing is impossible, with God.”
Of course, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that there are many who make a pilgrimage to the grotto, or the shrine, and earnestly pray, but yet do not conceive. The reality is that God answers prayer, but sometimes differently, and perhaps some are given the grace to become open to adoption, or to foster-parenthood, or something else. While praying at the shrine, couples can experience a sense of Mary’s consoling and comforting love for them. To those who find themselves in this situation, remain faithful, persistent, and persevere in prayer. God is never done with any of us.
Praying the Joyful Mysteries
Whether your prayers for fertility involve you, or a family member or friend, prayer must always be a component of your quest. The struggle undoubtedly evokes much sorrow, but the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary can be of surprising help. As you pray the five Joyful Mysteries, consider using the following prayer prompts to guide you in praying for yourself or someone you love:
The Annunciation – The angel announces a message of great joy, the savior of the world will be born of Mary. Pray for those who await the day of their own announcement that they are with child.
The Visitation – John the Baptist leaps in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. Pray that all mothers may know the joy of feeling their child kick in the womb.
The Nativity – As the world rejoices in the birth of its savior, may all parents rejoice at the birth of their child and know the joy of seeing their baby’s face for the first time.
The Presentation – May all parents have the opportunity to consecrate their child to the Lord.
The Finding in the Temple – Pray for all who desire to be parents, that they will have the opportunity to play peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek with their child and be able to learn great truths from them. For those called to adoption, pray that they may find their child, out there in the world, waiting for them.
Prayer to Our Lady of the Milk
The following prayer is prayed by devotees of the shrine in St. Augustine, Florida. Consider praying this prayer for someone you know who might be struggling to conceive.
Novena Prayer to Our Lady of La Leche
Lovely Lady of La Leche, most loving Mother of Jesus, and my mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only, his spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Savior. Intercede with him now, my loving mother, that in accordance with his will (your request here). This I ask, O Lady of La Leche, in the name of your Divine Son, my Lord and Savior. Amen. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you. Our Lady of La Leche, pray for us.