note: This is from the standpoint of a convert to Catholicism.
Protestant convert seeks Mary
It seems that all aspects of reality are deep and complex, with more below the surface than on it. Christian faith is no exception. There is a richness, a profundity, even a complexity that draws me to the Catholic faith. This richness has the “ring of truth” all over it. And Mary is a wonderful example.
How could I have missed so much?
As a convert, sometimes I have been surprised by what I missed for decades as a Christian outside the Catholic Church. How could I have misunderstood Jesus’ words in John 6 about his flesh and blood as food and drink? How could I have believed scripture itself requires individual interpretation of the scripture as the only valid approach to the faith?
And how could I have spent no time at all considering Mary?
If conversion is on your mind, please consider the benefits the Church offers in our devotion to Mary. Whether you become an enthusiast for Marian apparitions is not a consideration here. Neither is your decision whether to pray the Rosary. Nor is it necessary that your degree of dedication be as strong as Pope John Paul II. These things are not requirements. But do understand the Catholic relation to Mary is a great advantage in living as a Christian. Let Mary help you into the Church!
Mary and the Church’s relation with her is a huge subject. Lots of history and more than a little controversy are here. Some of the issues are subtle and have been misunderstood (sometimes willfully twisted) by non-Catholics. All I want to do in this little page is consider two wonderful aspects of our relation to Mary.
Behold, the handmaid of the Lord
Mary teaches me to respond to the sometimes-surprising will of God with acceptance, even joy, regardless of whether I understand what’s happening.
The first example of this is also the first time we encounter her in scripture. When Gabriel explains to Mary that the Son of God will be born into the human race by her becoming his mother, Mary doesn’t understand these things. This is from the first chapter of Luke:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
We have had almost 2,000 years to ponder the words of Gabriel to Mary, yet we don’t understand the mystery of “the child to be born”. So you can be sure that Mary was confused! Furthermore, this woman is probably still in her mid-teens. She has plans for her life. She is betrothed to Joseph in a culture that values sexual purity. All her life, she has faithfully followed God’s law, but now she is told she will be pregnant before she “knows” Joseph. Nazareth is a small place and within a few months Mary will have a problem as her pregnancy shows. What and when does she cover all this with her parents? What will they do? Good grief, what about telling Joseph! Will her local rabbi demand the severe punishment called for in the Jewish law? What questions and misgivings must have crowded her mind.
Yet from the first moment, she yields to God’s will. She trusts. She is happy. She reacts with absolute perfection. Again from Luke 1: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”.
Mary is such a good example! She shames me at my own behavior. What will it take for me to yield to God’s will with such beautiful acceptance and trust as hers? Par for the course for me is to grumble and get frustrated when my own narrow plans get all fouled up, even if the foul-up has to do with my work at church. I mean, I pretend I’m strong in the faith and serving God all day with a pious “Thy will be done” -- then some little reversal just throws me in a ditch and it takes me days to get back on something like a trusting course with God. I need to learn from this precious, young girl to trust God and not walk by my own limited sight.
It doesn’t stop here. The descent into Egypt with Joseph and Jesus -- they were refugees, pure and simple. Then there is Mary’s wonderful advice in John 2, “do whatever he tells you”. Her presence at the cross of her tortured son. (Imagine!) Her presence in the upper room as the apostles await the Holy Spirit. If I pay attention, Mary teaches me step-by-step to be the right kind of disciple of her son.
Whether in joy or uncertainty or obedience or suffering or patience or love – Mary is my example.
But Mary is more than an example. She is a powerful ally.
The Church understands that holy people who have died and gone to God intercede for the church on earth. To be blunt about it, dead people continue to pray for us. This continuing assistance is part of “the communion of saints”.
The Bible says that when righteous people pray for somebody it is a powerful influence with God. (James 5:16) The only qualifier is that the one praying be a righteous person. In my own particular situation, when I need some help with a problem or wisdom in a decision, I ask a friend of mine in Oklahoma City (a wonderfully strong Christian) to add his prayer to mine, and I know that I will be helped by his prayers.
And I ask Mary to pray for me, too. Think about it. What are the chances that if Mary asks Jesus for some sort of favor that he will listen to her request? You know that Jesus hears his mother! If I have some kind of situation that calls for prayer, believe me I want Mary on my side.
Protestants sometimes get tripped up by the whole communion of saints thing in general and by praying to Mary in particular. The impression they have is that somehow this is putting someone between us and God, and there is no need to do that. Or worse yet, that by asking Mary to pray for me, I am somehow treating her like God or even putting her in God’s place.
Yet, no one criticizes me for asking my friend in Oklahoma City to pray for me. So why not Mary? No one has any trouble with my Oklahoma City friend even having something of an obligation to assist me in prayer if I ask, because we are both Christians and we want to help each other in imitation of Jesus. So why would Mary no longer be interested in praying for me if I ask her?
Protestants may believe that people in heaven are somehow divorced from what happens on earth. Well then, what about the rich man in Luke 16 who asks Abraham to send someone to earth to warn his brothers? This guy is in hell and he’s praying to Abraham to help his family back on earth. In Revelation 6, there are martyrs in heaven praying to God for justice on earth. They haven’t stopped caring about affairs on earth, nor have they stopped praying just because they are in heaven. Hebrews 12 encourages us to endurance as it describes the saints in heaven as a “great cloud of witnesses” who surround us.
The great thing I want is help from God. I cannot live without that help. I want people to pray for me, including the saints who have gone on to be with God. I want the mother of Jesus on my side. That’s all I am doing when I pray a Hail Mary. Look at the words: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
You are not in this alone.
You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, God’s saints.
Ask Mary to pray for you.