Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ave Maria

No one Catholic topic sets Protestant Christians on edge quite like this one does. That’s really a shame too. I know because I spent most of my Christian life in a corner of the Protestant arena that was intensely anti-Catholic. It is nothing short of amazing, nothing short of miraculous, how one so opposed to Marian Devotion now sings her praises and seeks her intercession. This, however, is what happens when one honestly tries to understand her being, her role, in the life of the Church, in the lives of all those who profess to know her Son.

“The genuine significance of Catholic devotion to Mary is to be seen in the light of the Incarnation itself. The Church cannot separate the Son and the Mother. Because the Church conceives of the Incarnation as God’s descent into flesh and into time, and His great gift of Himself to His creatures, she also believes that the one who was closest to Him in this great mystery was the one who participated most perfectly in the gift. When a room is heated by an open fire, surely there is nothing strange in the fact that those who stand closest to the fireplace are the ones who are warmest. And when God comes into the world through the instrumentality of his servants, then there is nothing surprising about the fact that His chosen instrument should have the greatest and most intimate share in the divine gift.”[1]

I can’t describe how foolish I felt at first and I am so thankful that Shirli was a good sport about my budding interest, though my interest was of no interest at the time to her. There was a monastery of Korean Benedictine monks close to us in Northern New Jersey and from their gift shop I purchased a simple, wooden beaded Rosary. I had no idea how to pray the Rosary. I simply knew that I wanted to, that I was somehow mysteriously being led in this direction.

Protestants aren’t taught this sort of thing. Fundamental Protestants are, as a matter of fact, taught against it. Since I had no one to teach me how to pray the Rosary, I found the directions on the internet and instantly discovered that I had some memorization to do. With the exception of the Our Father the Rosary prayers are not part of the Protestant frame of reference. As I mentioned earlier, I even had to re-commit to memory the words of the Our Father.

Foolishness isn’t the only thing I initially felt. I also felt the breath of my Protestant Bible College professors breathing down the back of my neck. In my mind I could hear their voices scolding me, telling me that I was falling in over my head into gross, dark heresy. I knew though that this was something that I needed to do. I was drawn to it like a man dying from thirst is drawn to water.

I used the drive to my job on the golf course as a time to work at embedding these prayers in my mind. With one hand on the wheel and my simple Rosary in the other I’d make my way to work, stammering and stumbling through the prayers. The more I ignored the voices from the past screaming in my mind, the more I prayed and meditated on these prayers, the more of a deep stirring and comfort I felt deep within my being – something that is experienced better than it is easily explained.

Some deep, painful spiritual and emotional wounds began finding their healing as I prayed these simple prayers over and over. I’d carry my Rosary in my pocket while working. I didn’t know anything about sacramentals or the origin of the Rosary. I only knew that I was experiencing some needed grace in a wonderful way. I got a little bolder and started praying the prayers while operating the various mowing machines that I worked with. It was, I believe, through praying the Rosary, long before Shirli and I formally entered the Catholic Church, that I first discovered and experienced the love of my Mother, the love that Mary has for me and for all her children.

Ave Maria,
Gratia plena;
Dominus tecum;
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
Sancta Maria,
Mater Dei,
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen

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
[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 171-172