by Ethan Mack
Every now and again when I'm walking the cobblestone streets of Rome, I'll run into the image of a beautiful woman. Sometimes she is holding a child, but other times she is just standing there, with a countenance that radiates tranquility and peace. Often, angels and saints are shown to be at her behest, as they praise her and give thanks for her marvelous creation. The miraculous thing is that this amazing woman does not only exist on the street corners of Rome. She exists truly, as our loving mother and great friend.
As I type this, I am incredibly blessed to be in Southern France in a little town called Lourdes, famous for being the place where the Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Bernadette. Thousands of Catholic pilgrims come to Lourdes each year in search of healing, both physical and spiritual. Of the many places I have visited during my time studying abroad, I can say it is one of the few places I've been where you can simply feel an abundance of grace surrounding you. The grotto, the spot where Mary actually appeared, is a particularly powerful place. Spending time in this place has afforded me the opportunity to contemplate and recognize what she has brought about in my life though her loving intercession.
Thinking of my relationship with Mary reminds me of a talk I attended during freshman year. A priest visiting from another school came to speak on his religious order and discernment in general. During the “Q&A” portion of the talk, the priest was asked a question about the Blessed Mother. That is when something quite remarkable happened. As he began to talk about Mary, he broke down in tears. Now, this priest seemed to be a pretty stoic man, and he certainly wasn't the type of person I would expect to just start crying in front of us all. And yet, here he was, immediately brought to tears from discussing what a gift Mary was in his life. I think that, if we all became so aware of Mary's love for us, we too would be as moved as he was when thinking of her.
I'm certainly not there as of yet, but I have been when her intercession impacted my life. Any time I pray the rosary when I'm feeling anxious or fearful, all of a sudden this sense of peace will overcome me that I experience in few other situations. The same could be said during times when I've felt temptation in one sense or another. Invoking her through prayer suddenly makes all temptation less and less powerful. Given the fact that I sin in the same ways over and over, it's a testament to God's mercy that he gives me this mother who continually lends me help.
We often think of Mary as the greatest woman and the pinnacle of womanhood, and while this is certainly true, men also need Mary in their lives. For us men I think there is, inherent to our masculinity, a certain pride or arrogance which we struggle with. To counteract this, we constantly need to ask God to give us humility. Who better to intercede for us in this than the woman who remained humble even while she was selected to be the door through which all men would be saved?
The same can be said of chastity or any other virtue we are in need of, for Mary, as the first among the saints, exemplifies them all.
Advent has often been called the season of our Lady, so during this time I ask that you join me in making it a goal to become closer to her. Pray the rosary, read the gospel of Luke, add the Memorare to your daily prayer, or do whatever you feel will help you get to know Mary better. The most incredible thing about Mary is that she was born without sin, and yet she concerns herself so much with us wretched sinners. The Church tells us she is the greatest advocate we will ever have and that she wants nothing more then to bring us into the loving embrace of her Son. She is someone whom we all could, and should, get to know better.