Spirit Of Mary

Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.

      This year as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette, I am drawn to first reflect upon Carmel’s call to live in the Spirit of Mary. Secondly, I am of a mind to remember my own mother’s devotion to Mary and to her vocation of motherhood.

      First, before entering Carmel, I made a trip to the Holy Lands. After coming home, I was walking with my spiritual director and excitedly explaining to her what a mob scene the way of the cross was, and how it must have been much the same way in the time of Jesus. Sister Mary listened intently and quietly observed that Our Lady would also have been a part of the crowd that day and probably would have needed to push and shove in order to remain in the front, to be near her Son. For we know from scripture, that, she stood by his Cross. (Jn 19:25) At the time, her insight surprised me, but now that many years have gone by, I realize that Sr. Mary was one of those special people that lived in the presence of the Blessed Virgin. On another day when I was walking into chapel I saw her leaning with half of her body through the window of a car trying to embrace a man in the back seat. I thought that this was very strange as Sister was a small woman who was usually very reserved and seemed a bit fearful around men. After the car left she approached me and said to “please pray for that man as he is very much troubled”. So I said a prayer, and didn’t think too much more about it, until a couple of days later when I heard that he had committed suicide. Then I understood that she had been trying with all of her might, to reach him and to give him life. How very much she resembled her heavenly namesake! When I next saw Sr. Mary she was busy about different things obviously having left the man in the hands of God.

The Mary She Prayed To

     Gradually, as more time went by, I got to know some of the other Sisters and was drawn to respect their special devotion to Mary also. Sr. Miriam for example was very faithful to the rosary and one day when I was admiring a mural of the trip to Bethlehem depicting Joseph leading a donkey on which was seated Mary very much with child, she remarked, “I know just how tired she felt.” From her own experience of having been married and given birth to three children before entering Carmel, she could better understand and empathize with the human experience of our Blessed Mother. The Mary she prayed to many times a day was the same Mary that knew the unique tiredness of being with child and traveling over bumpy roads. Thus, even the everyday conditions of growing tired and weary, were for Sister the means and occasions of presence and prayer.

      Later on, after I had entered Carmel, I recall the formation directress commenting concerning the rosary that it was not really “how” we said the prayers or meditated on the beads but to “whom” we were talking. Mary was a real person and the rosary, while not the only way, was a wonderful way to acknowledge her presence and to ask her intercession in our lives and in the lives of those who requested our prayers.

Carmel’s Special Devotion

      Presently, when I think about Carmel’s special devotion to Mary and acknowledge the example of her Saints; I am also deeply moved by having received the loving example of these Sisters who lived and walked and shared in the freshness of her presence and spirit.

      Secondly, my own mother was a wonderful source of encouragement and support when it came to honoring the Mother of God. She converted to Catholicism a couple of years after marrying my father and chose Bernadette for her confirmation name.

      When I was growing up and the subject of Our Lady came up you could almost feel the reverence of the adults present. I was taught to love and to respect Mary by both my parents. This love was nourished by statues of Our Lady located in most rooms of the house, by May Processions, saying the Hail Mary, the rosary and by hearing the sacred myths that both encourage and increase love. Our Irish pastor was particularly good at sharing such stories.

She Opens A Window

      One that he told concerned the time that Our Lord was walking with St. Peter to some of the outer limits of heaven. He kept coming across some questionable people and was beginning to get annoyed with St. Peter. He saw one person and asked “What is he doing in here? He was a petty thief while he lived on earth.” St. Peter replied, that “he prayed to your mother Lord before he died”. Going on a little further they came across another person. The Lord again asked Peter, “What is she doing in here? She mostly lived a very self centered and selfish life not even trying to care about how her actions were hurting others.” Peter replied, “She prayed to your mother Lord and said her rosary.” Going further they came across a man that the Lord recognized as someone who had never done any work in his whole lifetime! This time the Lord was angry and said to Peter, “What is he doing in here? He never went to church and didn’t even bother to pray. You are supposed to be in charge of the gate?” Peter said, “Lord when he was a child, he prayed to your mother. There is nothing I can do. I close the gate and she opens a window, I run to close the window and she opens the gate!”

      After Vatican II there developed a trend to emphasize more correct theology and to let go of what might be termed popular piety. To this end, I believe something was gained and something was lost. It was said that one of the nuns even once asked Fr. Karl Rahner “why after Vatican II there seemed to be less Marian devotion?” The answer he was quoted as giving was that “for many Christ has become an abstraction and abstractions don’t need mothers.”

      Never-the-less, even among us neo-moderns there are times in our lives when “push comes to shove” and Our Blessed Mother’s hand provides us with the most secure point of reference. On Feb 11, 2008, it was one hundred and fifty years since she first appeared to St. Bernadette Soubiroux. Since then, we know that numerous healings have taken place and that Lourdes has changed the lives of many people.

      Finally, there are many prayers and ejaculations that might be appropriate to bring this article to a close. But I think that the best is still the one that so many of us were taught as children.

Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen