I haven’t always been the lady’s man that I am today. Certainly not in junior high, nor even in high school, when I hadn’t yet really begun to play the part. It was only by the example of college friends, in seeing their devotion, that I began to deepen my relationship with Our Lady.
Not everyone is comfortable with Marian devotion—not even all Catholics. Why do we pay attention to Mary when Christ alone is our Savior? Marian devotion can be summed up like this: when we love someone, we want to share in all the things that they love. This doesn’t take away our love for that person, but deepens it. We can now begin to say, “I love all that you love.” And that’s the whole point of love, to form one shared life out of two. We all know the experience of Christian friendship: When we form community with others who are centered on Christ, they don’t distract us from Christ, but their faithfulness helps keep us faithful. This is exactly what devotion to Mary does. Growing close to her keeps us centered on Christ.
Jesus loved Mary, so those who love Jesus are moved to love Mary. He didn’t love her as someone who just happened to be his mother on earth (lucky her, we might say). God chose her from the beginning, to be his own mother when he came into the world, bringing “grace and truth… through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17). And if he is made our brother by grace (Rom 8:14ff), then by grace she is made our mother. He said so in some of his last words from the cross, “Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19:26). And when he gave her to John the beloved disciple, he gave her to all his disciples. We sometimes overlook this moment as merely symbolic, but when the Word of God speaks, what he says happens. Bl. Columba Marmion writes that just as his words here really placed us under Mary’s care, they likewise changed Mary in this moment, creating in her heart a new and tender affection for all his disciples, all those who followed her Son and sought to become like him.
Of all of the followers of Jesus, we should remember priests. Today in the Province of St. Joseph, we Dominicans have seven new priests! Sometime shortly after 10:00 am this morning (Mass begins at 9:30), they will receive the laying on of hands, and by this act they are conformed to Christ in an entirely new way. Of course, all Christians are joined to Christ by baptism, as St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). This is echoed by C.S. Lewis who said that all who have faith are “little Christs.” Our neighbor is Christ to us also, as Jesus himself says, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). Or as Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., echoes this truth in verse:
For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Yet priests are something different. They share in the office of Christ the head. They share in the leadership of the Church as shepherds, and they speak in the name of Christ: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” “I forgive you of your sins…” When they speak, it is Christ who is speaking.
Priests are the real Lady’s men of the Church. As they are conformed closer to Christ, they are conformed closer to Mary. For they have been called by grace, changed by grace, made priests by grace. And where does grace come from? Only from Jesus Christ, who chose to come through Mary: “In giving Him to the world by bringing Him forth, she, so to speak, gave grace itself to the world, because she gave Him Who is the source of it” (St. Thomas Aquinas, ST III.27.5).
In a pithy way Mother Teresa put it best and briefest. When asked about this devotion, she offered her usual reply, “No Mary, No Jesus.” And if there was no Jesus, there would be no Christian discipleship, no Catholic faith on earth, and no priests to foster and guard the faith in their role as pastors. Mary has a unique love for these men joined closely to Christ by this sacrament. Like her, they received a call from God and responded with generosity. Like her, they are called to bring grace into the world, because they bring Christ into the world. Their mission is her mission, so how could she not reserve a particular care for these men? How could she fail to guard them and bless them in their mission?
To finish, we can recall God’s first words to Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). Often, people think of priests as people who are alone. “It must be so hard,” they think. But in the Genesis passage, God continues, “I will make a helper fit for him.” So he makes Eve as a companion to her husband. We all need companionship in our lives, natural and supernatural. We need friends below and friends above. The priest’s life is full of communion with others: with Christ himself and with the Church faithful to whom he ministers. But he is also given Mary as a spiritual helper. She is the new Eve, the true “mother of all the living.” She is close to all priests, interceding on their behalf, for the grace to remain faithful and to make fruitful their mission to the world.
Image: Catacomb of Priscilla (2nd century), Virgin and Child with Balaam the Prophet