Mary, the Woman I Love

By Nicholas Tan

Whenever I display my affection for Mother Mary, it is not uncommon for me to receive funny glances and hear remarks like “You need to focus on Jesus!”. However, my devotion to our Blessed Mother is not blind or unfounded, for it was through her that I was brought back into a relationship with her son, Jesus.

Truths and myths of Marian Devotion

Like many, Novena Church has a special place in my heart. I recall my 10-year old self dragging his feet up the old church steps to stare into the eyes of the Lady of Fatima statue, begging her for a 260-point PSLE score. I would often go to her because of the fear I had of Jesus, and I used to believe that devotion to Mary was separate from a relationship with Jesus.

However, this cannot be farther from the truth! As Catholics, we believe that all forms of devotion must lead to Jesus Christ, or they are false. Jesus Christ must be the end of all devotion; the Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end. It hence follows that the start and end of our devotion to Mary is Jesus.

While many people, including some Catholics, may believe that we worship Mary, this is not true. We believe that God alone is deserving of our worship, in line with the First Commandment. Rather, we honour and exalt Mary as blessed, for God himself venerates her as such. This was clear in the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel proclaimed “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Lk 1:28). His “Hail” was a profound declaration of his profound admiration for Mary for being full of God’s grace, and the fact that no other biblical figure has received such an honour speaks volumes of her greatness.

The greatness of Mary

 Mary — the perfect disciple

In our spiritual life, God calls us to consistency, steadfastness and faithfulness. It is our consistent little yes’s that allows us to be powerful vessels of His Grace. We find that in Mary’s life, she perfectly depicts God’s design of the perfect disciple.

“Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord…be it done unto me according to thy word.” (Lk 1:38). It was this yes of Mary, a result of her profound humility and obedience to God, which gave way to the birth of our Savior. She was willing to offer everything she had to God, even despite her understanding of the dangers that loomed ahead (such as being stoned for being pregnant without a husband).

Yet her ‘yes’ was not one made without dialogue. She opened her heart to God and asked questions without fear. “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’” (Lk 1:34). Through the example of Mary, God shows us how to be his disciples: we are challenged to surrender in spite of the odds, and to be unafraid to tell Him the desires of our hearts.

As St Louis De Montfort puts it: “The essence of what it means to be Christian, is to be liquified by the Holy Spirit and poured into the Mary mould.”

 

Mary — the Queen

Similarly, it was through her lowliness and desire to have nothing but God, that God exalted Mary to be the Queen of Heaven. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant…He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 46–48, 52). It is this that infuriates Satan. Prideful as he is, he refuses to believe that it is the heel of a lowly handmaiden that crushes him. Because he knows that we are safe under our Lady’s mantle, he also seeks to “dis-mantle” Christianity by drawing us away from her.

Crucially, her power is not obtained by her own merit; Mary’s beauty is in how she reflects most fully the glory of God: “God who made the sun, also made the moon. The moon does not take away from the brilliance of the sun. All its light is reflected from the sun. The Blessed Mother reflects her Divine Son; without Him, she is nothing”. (Venerable Fulton Sheen)

So perfectly in union is Mary with God that her will is conjoined to His, and our love for her is also synonymous with a love for God: “Calling upon Her without reserve, you manifest a love for the will of God, for Her will is so perfect than in nothing does it differ from His. Thus, you give glory to God that He created so perfect a creature and took Her for His Mother.”  ( St Maximilian Kolbe)

Mary, our Mother

Jesus loves us so much that He wants the same maternal affection he received from the “Mother of Mothers” to be showered unto us, His beloved disciples. We see this evident in John 19: 26–27: “When Jesus saw His Mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to His Mother, ‘dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘here is your mother’.”

As we delve deeper into the text, we recognize that Jesus doesn’t just hand His Mother to John. Instead, He asserts that we, who are all “the disciple whom he loves”, merit his Mother to love us as well. St John Paul echoes this sentiment by stating: “One can even say that just as Christ on Calvary indicated His mother to the disciple John, so he points her out to anyone who strives to know and love him.”

Her maternity has been shown in my life through many episodes. Just recently, I underwent a series of intense university interviews. Before entering each interview hall, trepidation and anxiety would surface. These feelings, however, would immediately be quelled when I wrapped my hands around my rosary and asked for Mary’s intercession. My feelings of fear were overshadowed by peace, comfort, love and hope, and I felt assured that she was praying for me and presenting my struggles and petitions to the Lord.

True Devotion to Mary

How then does someone who wants to cultivate a relationship with Our Blessed Mother know what devotion to Mary entails? According to St Louis De Montfort, true devotion to Mary is:

Interior: It should come from our spirit and heart. It flows from the esteem we have of her, the high idea we have formed of her greatness and the love we have for her.

Tender: It is full of confidence, like a child’s confidence in his loving mother. This confidence guides us to seek her help in all our bodily and mental necessities, with much simplicity, trust and tenderness.

Holy: The devotion should lead the soul to avoid sin, and to imitate Mary in her profound humility, lively faith, continual prayer, divine purity, ardent charity, and heroic patience.

Constant: The devotion confirms the soul in good and does not let it easily abandon its spiritual exercises, such that a person truly devout to our Blessed Mother is neither changeable, irritable, scrupulous nor timid. A just and faithful devotee of Mary lives on the faith of Jesus and Mary, and not on sentiments and sensibilities.

Disinterested: It inspires us not to seek our ourselves but God only, and God in His Holy Mother. Devotion to Mary does not mean that we love Mary because we believe that she can do us some good; rather, we love her because God has created her to be so worthy of love. This means that true devotion is the call to love her and Jesus regardless of whether we are in periods of dryness or fervour.

The Rosary

A beautiful practice of devotion to Mary is through the Rosary, which means ‘Crown of Roses’. In her apparitions in Fatima, Our Lady revealed that each time a person recites a Hail Mary, they are giving her a beautiful rose. A complete Rosary then, makes her a crown of roses. It is however, important to note that the Rosary should be said with the heart and not chanted blindly: “The Rosary is a contemplative prayer, and it has great intercessory power: whoever recites it, is united to Mary in meditating the mysteries of Christ and is led to invoke the proper graces to these mysteries in the multiple situations of life and history.” (St John Paul)

It is important to ask Mary to lead us through the mysteries and how God wants to help us in the various situations in our life through them. As we meditate and live through the mysteries, we realize that we are praying with her and that she is guiding us to experience the life of her son, Jesus.

In my own reflection, the Rosary was truly the means by which I began this journey back to the Lord. I was struggling with the sin of lust and had developed a false perception of masculinity. One of the first mysteries Mary immersed me in was the Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar. She allowed me to hear the sounds of the whips scourging Jesus, look at the wounds on his back, and experience a tinge of the pain she felt watching by. Through my contemplation of the Rosary, God spoke to me of how my sin played a role in his scourging and allowed me to understand that he was willing to go through all of the pain for me. Mary, in her communion with Jesus, showed me the depth of His love for me through her eyes.

The Saints and their Marian Piety

Even considering the above points, some of us may still struggle with whether loving Mary will somehow take our love away from Jesus. Consider this: when we love someone, loving and knowing the people that the person loves helps us to love and to know the person better! In the same way, loving Mary whom Jesus loved helps to amplify our love for Him, because we know Jesus more fully and purely through the eyes of His Mother. If we desire a deeper union with Christ, we have to love what and more importantly, who he loves.

We look to our best examples — the Saints, whose love of God is unquestioned. As we look into their lives, it is noteworthy that a profound love and devotion for Mary is a commonality!

 St John Paul the Great: In his faith journey, he found that it is not necessary to distance oneself from Marian piety to focus more on Jesus. Marian devotion, rather, helps to lead one closer to Christ: ‘I was convinced that Mary leads us to Christ, but at that time I began to realize also that Christ leads us to His Mother.’

St Therese of Lisieux: To love Jesus more perfectly, she wanted to know and love Him fully. Thus, adopting a devotion for the woman He loved. ‘Do not be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her enough. And Jesus will be very happy, because the Blessed Virgin is His Mother.’

If we really want to know, love and serve Jesus deeper, we need to have our Lady in our lives. Take Mary by the hand and let her lead you to her son. May we be unafraid of loving her openly and be bold enough to proclaim how her intercession has led you closer to Jesus Christ, ‘for you can never love her more than Jesus did.’ (St Maximilian Kolbe)

About me: Hi I’m Nicholas! As a self-professed coffee addict, you’ll always find me with a cuppa, either spending time with family and friends, or buried in a good book in my spare time 🙂