I got a great gift the other day – a woodcarving of a seated Madonna holding Jesus with one hand and admiring a piece of fruit – looks like an orange – with the other. It reminds me that I love the Blessed Virgin because she is a very human representation of holiness.
This is a bit of homespun theology, but to me Mary is like the milk and cookies of Catholicism – she comforts and nurtures and is there with emotional support. She has exalted titles, such as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. She is patroness of the United States under that title. That’s good for a nation as powerful as the USA, but Mary also has titles which make her seem more accessible.
I like the title “Cause of Our Joy,” partially because it is lesser known. It is depicted as Mary with outstretched arms offering Jesus to the world. It was also the name of the Legion of Mary group I belonged to as a teenager.
Other titles have appeal at different times. When I am not sure what to do, I pray to Our Lady of Good Counsel. In times of crisis I pray the Memorare, which I associate with Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. I go to Mary for human and spiritual assurance.
I once made up a title. I prayed to Our Lady of the Press Conference before Pope Benedict’s election because I was in Rome, had to host a post-election media conference but didn’t know when it would be or which cardinals would be present or whose election we would herald. I like things more controlled, so I turned to Mary in desperation.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe caught my imagination when I was 10. I loved the account of the poor Indian Juan Diego who had to convince the local bishop that he had seen the Virgin. When Juan Diego told Mary the bishop wouldn’t believe she had appeared to him, she sent Juan Diego back to the doubter to show him an outpouring of roses on a snowy December morn. Clearly Mary would take the extra step for the little guy who needed help.
Being Irish, I have a fondness for Our Lady of Knock, who appeared with St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist on a church wall in Knock, Ireland more than a hundred years ago. Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a majestic church filled with numerous oratories named after titles of the Virgin. The Our Lady of Knock oratory is aglow with Waterford crystal, humble Erin’s brilliant gift.
Devotions learned early stick with you. Pope Benedict XVI prayed at the shrine’s image of Our Lady of Altoetting when he visited the national shrine in 2008. It is a replica of the one that he visited as a child in his native Bavaria and where he left his cardinal’s ring after he became pope.
Marian devotion has led some people to wrongly accuse Catholics of adoring, rather than revering, Mary, though adoration is reserved to the savior. A parish priest once complained that our annual May procession to honor Mary exceeded our celebration of the Risen Christ at Easter.
Perhaps the affection reflects the emotional aura surrounding Mary, her embodiment of the best of all maternal characteristics. She is the consoler of young children with skinned knees and the wise counselor of older ones to do the right thing in the face of life’s challenges.
Mary is the milk and cookies of our theology and provides the comfort found in an Oreo, chocolate chip, ginger snap or Social Tea. And she’s just as accessible as the supermarket shelf.