Tag Archives: Virgin Mary

What? To Jesus Through MARY?!

I used to worry about the phrase, “To Jesus through Mary.” In my years away from Catholicism, I took it as verification that Catholics were misled into placing way too much emphasis on Mary, to the detriment of their relationship with Christ. I used to think, “No, we go through Jesus to God, not to Jesus through Mary. Jesus is the ‘one mediator between God and man.’ This “going through Mary” stuff just isn’t right.”

Then, during my journey back to Catholicism, I began to become aware of something. How did I learn about Jesus? How did I learn that Jesus is called “the one mediator?” I learned it through people at my church who knew the Bible. How did those people learn about the Bible? They learned about the Bible through other people. It seems that no one simply picks up a Bible and learns it in isolation. There are always other people involved, even if it is just the person that placed that Bible in the drawer of your hotel room. The Bible itself came to us through the Catholic Church.

No one actually goes directly to God through Jesus alone. There is always someone else involved, just like Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch. I once had a pastor that liked to talk about how he found Christ through Billy Graham. I think Billy Graham is a great preacher. Lots of people have discovered Christ through Billy Graham.

One might argue that the Apostle Peter or Paul was even greater than Billy Graham. Many have come to Christ through Peter and Paul. But, do you know who is an even greater disciple than either Peter or Paul? Mary. She is the perfect disciple of Christ. When I ask myself, “Who can take me by the hand and lead me to Jesus Christ?” I have to respond, “Mary.” No one was physically or spiritually closer to Christ than Mary. No one lived a more pure life of devotion to Christ than Mary.

Mary was always within the will of God, even when she was confused, scared and grief-stricken. If anyone can show me how to live for Christ, it’s Mary. So, should I go through Mary to Christ? Of course! It makes perfect sense. I can’t think of anyone better than her. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Hmm…sounds like something her Son would say (“Not my will, Father, but your will be done”). Yeah, now I have no problem going through Mary to Christ.

Mary: More Than A Part In A Christmas Play

I know why it bothers people when Catholics make such a big deal about Mary.  It used to bother me, too, even as I was being raised Catholic.  God sent Jesus to take away our sins.  Case closed.  Why bother with anything else?  So, Mary got picked out of billions of women to be the mother of Jesus.  That’s why all generations are supposed to call her blessed, right?  It’s like winning the lottery or something.  “Wow, you’re so blessed to be chosen!”  That was the end of it.  Turns out that’s just part of the reason.  There’s a lot more to Mary than a part in a Christmas play.

There are a lot of theological and scriptural implications about Mary that I simply did not know about.  Learning those “technical” aspects of Marian doctrine really opened my eyes.  Becoming a parent changed my outlook as well.  I can only imagine being a mother, but being a father was enough to give me a greater appreciation for Mary’s role as a loving, sacrificial, devoted, holy parent.

Being a husband also contributed to my appreciation of Mary.  One learns much about a spouse by getting to know one’s in-laws.  Becoming part of a new family is life changing.  As the saying goes, “You don’t just marry your spouse; you also marry your spouse’s family.”  Knowing your spouse’s family contributes to knowing your spouse.  It just makes sense that knowing the mother of Jesus would help a person know and love Jesus better.  That’s how families generally work.  No one lives in a vacuum.  We all impact each other’s lives.  The Church is a family, after all.

I understand my Protestant friends’ fear of idolatry, and I greatly respect it.  I used to share it.  The focus has to be on Jesus.  I agree.  It took me a long time to grasp the concept that devotion to Mary does not take anything away from Jesus.  Indeed, Mary is the perfect model of complete devotion to Jesus.  There is no other reason to acknowledge Mary except for the fact that she points us to her Son in all that she says and does.  She is everything a disciple of Christ is supposed to be.  She accepted Christ into her heart (and her body, thus becoming the Ark of the New Covenant) from before his birth until after his death and resurrection.  She never left him.  Her whole being is wrapped up in her love for Jesus.  She is “full of grace.”  She is what we are supposed to be.  Her focus is always on her Son, Jesus.

Christians are supposed to love Jesus and follow Jesus.  No human being ever loved Jesus more or followed Jesus better than Mary.  That’s why Catholics have a devotion to her.  It’s not because we think she can do something that Jesus can’t do.  It’s not because we think she is equal to Jesus.  It’s because we want to be as close to Jesus as possible, and she shows us how it is done.  Can we be close to Jesus without getting to know Mary?  Sure, but not as close.  Mary is Jesus’ own flesh and blood.  You can’t help but draw closer to Jesus by getting closer to Mary.  It’s not an act of idolatry to talk to Mary.  It’s not adding something “extra” to a relationship with Jesus.  It’s being part of Jesus’ family.  It’s about learning to know and love Jesus within the context of a family.

Incidentally, I have a great app on my phone that explains a lot about the Catholic perspective of Mary.  If you have even the slightest interest in learning more about Mary, check it out.  It is very comprehensive and easy to read.

Just How Personal Is Your Relationship With Jesus?

There are lots of people that say they have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Only God knows for sure who does and who doesn’t.  I’m certainly not here to judge.  Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be in a personal relationship with someone.

A personal relationship is reciprocal.  When two people are good friends, for example, they trust each other with a lot of personal stuff about each other.  That’s what makes it “personal.”  There are things they know about each other that mere acquaintances probably don’t know, at least not as well as they do.  If I know a lot about a person, but that person knows little or nothing about me, that’s a one-way relationship, and that’s not very personal.  Someone might be able to find a lot of personal information about me on the internet or by rooting through my trash, but that doesn’t mean we have a personal relationship with each other.

A good example of a personal relationship is a marriage.  Spouses know a lot about each other.  The longer they are married, the more they know.  There may even be things they wish they didn’t know.  As a marriage therapist, I see it all the time.  In addition to knowing each other, spouses also know each other’s families.  Sometimes knowing the spouse’s family is a happy, joyful experience.  Other times, it can be quite trying.  In-laws can be very supportive or very frustrating to a marriage.

The point is, being married makes you a part of each other’s families.  It comes with being in a very personal relationship.  When a couple is dating, one common sign that things are becoming more serious (personal) is the meeting of the parents.  If you want your date to know your parents, and your parents to know your date, your dating relationship is likely becoming quite personal.  Most people want the one they love to be accepted and embraced by family members, especially parents.

So, what about you and Jesus?  If you are a Christian, then you are a member of the Church.  The Church is the Bride and Jesus is the Bridegroom.  Paul talks about this mystery and how marriage relates to the relationship of Jesus to the Church.  Jesus already knows everything about you, but how much do you know about him?  How “personal” is your relationship?  Jesus knows all about your parents and your family.  Have you met his parents and his family?  How familiar are you with the person of Jesus?

The Apostles had very personal relationships with Jesus.  We don’t know how long Joseph his stepfather lived, but we do know that the Apostles knew Jesus’ mother, Mary.  She was part of the family.  She knew Jesus better than anyone.  Her relationship with Jesus was the most personal of all.  For the Disciples, a personal relationship with Jesus included having a personal relationship with his mother.  Jesus affirmed this relationship from the cross when he told John (the disciple Jesus loved), “Behold your mother,” and told Mary, “Behold your son.”  From that moment, John took Mary into his home.  That is a very personal relationship.  To know and love Jesus is to know and love his mother, Mary.

Notice that Jesus did not tell John to “Worship my mother and become an idolater.”  Nor does the Catholic Church tell people to do so.  The Catholic Church simply recognizes that having a personal relationship with Jesus includes his whole family, and that his mother holds a distinctive place, not only as the mother of Jesus (God), but as the greatest disciple of Jesus.  Mary is like the moon which reflects the light of the sun.  She reflects the light of her Son, she does not emit her own light.  Knowing Mary personally is simply part of knowing Jesus personally, just like knowing one’s in-laws is part of knowing one’s spouse.

Many Christians sing a song that says, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God.”  Who is that family?  It includes more than just the other Christians here on Earth.  The family of God also includes Mary and the other saints in Heaven (the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us).  They are all alive with Christ, and getting to know them better is to know Jesus better (more personally).  No matter who you are, there is a Saint that you can relate to and become a prayer partner with.  “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much,” and the saints in Heaven are as righteous as can be.  So, we Catholics ask them to pray for us and with us.  We don’t worship them or “conjure up the dead.”  We just include them in Jesus’ personal family of God.

Do you know Jesus personally?  Is your relationship with him reciprocal?  He knows your family.  Do you take time to get to know his family?  Do you know Mary, his mother, like the Apostles did?  Have you “taken her into your own house?”  If not, you might consider reevaluating just how personal your relationship with Jesus is.  Being a Christian isn’t just about you and Jesus.  And it isn’t just about you, Jesus and your local Christian buddies.  Being a Christian is about the whole family.  It’s a spiritually interpersonal relationship that transcends this present life here on Earth and centers on the person of Jesus Christ.

God’s Magnifying Glass

Last night I had a spiritual “Aha!” moment.  It was one of those times when so many things come together at once that it takes a while to let it all sink in.  It is still sinking in, but I can safely say that it is a pivotal point in my spiritual journey.  I have a fresh awareness of someone I have known all of my life.  I heard, for the first time, a verse of Scripture that has been read to me all of my life.  I don’t know why it took me so long to finally hear it with my heart and not just my ears.

 

I was watching The Journey Home television program on EWTN.  The show interviews people that have converted or reverted to Catholicism and allows them to tell their stories.  The guest was Marie Romine, an actress and former Presbyterian.  In the midst of telling her story, she suddenly said, “Mary is a magnifying glass.”  I slightly cocked my head like a confused dog and wondered for an instant, “What does she mean by that?”  In the next moment, she quoted Luke1:46, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Then she said, “If you really want to know Jesus personally, look through Mary.  She magnifies her Son.”  Then, it hit me.

 

I suddenly realized that I had never heard that one, little verse explained so simply, so eloquently and so powerfully.  All of the technical, apologetic, theological explanations about Mary that were in my head suddenly captured my heart and embraced it.  Of course, I knew that Mary is all about Jesus, her Son.  I knew why we Catholics honor her as we do.  I knew how to argue the Protestant view and the Catholic view of Mary.  I knew the purpose of praying the Rosary.  Then Mary wrapped her arms around me, quieted my brain, and opened my heart to hers.  After all these years, my head and my heart finally connected.

 

I looked through the magnifying glass of Mary’s heart and saw Jesus, nothing else.  I was looking at The Master through the heart of the perfect disciple.  It was like looking through pure glass, free of dirt, dust, defects or deformities.  The glass magnified Jesus wherever it was aimed, and nothing could obstruct the view or distract from His beauty.  This magnifying glass was a heart full of grace, and it brought new focus to my faith.

 

Every question that my heart had ever asked about Mary was answered by, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Every Catholic devotion, prayer and teaching about Mary could be summed up in her words.  I realized that the heart of every disciple is destined to be like her grace-filled heart.  Before John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, or any other disciple, Mary knew Jesus personally and loved Him perfectly.  Her soul, like ours, was created to magnify the Lord, yet she has always fulfilled her purpose to this day.  That is why, as we gaze through her soul’s magnifying glass, we can truly say,

 

Hail, Mary, full of grace!

The Lord is with you!

Blessed are you among women

And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

 

Holy Mary, mother of God,

Pray for us sinners,

Now, and at the hour of our death,

 

Amen.

From now on, I will see Mary in a wondrous, new way.

Oh, Grandma, Not The Rosary Again!

I have to admit that being raised Catholic did not instill in me an appreciation for the Rosary.  An overnight stay with my grandparents was fun, but it also included saying the Rosary before bed.  I remember being quite bored.  The main reason I counted the beads was to know how much more I needed to endure before it was over.  I never really caught on to the profound beauty of the Rosary and my view of it remained a childish one well into adulthood.  Hence, it was easy for non-Catholic Christians to convince me that it was just “vain repetition” and another part of “that Catholic religion” that needed to be discarded for a “real” relationship with Jesus.

I’m not sure if I lacked proper instruction, or if I just didn’t listen to what the Rosary is really about.  I see it much differently now.  In the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a scene where Jesus is carrying the cross and his mother, Mary, watches him fall painfully to the ground.  She flashes back to a time when Jesus was a boy.  She sees her little boy fall and she runs to His aid.  Now He is carrying the cross to His death.  She wants desperately to help Him, but she also knows that she can’t.  Her little boy is suffering and dying for you and for me.  The sword has pierced Mary’s heart.  Jesus is suffering because of His “yes” to the will of His Father.  Mary is suffering due to her “yes” to God, too.  “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to thy will.”

In that short movie scene we can see a “little Rosary.”  It is a glimpse of Jesus through His mother’s eyes.  Of all the people who will ever live, no one knows and loves Jesus like Mary.  The Rosary is a journey through pivotal events in the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary.  She is the greatest, most obedient disciple of Christ.  Thus, she always points us to her Son.  Like she told the servants at the wedding of Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.”  Mary exemplifies the essence of Catholic teaching.  She is all about Jesus, not herself.

The Rosary can certainly become a series of vain repetitions if it is approached that way.  But, like me at my grandparents’ house, that is a childish perspective.  When properly meditated upon, the prayers of the Rosary unite our hearts with Christ and inspire our discipleship.  The mother of my Brother is my mother, too.  For the Christian, God is Father, Christ is Brother, and Mary is mother.  That’s why Jesus gave Mary to John, “the disciple who loved Him,” from the cross.  John represents all Christians in that exchange.  The Rosary is quality prayer time together with the family of God and it includes meditation on our mother’s unique perspective.  There’s nothing vain about that.  It’s all about knowing Jesus better.

No Longer Afraid of Mary: Becoming A Momma’s Boy

I am now 12 days into a do-it-yourself, 33 day retreat called, 33 Days To Morning Glory.  The focus is on Mary’s unique spousal relationship with the Holy Spirit and how that relationship applies to and includes us.  Much of the retreat is presented through the perspectives of four Saints of the Church, St. Louis de Monfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Theresa and Blessed John Paul II.

My appreciation for Mary has been growing, even before beginning this retreat.  One resource I have found helpful is the phone app created by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.  The app is good at explaining a balanced approach to Marian doctrine.  In my spiritual journey through various forms of Protestantism and Catholicism, I have experienced what the Marian Fathers call the two extremes of understanding Mary: Marian excess and Marian defect.  Marian excess is “to think of Mary as if she were God.  She is not God.  She is a creature, and to think otherwise is to fall into idolatry.”  I’ve noticed this approach in some Catholics.  Marian defect “means to think of Mary as being ‘just like the rest of us,’ having no particularly special significance.”  This is what I experienced in most Protestant circles where the regard Mary is given is perhaps a nod of affirmation during a Christmas play, if any.

My 20+ years in Protestantism made me skittish about having a relationship with Mary.  I now understand that Mary is all about a relationship with Jesus (as is the rest of Catholic doctrine).  Her singular goal is to bring souls to her son.  She was and is the perfect disciple.  She was the first person to accept Jesus into her heart and into her body.  Knowing Mary and becoming close to Mary is not an obstacle or a distraction from a relationship with Christ.  The opposite is true.  The role of every Christian disciple is to bring people to Christ, not just by preaching or teaching, but through relationship.  No one had a closer relationship to Jesus than His mother.  To really know Mary and have a relationship with her is to know Jesus.  (Incidentally, that’s what the Rosary is all about.  It is not just a series of vain, repetitious prayers or some kind of superstitious incantation.  It is a spiritual meditation on the life and ministry of Christ through the eyes of His mother).

Some folks will claim that Jesus was dismissive of His mother and actually put her down and/or minimized her.  Don’t let such doctrines fool you.  The Scriptures they use to support such ideas are easily shown to be misapplied.  Imagine the sinless Jesus Christ going against one of the Ten Commandments to “honor thy father and mother” and you can begin to see how misled such claims against Mary are.  Catholic doctrines reveal the true and perfect honor that Jesus Christ, the sinless, obedient God-man bestows on His mother and Father.

I’m not afraid of Mary anymore.  I’m not the least bit scared that God will be offended if I love her and embrace her.  God loves and embraces her.  She is the chosen daughter of the Father, the spouse of the Holy Spirit and the mother of Jesus Christ.  If the Holy Trinity honors and loves her so completely and perfectly, how can I go wrong by honoring and loving her, too?  It’s not idolatry, it’s being godly.  I’m looking forward to the rest of this retreat.  I love getting to know my mother and her Son, my Brother.  Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “Real men love Jesus?”  I would add, “…and real men are momma’s boys.”