A Motherly Heart: Turning to Mary in Prayer

COMMENTARY for the feast of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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When I explain my devotion to Mary to others, either to non-Catholics or to my students preparing for confirmation, I always point to the words of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the heroic saint who sacrificed his life for another’s in a Nazi death camp.

Speaking of Mary, he said: “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”

Mary is also our holy teacher. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ her son and the Son of God.” Mary is the clearest beacon pointing us to Christ. 

When I turn to Mary in prayer, I do so not only because I know how desperately I am in need of her graces. I turn to her, in joy and sorrow, because she is my mother. And she teaches me how to follow Jesus.

Mary — the perfect “model of contemplation,” as Pope St. John Paul II called the Virgin Mary in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae — never fell prey to the distractions of the world. Her entire being was focused on Christ. Throughout her entire life, Mary aligned her will with God’s, saying, “Let it be done to me according to your will.”

In asking for her intercession, we allow grace to supplant our own anxieties, and by asking Mary to pray with and for us, we may better follow her lead in conforming our will to God’s and in following his plan for our lives.

Arguably, the most well-known Marian prayer is the Rosary, which asks us to meditate on the life of Christ through the eyes of its most intimate witness. Mary watched her son, the Messiah, with a mother’s adoring gaze, from the moment of his birth in the stable to his death on the cross. By praying the Rosary, we can keep watch with her, striving to follow her example of unwavering devotion and unswerving faith.

Servant of God Lucia dos Santos once said: “There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”

And Pope Francis wrote recently in Gaudete et Exultate (The Call of Holiness in Today’s World): “Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. ... Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: ‘Hail Mary …’”

Before my marriage, I lived with two other Catholic women. Each of us was facing decisions in our lives that required deep discernment, whether they involved careers, relationships or vocations. Every night, or at least most nights, the three of us would come together and pray a Rosary.

During times of particular unease, we would pray the novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Over the course of nine days, the novena calls on supplicants to lay the burdensome knots in their lives at the feet of Our Lady and ask her to place them before her Son to unravel. But aside from merely “solving the problem,” the crux of the prayer is its request of the necessary graces to disallow the knot, whatever it may be, from causing separation from Christ. It is a prayer of supplication, yes, but also of recognition that the worries and burdens of our lives too frequently prevent us from living in the joy and love of God.

As I have relied more on Mary’s intercession throughout my college years and now into my 20s, I am growing increasingly aware of what a truly incalculable gift humanity was given in Mother Mary, loving and honoring her — and remaining near her heart, as the Church celebrates on the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “Stay very close to Our Lady,” advised St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Every season of life comes with its particular trials and tribulations, as well as its own joys and blessings, and, in the midst of such turbulence, whether good or bad, Our Lady is there, waiting to take into her hands “the ribbon of my life,” as the prayer to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, says.

Speaking in Rome in 1979, Pope St. John Paul II said: “Beloved young people! Continue to live in the truth and for the truth! May the Blessed Virgin, the Seat of Wisdom, Mother of the Word, who enlightens every man, assist you, enlighten you and comfort you.”

Pray for us, Immaculate Heart of Mary!

Kelly Marcum writes from Washington, D.C.