When I was in fifth grade I had a fascination with Marian apparitions. I remember learning a little bit about the Fatima story in my religion book and it prompted me to pick up a book at my town’s library one day that was all about alleged apparitions of Mary. These accounts of the Mother of God—always described as a young woman of unearthly beauty and heavenly gentleness—appearing to such ordinary people and sometimes working miracles for them captivated me like no other story I had read. I was so engrossed by these accounts that I would sometimes tune out the teacher in class and draw pictures of some of my favorite apparition scenes—Lourdes, Fatima, and Our Lady of Guadalupe stand out the most in my mind. Though I had been in Catholic schooling all my life, it was the first time the divine became real for me.
Mary never really took root in my life after that, though. Even after a retreat in high school that ignited my faith, she was always just an accessory, somebody that I only thought of on her feast days or the rare occasions that I prayed the rosary. Six months ago, though, I took a step that I thought would change that—I consecrated myself to Mary. If you’re unfamiliar with Marian consecration, it basically means that you’re dedicating yourself to Jesus through Mary’s instruction and intercession, giving her special permission to help you grow in holiness. It starts with a nearly five-week preparation period and ends with the formal consecration on a Marian feast day. As I prepared, I was excited for the opportunity to integrate Mary into my life more fully, but there were also questions and doubts that lingered throughout the preparation period. Does entrusting myself to Mary mean that she’s just some sort of middleman between me and her Son and that I can’t go directly to Him myself? Do I need to create mental file cabinets and compartmentalize my prayers into prayers for Jesus and prayers for Mary? I struggled with these things right up until my consecration day, and even beyond. I somehow thought that giving my “yes” to Mary on my consecration day would clear everything up, or that my life would be miraculously transformed the instant I gave Mary permission to work on me.
My consecration was hardly a flashy or suddenly-enlightening day, though. After communion at Mass, I took out my consecration day prayer card and said the prayer on the back. That was it. Nothing felt different. The questions I still had didn’t suddenly disappear. For awhile I tried to push those questions out of my mind and to think that they would answer themselves.
A few weeks ago, though, as I was doing my usual nightly prayer, I turned my thoughts to Mary and I realized that so many of my questions about being consecrated to her remained unanswered. I was still struggling to view her as something other than a middleman. I was struggling to enter into the rosary whenever I prayed it. When needs arose I wasn’t sure if I should bring them to Jesus or to Mary or if it made a difference. All those remaining questions bombarded me at once and tears of frustration welled up in my eyes. I felt like I was still unprepared for and failing to live my consecration. I know that faith doesn’t always require understanding. Quite often, faith demands that we give our “yes” without fully understand what we’re saying “yes” to. But I wanted to understand. I wanted everything to make sense. But it still didn’t. And I didn’t know what to do about it.
In my helplessness and confusion, I heard a quiet whisper in my heart:
“Talk to me, daughter. Every day. Just talk to me.”
Silly me to think that getting to know the mother of my Savior was any different a process than getting to know my Savior Himself. I was getting so caught up in defining Mary with words like “mediator” or “middleman” that I had forgotten her most important and lovely title of all: Mother. And not just the mother of Jesus, but my mother. I had been seeking to understand her more than I was seeking to just be with her and to let her be a mother to me. I had no problem just being with Jesus in prayer. Yes, I’ve read books to help me understand Him better, but nothing can take the place of simply being heart-to-Heart. Why would I treat growing in relationship with Mary any differently? And yet I was over-complicating it. My sense of wonder in Mary’s love and care, so beautifully and innocently expressed when I first learned of her numerous apparitions in fifth grade, was overtaken by questions, obstructed by a need to understand. I don’t know that I’ve ever treated Jesus and deepening my relationship with Him in the same way.
So I followed Mary’s request and I’ve been talking to her every day. I offer my day to her Son through her love and instruction, like my consecration preparation suggested. But more than just that rote prayer, I’ve been asking her to show me who she is. Because she is more than just someone who can put me on the fast-track to Jesus. She is not simply a means to an end. If I see her first as my mother, I need to treat her as worthy of more than just a quick prayer or a passing glance. She is invested in me and my well-being and holiness as much as her Son is. And if she is my mother, that makes me, as I heard her whisper to me, her daughter. I am under her care and her direction. She loves me and wants to lead me to her Son. It can’t get much simpler than that. I get the feeling that the lingering questions I have about Marian consecration will indeed answer themselves as I simply allow her to be my mother and myself to be her daughter.
A year ago, as a little treat from the youth ministry director of my diocese, I went to New York City with my missionary team to help film an episode of my diocese’s Video Catechism series. The final day of filming happened in a church a few blocks west of Central Park. Midway through the morning we stopped filming so we could attend mass in the church. During this trip I was emerging from a deep, four-year desolation, and I was still struggling to trust Jesus and to see Him not as a harsh judge but as a merciful friend. When Communion time came at mass, I knelt in my pew awaiting my turn to approach the aisle and I felt drained and frightened, weary from fighting off persistent doubts and anxieties about who Christ is. As I swallowed back tears, I saw an image in my mind of Mary standing behind me, her hand on my shoulder, as if she were defending me. “Rise and go to Him!” she said to me. “Don’t be afraid; I will carry you to Him.” Her presence followed me as I walked down the aisle to receive Communion, strengthening me, drawing me nearer to her Son despite the fears that wanted to pull me away.
I remember that mass and that beautiful moment of Mary’s intercession so clearly, though a year has passed. The love and the protection that Mary offered me in my weakness and doubt was palpable. I still get teary-eyed as I think of it. As I continue to deepen my relationship with and understanding of Mother Mary, it will be instances like that, or like the drawings of Marian apparitions I made as a child, that will capture my heart. Not the quest for total understanding of Marian consecration. Because in that mass in New York City, or as I read stories of Mary’s visits to little souls like me, I felt like I knew Mary. I knew her as my mother and I allowed myself to rest in that. As good as it may be to seek answers to heady theological questions, it is not enough to know about Mary. Transformation can only come by knowing her intimately, just as it is with her Son. Understanding will come as the relationship unfolds.