This article originally appeared in the May edition of the Melbourne Catholic Magazine.
A woman I know who became a member of the Catholic Church is puzzled by the familiarity she observes in most cradle Catholics towards Mary, the mother of Jesus. She notices, for instance, how easily Hail Mary’s trip off our tongues, and how we, who have been brought up Catholic, often spontaneously turn to the mother of Jesus when we need help. She is conscious too of how often, when we are confronted with difficulties in our everyday circumstances, we seek refuge in her.
I have been reflecting on my own Marian relationship—how it came about and what it means to me personally—so I thought I would share my reflections about what has been a great source of joy for me on my journey of life.
It all began at my mother’s knee. Her deep love for Mary was readily passed on to me and my brother and sister (who was named for Mary) as our mum taught us the Hail Mary—the simplest of prayers, made up of two salutations to Mary: the first from the Archangel Gabriel and the second from Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, when she was pregnant with the baby who was to become John the Baptist.
The familiarity with Mary that we developed at home was reinforced by the Sisters of Charity at St Vincent de Paul’s primary school in North Essendon, who demonstrably followed the example of Mary’s relationship with her divine son, Jesus.
At the secondary school I attended, St Bernard’s College in Essendon, the Christian Brothers also had a special place in their lives for Marian devotion. Each class was encouraged to decorate a special shrine erected to honour Mary during May, the month traditionally devoted to honouring Jesus’s mother.
As a family we prayed the Rosary every night, taking it in turns to lead the mysteries about the joys, sorrows and glories of Jesus’ life. As we uttered each group of ten Hail Mary’s we endeavoured to think about our saviour and his plan for us.
As kids, seeing our mum and dad on their knees as we prayed helped to nourish in us a real appreciation of Jesus, and encouraged our efforts to strive to do what Jesus was asking of us in our daily lives.
After our family Rosary, I would go to bed. On my bedside table was a beautiful statue of Mary as she appeared to St Bernadette at Lourdes. It was given to me for my first Holy Communion, which Mary and I had received at the early age of five. That statue still stands on my bedside table in my room at Justin Villa. Not surprisingly, our devotion to Mary survived into our adult lives, and my sister Mary and I prayed the Rosary each night at the presbytery we shared at St Cecilia’s Parish for over 13 years.
During the last months of Mary’s life, confined as she was to her bed in her room at St Mary MacKillop Aged Care, East Hawthorn, we prayed the Rosary together whenever I visited her.
This prayer, so precious to us all, was prayed by Mary’s family as we sat with her the day before she went home to be greeted by our own Mother, whom we had ever treasured with our childlike love.
Praying the Rosary has been a true source of comfort and joy for me as I grow through my grief, learning to let go of the sister I treasured, who has gone to occupy, with her relatives and friends, the place prepared for her by Mary’s caring son, Jesus, as he promised he would.
Fr Gerard Dowling OAM is Spiritual Director of CatholicCare Melbourne and Dean Emeritus. His radio program, The family counsellor, can be heard on Melbourne’s RSN927 every Sunday night from 10pm.