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A Convert Struggling with Praying to Mary (I/IV)

August 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Mary, Prayer

Bougerou Regina Angelorum for post on praying to MaryDear Father John, I am a convert to the Catholic faith, and I still have difficulties with Mary. Don’t get me wrong – I believe all the dogma and doctrine fully, but when it comes to praying to Mary, I don’t seem to get it. What role is she supposed to have in my pursuit of holiness and spiritual growth?

This is a great question for the month of August, with the Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption right around the corner. As a fellow convert, I think I know what you mean. Marian devotion (this refers to what you mention about the “role she is supposed to have in my pursuit of holiness”) flows from Marian doctrine, from what the Church teaches about Mary’s role in God’s plan of salvation. The core of that doctrine is, as you can imagine, Jesus Christ. Mary is important because Jesus is important. Let’s take a look at the doctrinal issue before we move into specifics of Marian devotion.

Avoiding Exaggerations

Non-Catholic Christians often accuse Catholics of idolizing the Blessed Virgin Mary, of treating her like a goddess instead of a creation of God. Undoubtedly, some Catholics have had, and still have, an exaggerated devotion to Mary. But the Church’s official teaching has consistently steered clear of exaggeration. The Second Vatican Council points out that devotion to Mary “as it has always existed in the Church, for all its uniqueness, differs essentially from the cult of adoration,” (Lumen Gentium, 66) which is offered to God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, Catholics don’t worship Mary; we worship God. Anyone worshiping Mary, treating her as if she were divine, would not be following Catholic practice.

Most Catholics in modern America, however, tend to exaggerate Marian devotion in the other direction: giving it too little attention instead of too much. Vatican II also pointed this out, when it warned theologians and preachers to “refrain as much from all false exaggeration as from too summary an attitude in considering the special dignity of the Mother of God” (Lumen Gentium, 67).

Mary’s Unique Role: God’s Choice

Mary is not just another run-of-the-mill Christian. She was not just some kind of surrogate mother that God rented out for nine months and then forgot about. Not at all.

God could have chosen to send us a Savior in a thousand different ways. He could have sent him to earth on a chariot of fire descending from the night sky, or formed him from the dust of the ground as he had formed Adam. He could have. But he didn’t. He chose to come to us, to bring us eternal life, to redeem the fallen world, through a woman. He chose to be incarnate, to become a zygote, an embryo, a fetus and a baby in a mother’s womb.

That fact, recorded in the Gospels, is the secret to understanding everything that the Church teaches about the Mary: God chose to send Christ into the world through Mary’s free and conscious collaboration. He didn’t have to, he chose to. And all of Mary’s special privileges – her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption into heaven, and her perpetual virginity – flow from that choice.

Christ Stays at the Center

But why did God choose to send us our Savior in this way? The Church points to a certain appropriateness in having a woman, a mother, collaborate so closely in the redemption of the world. After all, the original plan of God for mankind was disrupted through the disobedience of both Adam and Eve: together they had been entrusted with a mission that together they messed up. It is fitting, then, that Christ, the new Adam, should involve Mary, the new Eve, so intricately in his plan of redemption. As St. Irenaeus, writing in the second century, put it, “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience.”

The Second Vatican Council puts it beautifully when describing the angel’s annunciation to the Virgin Mary: “The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in bringing about death, so also a woman should contribute to life” (Lumen Gentium, 56).

When we were baptized, we became Christ’s brothers and sisters, as well as members of his body (the Church), and so Mary’s maternal care for Christ was extended to us as well. Responding to that care, accepting it and utilizing it to help us follow Christ more closely, is the heart of Marian devotion. The proud and self-willed child wants to do everything himself; the humble and wise child allows his mother to teach, guide, and inspire him. Mary wants to do that for us in three ways. We will look at them one-by-one in the next post.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

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Art for this post on a Convert Struggling with Praying to Mary: Regina Angelorum (The Queen of the Angels), William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1900, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Clementcwlam

    Well written, Father John, based on my personal experience ( as I used to worshipped at a Pentecostal Church many years ago ), Prostestants had been taught that Catholic worship Mary and Saints and are NOT Christ centred and in some cases simply labelled Catholics as idol worshippers. That is a fact of the matter as long as there’re “free” churches, i.e. any persons can go and get a degree in Theology, etc and then sent up his own church. Of course being different from the church next door is one way to “attract” new “members” ( their source of income ) and the best “target” are uninformed Catholics….! :-(( Therefore it’s a great responsibility of the Catholic Church to provide proper formation ( sound and interesting catechesim ) for their children and youths and I think it should include a lessons in Apologetics so that they understand that their Catholic Church is the true Church formed by our Lord Jesus and our doctrines are correct. God Bless the Catholic Church !

  • jack g.

    Hi, I am a revert myself, with kids and a pagan history and for lat 2 years I was frantically looking for help and support in the media. I have found too much to digest in many forms, cd, dvd, books and more. We have lots of ways to educate kids, but nothing will replace a positive one on one, father/child prayer/talk and also a regular family prayer. The father figure has greatly diminished in last few decades, since sexual revolution, and so the family unit hurts a lot. We need to be educated and converted in heart as fathers and it is painful to die to yourself, I experience it every day

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