The last eleven weeks of my first pregnancy I was under doctors’ orders to lay on my left side. I was allowed to get up only to use the bathroom. It seems my son, who never gets in a hurry for anything, wanted to come into this world 16 weeks prematurely. Those weeks were filled with both the most terrifying possibilities and the most beautiful revelations. Looking back, it was the perfect preparation for motherhood.
One of the things I became acutely aware of during this time was the power of prayer. I have no concrete examples to explain my belief, just a profound feeling of being lifted and supported by others' intercessions on my behalf. By the Grace of God I came out of the experience knowing that prayer works, that God listens and that prayer is an opportunity for us to participate in the divine life.
As Catholics we utilize a lot of rote prayers, calling on our ancestors, a communion of saints (an academic understanding of / an abbreviated understanding of) who have gone before us, to pray for us to God, through the person of Christ. And no one in the history of earth is closer to Jesus than His mother Mary. Scripture tells us that the first of His miraculous signs was performed at the request of his mother.
As a child I felt very drawn to Mary. She was so beautiful, so gentle, so loving. A mere mortal, Immaculate though she was, she was easier to relate to than God, even a God who would become man in order to aid my understanding. But somewhere along the way I drifted away from my devotion to Mary. Until recently.
One night last year, when I was having great difficulties with some of my students, I decided to pray the rosary for one of them in particular. After completing it, I went to bed with the rosary wrapped around my wrist and clutching the crucifix in my hand (it is how I hope to be buried.) The next morning before classes started I sat at my desk organizing my work when that same student appeared at my door. "Can we talk?" the student asked, stepping into the classroom and closing the door. "I'm sorry..." the student proceeded as I sat there slack-jawed.
You'd think that from that day forward I would have prayed a rosary daily for each of my students but not so. It wasn't until this year, after praying a rosary the second time for another student in particular and witnessing similar results that it occurred to me: maybe this is something I should be doing on a regular basis...
If that wasn't enough a third student, the kind who is more “teacher” than “student”, asked me if I had ever heard of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. "Magnificient. Very Awesome," she texted me about her discovery. Unbelievably, after 45 years as a Catholic I did not know about the Tradition of the Seven Sorrows, yet within minutes of receiving the text message I found images of Mary and specific instructions for praying the Seven Sorrows all around me. I was at a conference in Columbus Ohio when I received the message from my former student and current confirmand.
Between erudite speakers I walked the hotel hallways collecting prayer cards as examples for a project I'm planning on doing with my students. (We're going to make them as Christmas presents for our prayer buddies.) I picked up the first card before receiving the text message. I vividly remember counting the swords in Mary's heart before I understood their significance: one, two, three... I grabbed the second prayer card just minutes after receiving the text message. I still hadn't made the connection to the prayer card I had picked up earlier, the one with the seven swords piercing Mary’s heart.
The second prayer card was one of the most beautiful pictures of Mary I'd ever seen (no swords!) I studied her image before flipping it over only to find a description of how to pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Incredulous I immediately I texted my former student back. But just to show you how slow I am, and how persistent God is, I have to tell you what happened next.
Soon after picking up the prayer cards and receiving the text message, I went into Adoration (an academic understanding of / a personal experience of) at a makeshift chapel in the hotel. I was on my knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament and lifting each of my 56 students up before the Lord by trying to recall every one of their names. When I left the chapel a nun followed after me. "I know this is going to sound weird," she said approaching me and touching me gently on the forearm, "but do you pray the rosary?"
All I could do was smile and stutter something like, "Yes, it's funny you should ask...I’m just starting to understand how powerful it is…"
In awe and praying the Seven Sorrows regulary
There is a lot of misunderstanding between Protestants and Catholics about the role of Mary in the Church. Watch this really cool video called "The Truth About Mary" which uses Scripture in an attempt to clarify - I found it on one of my new favorite blogs: Conversion Diary.