Following Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, and then Hurricane Rita shortly after that, thousands of volunteers from around the country went down South to help the devastated victims of the storms. One of them, a nurse from Vermont, kept a diary, and this was her entry a few days after she returned home: “My old routine, my kids, my life is pushing backthe memories of what I have just experienced. The memories keep crashing in but one thing keeps coming back. Traveling around—no matter where I went, no matter the destruction I saw—I kept seeing statues of the Virgin Mary. And they were never damaged. Mary stood up tall in areas ravaged from raging floodwaters and wind and wild destruction. It didn’t matter if she was plastic, stone, or concrete, whether she was on the lawn, mounted on something, in-laid in something; always she seemed there, one hand up to the forces of nature, giving the sign of protection. I thought it was a coincidence, a series of flukes.
“But while I was still down there, I met another team of medical volunteers who had been stationed in a different part of Louisiana—a bayou shrimping area hit by Hurricane Rita. The team showed us pictures of the town that had taken a direct hit; Rita had steam-rolled the city flat. All except a church called Our Lady of the Sea. And there, in the photos, stood the statue of the Virgin Mary, one hand up facing the ocean and the other arm wrapped around two children. A tablet rested at her feet saying, ‘Protect our children.’ I’m not sure what it means. Perhaps it’s a reminder that beneath all the rubble, deep inside the souls of the exhausted nurses and doctors and rescue workers, deep inside the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, there is still strength, still hope, still something powerful. And maybe, [it means] too, we all need to get a statue of Mary and put her on our front lawns.” This true account was published in the Burlington, Vermont Free Press, and it’s a wonderful illustration of a truth we Catholics have always believed and celebrated. Mary is not only the Mother of God, but also our Mother, and we please and honor her Son by seeking her assistance and protection.
It was always God’s intention that someone perfectly holy, pure, and sinless play a central role in His plan of salvation, second only to His Son Jesus Himself. Mary, of course, is that person; St. Paul reminds us that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son [to be] born of a woman. . . .” However, Our Lady wasn’t a passive instrument, merely playing her assigned role in a predetermined script; the Gospel tells us that she kept in her memory all that happened, and reflected on these experiences in her heart. This allowed her to continue growing in wisdom and grace, and made it possible for her to assist Jesus in His ministry. This process of aiding in the spread of the Gospel did not end with her earthly life. God’s people are to bless one another, and this is most wonderfully true of Mary, who accepts each member of the Church as a beloved son or daughter, and who never fails to obtain God’s blessings for those who seek her intercession.
Devotion to Our Lady has sometimes resulted in physical miracles, such as the preservation of life and property during natural disasters, medically-inexplicable healings, the alleviation of pain and suffering, and so on. Even more important, however, are the spiritual miracles often granted to those who honor her. The great 18th century bishop and scholar St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote of a terrible and amazing event which occurred in Belgium in 1604. Two young men leading evil lives were out drinking one night with some friends, but one of them, Richard by name, decided to return home. As he was getting ready for bed, he remembered he had not yet said three Hail Marys that day—a practice he had learned from his mother, and which he continued even as he led a sinful life. Richard was very tired that night, but he forced himself to say the prayers, and then quickly fell asleep. He was soon awakened by a violent pounding on his door, and then a hideously-deformed specter or ghost passed through the door and into the room. A shocked Richard recognized the devil-like creature as his drinking companion, who said in an agonized voice, “Just after I left that wicked house, I was murdered; my body lies in the street, and my soul is in hell. God commands me to tell you that the same fate awaited you, had not the Blessed Virgin preserved you in consideration of that little act of homage of the Hail Mary. You would be wise to heed this warning sent you by the Mother of God.” Then Richard saw, to his horror, the condemned soul of his friend being pulled down into hell, sobbing; falling to his knees, Richard thanked Mary for being spared, and as quickly as possible went to church, confessed his sins, and completely reformed his life—to the point of eventually becoming a missionary to the Far East and dying as a martyr in Japan (from The Glories of Mary, as quoted in the brochure “True Accounts about Special Graces and Favors Granted through the Practice of the Three Hail Marys”).
Mary cannot save us from divine judgment, but she can help us reform our lives; Mary cannot forgive our sins, but she can bring us to the One Who is all merciful; Mary cannot give us new life, but she can aid us in coming to know the One Who is Life itself. This first day of the new year is a wonderful time to remember her love for us, and our need for her prayers and assistance. For all we know, 2023 might be the year in which we’ll face a decision or choice that will change the course of our lives, the year in which we undergo a crisis that will test our faith to its very limits, or the year in which we experience death and judgment. Jesus does not want us to face such things alone, so—if our hearts are open—He fills us with His grace and sends His Mother to guide and console us. In light of all this, deciding to deepen our devotion to Our Lady is truly one of the wisest and greatest New Year’s resolutions we can possibly make.
Whether by putting a statue of Mary in our yards or in our homes, wearing one of her medals or scapulars and giving these holy items as gifts to others, reading books or articles written in her honor, beginning the practice of saying three Hail Marys a day in honor of her wisdom, power, and goodness, or saying a decade—or better yet, a complete rosary—each day, the time and effort we invest in this way will truly make this a year rich in blessings and grace. We know from experience that good and loving mothers will do anything for their children, and this is true above all of our Mother in Heaven. Jesus can refuse her nothing, and if we use this new year as a time to deepen our devotion to Our Lady, she will help preserve us from harm and danger, fill us with joy, and lead us to her Son.