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Mary Our Companion – Br. Curtis Almquist

It is our custom here at the monastery on most Saturdays to remember the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our chapel is dedicated to Mary and, as guests will know, we begin Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day with the recitation of the “Angelus,” (as in “angels”). The Angelus remembers the account, recorded in the Gospel according to Luke, of the angels’ coming to the Virgin Mary announcing that she will bear a child… and so the focus of the Angelus is on God becoming human in the face and form of Jesus. Some of us may come from religious backgrounds where the remembrance of Mary was very much a part of our spiritual formation; others of us may have come from a religious tradition which held the remembrance of Mary with some suspicion that she was getting in the way of Jesus (what some people call “Mariolatry”). For others of us Mary may simply be a porcelain fixture in a Christmas crèche with no other meaning, one way or the other. I’ll suggest some of why remembering the Blessed Virgin Mary may be meaning-full for you today.

  • For one, you may be in touch right now with fear. It might be fear of the unknown (the unknown present or the unknown future). It may be fear of the known, some seed of a sense you carry in your heart (or in the pit of your stomach) of what you sense God is calling to be, or bear or birth. Teresa of Avila, the 16 th century Carmelite nun, said, “What good is it if Mary of full of grace if I, too, am not full of grace. And what good is it if Mary was the Christbearer if I, too, am not the Christbearer in my own time and in my own country?” Mary’s first response to the visitation of the angel – telling her what she was to bear – was fear. Mary may be a companion to you in your fear.
  • You may know the experience of resisting or resenting something that has been unfolding in your life, perhaps something that is costing you too much, seeming to threaten your very existence… and then to wake up some morning and realize that it’s going to be okay, and you find yourself being able to say “yes” to life again. I think this is some of Mary’s experience when she was called by God’s angel to be the Christbearer. Her first reaction was fear; her second reaction was puzzlement: “How can this be?” And then she awakens to what is being asked of her, realizing it is something she can do. She says to God, Okay: “Be it unto me according to your word.” You may know what it is to finally be able to say “okay” to God, to make peace with your destiny. Perhaps Mary may be to you an “ally” as you face your own impossibilities to find the freedom to say “yes” to your life: what you would not have chosen but cannot avoid in life. Your saying to God, in your own words: “use me, take me, call me as you will.”
  • You may find in Mary some deep inspiration as a companion to someone else’s suffering. You may know someone well, love them deeply, carry them in your heart, laugh when they laugh and weep when they weep, and yet, in the moment of their deepest suffering find yourself mysteriously repelled, knowing the temptation to leave them, abandon them, create some distance from them… not because you don’t love them but because their suffering is so great, and you don’t know if you can abide it. Here we have Mary, this image of the pietá, holding Jesus in his suffering, finding the strength and courage to stay with this loved one who suffers. She may be a courageous companion to you and your loved one in the hour of suffering.
  • Lastly, you may find in Mary an intercessor. If the God whom Jesus called Father is too hidden from you just now, too ferocious, too exacting, too awesome, too silent, you might find some comfort in access to Mary, who seems to have God’s ear: Mary, as someone to whom you can safely whisper your desires or despairs… trusting that that message, through her, will get to where it belongs.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God: Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

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8 Comments

  1. Gretchen TenBrook on April 12, 2013 at 11:37

    Erin,
    I am not a Catholic, so I cannot answer your questions from that standpoint, but I can offer my own experience as a fellow Christian. I find the saints, including Mary, inspirational figures to help guide my prayer life, not because they are in any sense special links to God, but rather, because the ways they related to God – with such unique faithfulness, trust and devotion – invite me into similar gestures of intimacy with Jesus. For example, when Mary (an unmarried virgin who found herself pregnant was told she was to bring the Savior into the world – how terrifying!), she replied to the angel, “Let it be to be as you have said,” and “she pondered these things in her heart.” When I pray in moments of fear or chaos, I let Mary’s words be my own. They are like God’s gift to me.

    I, like you, have never prayed to saints, as I intuitively experience Jesus, in his humanity and divinity, as making God accessible to me in the core of my being. How wonderful to reside IN and WITH my creator! He is not just a transcendent figure, but an indwelling one. However, I can understand how praying to the saints might be helpful for some people. Have you ever had the experience of asking another, whose faith felt bigger and stronger than our own, to pray for you because you felt too tired, too weary, too faithless to act on your own behalf? Intercessory prayer can be such a gift when you have come to the end of yourself, or when you are feeling invited into prayer on a communal level. I think praying to the saints this is very similar. Just like we ask our living fellow believers to pray for us, we can also ask our fellow believers of ages past (companions in the Bible), who in their humility and faith, would never hesitate to reach out to God on our behalf.
    Hope this makes some kind of sense.
    Blessings to you on your journey of faith.

  2. Erin Stuarts on April 10, 2013 at 13:48

    Where does the Bible refer to praying/talking to Mary? In my tradition, the only Way to the Father is through Jesus Christ, so we pray through Him alone, not through saints…can you please explain the foundation of your practice of asking Mary (and other saints?) to “pray for us now and in the hour of our death”?

  3. glenna kleinsmith on April 9, 2013 at 18:33

    I am always In awe of Mary saying yes to the angle. Would I have had the same faith? I think not. Thank you Curtis for another of your thought provocing messages.

  4. DLa Rue on April 9, 2013 at 09:58

    I first heard (and joined in with) people reciting the rosary in a church in Dijon, run, fittingly perhaps, by brothers of an order dedicated to St. Joseph. Their presence in the church was for the purpose of encouraging visitors to pray for their own fathers and the fathers of their children or of other children they knew.

    They handed out small prayer cards (I think mine is tucked in one of my Bibles somewhere) with a written prayer and would politely but directly approach anyone looking about the church to give them a card and ask if they had prayed for their father that day.

    Then at 6 they started the rosary, and I joined in; the repetition (in French) was peaceful and focused.

    A fitting, balanced ministry, it seemed to me.

  5. John (Jack) A, Roney on April 9, 2013 at 09:54

    fear and how can this be make sense to me. But going direct to the Father has been my way so far. thanks for your message for the Annunciation of the BVM.

  6. Gretchen TenBrook on April 9, 2013 at 09:42

    This piece was an affirmation of Mary’s invitation to me, and to all of us. I feel a sense of solidarity with her in the movements of my life – the fear of the unknown, the wonder and mystery of the clashes of opposites, and then finally, the willingness to embrace it all. Like Mary, I, with a mustard seed of faith, say in my heart, “Let it be to me as you have said.” With Mary, I let go, I “let it be,” I lean into trust, I “just say yes,” I believe in the impossible, I make space for Jesus in being, I treasure the moment. And in this falling into grace, I find freedom to desire, to long for my truest self in God.

  7. Mino Sullivan on April 9, 2013 at 07:59

    Thank you, Curtis.
    What lovely thought to start the day.

  8. Barb Yatsevitch on April 9, 2013 at 06:00

    Very dear Br, Curtis, WOW, what timing as I drive down to Portland today for cataract surgery. I hope you will pray for me. Many Blessings, thanks and Love, Barb

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