Marian devotion for me is not a dry or disinterested topic, but one I have experienced and lived. And no celebration of Mary is more immediate and real than the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
On October 7, 1995, I found myself at a church in Lower Manhattan famous for ministering to the spiritual needs of the Wall Street community: Our Lady of Victory. The murals and stained glass commemorate mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and no wonder. “Our Lady of Victory” was a feast instituted by Pope Pius V to celebrate the miraculous naval victory at Lepanto, where the Rosary and Mary’s intercession proved decisive in saving Christian Europe from the invading Turks. I was at that church to be married.
A few years earlier, in 1993, I had stood in the OLV lower church before a small and unobtrusive image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is dedicated to Fr. Daniel Fives. I later learned that Fr. Fives had been the beloved moderator of a dynamic Legion of Mary praesidium, which met there in the lower church. I learned this when I myself had become a member of this praesidium (as unlikely as that would have seemed then).
As I stood before the image, the deep well of my former life was all before me, and I peered into it. The water cleared unexpectedly, and I could see way down – down to my inner motivations, down to the very wellsprings. At the bottom was a critical flaw, one that polluted the entire well, no matter how pure the water seemed. It produced a rank flavor, which I could suddenly taste as I never could before. It was really disgusting and intolerable. I realized that the well was too deep for me to reach down or do anything about it. I couldn’t help myself.
So I looked up at Our Lady, and with a bit of theological trepidation, but really at my wit’s end, and essentially as a child, I entrusted my life to her – offering it with a prayer that she would accept me as her own and do with me whatever she saw fit to do.
That was really the beginning. So many things happened after that it’s impossible to tell in words. Sometimes I rehearse the amazing sequence of events with my wife. And now that we have two little boys, we tell them too. It’s our family witness to the greatness and mercy of God, how He sent His own mother to corral two of His wayward and erring children – and set them on the heights! (We skip the “wayward and erring” part when we talk about it with our sons, ages 5 and 6.)
But to return to Saturday, October 7, 1995: I arrived first and was waiting in the lower church for my bride-to-be. As I paced like a cat, with so many things on my mind, I saw the image of Fr. Five’s Guadalupe and pulled up short. How could I go to my bride without the blessing of my mother? As I prayed, I felt a peace and confidence that have completely pervaded my married life. Our life together has not been without turbulence, but at all times I have experienced the powerful and comforting presence of Our Lady. She’s got our back.
My wife and I were to walk up the center aisle together. As I bounded up the stairs, it occurred to me: this is exactly the place where we met, the very spot. In May 1994, I was a daily communicant. God had given me that huge grace. After one lunchtime Mass, in Mary’s month, as I was sprinting back to work, I saw in the corner of my eye the radiant vision of a lady Legionary, standing at the book barrow, assisting churchgoers with their selections. I veered off my course. (My angel gave me a big push.)
(And two years later, here she was standing in front of me, all dressed in white. The vision had been fulfilled!)
Our first conversation was about the rosary! She highly recommended it. Soon we were praying together incessantly. The rest is history.
I cannot end this testimony without a word on the rosary. Many well-known Christians have answered objections people have about praying the rosary and about devotion to Mary in general. Their books are readily available, and as valuable and relevant as ever. Moreover, the rosary is a favorite topic of many holy saints. St. Alphonsus de Liguori and St. Louis Marie de Montfort are two who come immediately to mind, but there are many more. The Legion of Mary (a worldwide organization recognized by the Church) incorporates the rosary, Marian meditations and apostolic work into a program that, by design, increases the personal holiness of their members.
My witness cannot compare with any of these, but I’ll give it anyway.
While I’m praying the rosary, Mary tells me many things about Jesus, about life, and about the Christian walk – I would never know in any other way. She shares the inmost secrets of her heart, simply because I give her the time – 15 minutes a day! This 15 minutes turns out to be just a baseline. Often my wife and I will spin it out for hours. Not out of any dry sense of obligation, but because, during this time, the Queen of Heaven opens up the gate and invites us in. Around her kitchen table we disclose the intimate details of life, receive from her wisdom and love, and solicit maternal guidance on everything! Nothing is too trivial to bother her with; nothing is too great for her understanding and all-powerful intercession. That’s what Our Lady of Victory is all about: Lepanto, October 7, 1571, world in the balance. Christianity turns to the Rosary, to the Mother of God. She delivers. It also means New York City, October 7, 1995, two insignificant wayward children, gathered up by their mother, united in the bond of holy matrimony, against all odds.
This is where we want to be. This is where we want our family to be. In the words of a great spiritual father, “This is the spout where the glory comes out!”
As I’ve written these pieces, my hope has been to communicate this incredible devotion to you. May God reward your patient perseverance with the gift of His Holy Mother to be your Mother also. Amen? Amen!