When I was in the second grade at Holy Cross School next to the brewery of-all-things, my teacher, Sister Teresa Marie, used to give out prizes for exceptional work. Amazingly, each week every child was exceptional. Usually the prizes bestowed were holy cards, but one Friday Sister walked up and down the rows of desks and allowed everyone to pick a book from her box. The books were withdrawn from the school library, and were old, but to us they were treasures. This was not the time of Scholastic book fairs or super bookstores where one can simultaneously enjoy cool beverages while browsing in a text complex the size of a football field. Back then, one could not select reading material with a simple click of the mouse, as one can today, and expect it to be in your mailbox in five to seven working days. No, this was a simpler time. Books were sparser. And I think, a little more cherished.
As Sister approached me, I decided to close my eyes and let fate decide my reading selection. Looking the other way, I thrust my hand into the box and grabbed a tattered book with a maroon linen binding. The name of the book was not readily seen, and at first I wanted to throw it back and have a "do-over." But I didn't. Rummaging through the pages I finally found the title: A Story of Our Lady of Fatima.
The book began, "On a hot May day in 1917, three little shepherds were watching their sheep….." and it proceeded to tell the beautiful story of the Blessed Mother who came to three poor peasant children as Our Lady of Fatima. Only years later did I learn that that "hot day in May" spoke of in the book was May 13, my birthday.
In 1981, the day before my high school graduation, I heard the pope had been shot. The bullet passed through him but did not hurt vital organs. Since I had gone to see him when he visited Chicago, I felt a special kinship with him. I really liked this young pope, John Paul II, who was Polish like me. Later, the pope credited the Blessed Mother, as Our Lady of Fatima, with sparing his life on that fateful day. He felt it was her hand that guided the bullet to a safe destination. The day of the shooting and Mary's protection: May 13.
Fast forward to 1998. I was married, and had 6 children. I had been considering the purchase of a statue of the Blessed Mother for our little schoolroom. I was drawn to Our Lady of Grace because her image was in all the Catholic school classrooms of my youth. I also felt drawn to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of Americas and the unborn. During this time, my husband's grandmother moved out of her home because of failing health. We were given boxes and boxes of her old things. "Take what you want and get rid of the rest," she told us, and we started the daunting task of going through boxes. Guess what I found while rummaging through one box, right next to a crocheted hot pad holder and a package of unused drinking straws? Yup, you guessed it….A statue of our Lady of Fatima. She was definitely trying to stay in touch with me.
Of course I dusted her off and put her in a position of prominence, and I laughed at myself for taking 25-plus years to figure out that she was reaching out to me and that I should pay attention. I finally realized the Blessed Mother was there when I was 8. She was there when I was 18. She was there when I was 28, 38, and is here right now. Like the gentle mother that she is, she quietly knocks on the doors of our hearts, waiting for us to respond, but never forcefully entering.
This year, May 13th is Mother's Day. How fitting. Our heavenly mother who loves us completely beckons us all to her love and protection. Is it a coincidence that the feast of Fatima falls on Mother's Day this year? I think not. I imagine she has blessings like delicate fragrant flowers she wishes to bestow on all mothers whose hearts are open. Consider this article your dusty maroon book, your realization of a hand of protection, your found statue in a box of useless things. Your mother is calling. Go to her. She loves you and she's waiting.