Over the last five hundred years, scientists and doctors have visited such cities as Pontmain, France; Beauraing, Belgium; Banneux, Belgium; and Zion, Italy. These scientists, some claiming to be agnostic, some atheist, discovered an unexpected smell, a fragrance, a sweet perfume, unlike anything they had ever encountered.
What did these experts in the field of physical science find? An aroma that came not from the earth but from heaven — from Mary, the Mother of God.
Among these professionals was the popular French doctor Luc Montagnier, a Nobel Prize winner in medicine (2008) and the physician credited with discovering HIV. When asked in an interview about the Marian apparition at Lourdes, he answered,
“When a phenomenon is inexplicable, if it really exists, then there’s no reason to deny it. . . . In the miracles of Lourdes, there is something inexplicable.”
As of February 11, 2018 (feast of Our Lady of Lourdes), there have been seventy healings that physical science cannot explain.
Off and on for five centuries, Mary has been appearing, bringing with her not only a divine fragrance, but also a heavenly message: Believe, repent, pray, fast, and give alms! For five centuries, the Blessed Virgin Mary has been resounding the gospel message to us, her children. For five centuries, Mary has been flying to our aid.
Mary flies to our aid because this is what mothers do when their children are in trouble.
Pray with Mary
God chose Mary as a mediator, and so should we. We read Mary as mediator throughout the Gospel narratives.
Matthew introduces us to Mary as the Virgin who will “conceive and bear a son” (Matt. 1:23) — the Son who is the God-Man, Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 2:5). Luke introduces us to Mary in the Annunciation with the great angelic salutation: “Hail, full of grace . . . ” (Luke 1:28). After a brief dialogue about “How shall this be” (Luke 1:34), Mary says “yes” to the vocation of being the Mother of God.
John introduces us to Mary at the Wedding Feast at Cana with her words “They have no wine” (John 2:3). After a dialogue between Mary and her Son, Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), and Jesus turns water into wine. The first miracle performed by Jesus in the Gospel is due to the direct mediation of Mary.
If we desire to do the same — make Jesus uniquely present and prompt His action — through our intercessory prayer, we ought to place our petitions into the immaculate hands of Mary (see Luke 1:28) and allow her to turn them over to her Son. We ask people whom we perceive are close to Jesus to pray for us. Could we find anyone closer to Jesus than Mary?
When we pray with Mary, we pray with Christ, for their intentions are one and the same.
Understanding Mary’s pondering is an excellent next step for us as we seek to deepen our intercessory prayer.
Ponder with Mary
We think carefully about many things. We deliberate over everything from political policies to favorite movies. Deliberation takes many forms within many matters every day, but what of God and Mary? Do we think carefully about God? How do we ponder? Do we ponder as Mary did?
The Gospel of Luke reveals a compelling connection between Mary’s pondering and our intercessory prayer. There we read, “And [the shepherds] went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:16–19).
After this narrative, some thirty verses later, Luke records the episode in which Mary finds Jesus after He has been lost for three days. When Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple, Jesus “said to them, ‘How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:49–51). In each narrative, we read of Mary’s thinking carefully, pondering the mysterious events unfolding before her.
The Greek word for “pondering,” symballein, means “to throw together, to compare and weigh facts,” or “to piece together.” Indeed, Mary had to “think carefully,” weighing her vow of virginity against her calling to bear the Son of God. She had to “piece together” the wider meaning of losing God for three days with finding Him in the Temple. What we see in Mary’s pondering is a weighing and a piecing together of the divine workings of God. If we seek to understand His plan, then we ought to learn to ponder as Mary did.
In practicing pondering in our intercessory prayer, we take up the practice of defeating the Enemy! There is a fascinating word juxtaposition that appears in the Greek. The Greek symballein (to throw together) is in direct contrast with the Greek diaballein, which means “to throw across; to scatter.” From diaballein we get the English word diabolical, which we often translate as “belonging to Satan.”
Satan’s function is to leave us “scattered” — thrown asunder, confused about everyday life. We overcome the tempter’s tactics by “piecing together” — making sense of, in God’s grace, what God desires us to make sense of. In many cases, as in intercessory prayer, God inspires us to help others make sense of difficult situations by sharing prayerful insights with those who have asked us to pray for them. We overcome Satan’s diaballein by imitating Mary’s symballein and by helping others to do so as well. Indeed, there is enmity between Mary and Satan (see Gen. 3:15); hers is the way to combat the enemy most effectively.
One of the most powerful tools of Marian prayer we can use is the Holy Rosary. With it, we practice pondering by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary: the Joyful, the Sorrowful, the Glorious, and the Luminous. Each set of mysteries allows us to pray by focusing our minds on specific events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. As we ponder these events in Sacred Scripture, we encounter God speaking to us and potentially speaking to the person or situation we are praying for. For example, if we are praying for the conversion of a loved one, and we are meditating upon the Third
Luminous Mystery, the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, God might encourage us to share an insight from the Beatitudes (see Matt. 5:1–12) in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5–7). By passing on insight gained from your meditation, you can aid in the work of conversion! Pondering with Mary has the power to yield great spiritual gifts for ourselves and for others.
What’s more, as we pray each Hail Mary, we echo Mary’s fiat — her great “yes” to be the Mother of God!
This article is adapted from a chapter in Dr. Hollcraft’s latest book, Unleashing the Power of Intercessory Prayer. It is available as an ebook or paperback from your favorite bookstore or through Sophia Institute Press.