“Ask Mother Mary for help.” With these words my grandmother always sent me along, either to school or camp or just on my way home. At first I thought she was telling me I could always ask her for help as her name was Mary. It was not until she was more explicit about it that I learned she was referring to the Blessed Mother.
From that day on whenever my grandmother suggested I “ask Mother Mary for help” I obliged. Without much thought, I usually just repeated what my grandmother told me and prayed: “Mother Mary, help me.” Most of the time, there was no specific need. And while this interaction seemed somewhat perfunctory and almost mindless it was comforting.
One time I remember asking my grandmother how it was that I should request Mary’s help? I clearly had never met her. And since we did not know one another how could I be assured that she would help me? Without saying a word, my grandmother stopped me in my tracks and walked me to the Lourdes grotto in her garden. She told me to “look at her face.” We stood there for a long while without saying anything. At first I thought it strange but as I continued to look at Mary’s face it was as if I no longer saw the plaster statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. I actually had a strong sense that I was gazing into the eyes of Mary herself. I had a veritable “Visio Divina” or “Seeing the Divine” moment before it was named thus.
Mary looked remarkably like my grandmother, though maybe a bit younger and darker skinned. And sounding like my grandmother she assured me that I could always “Ask Mother Mary for help.” I am not sure how long the experience lasted. Suddenly, I felt my grandmother’s hand on my shoulder. I looked at her. She nodded and walked me back to the front door. As we said our goodbyes I told her that Mary looked and sounded just like her. My grandmother smiled, waved me out and said “Ask Mother Mary for help.”
As I am writing this column I am looking into the face of the many statues of Mary that grace my office: Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of LaVang, Our Lady of Africa, Our Lady of Guadalupe. They all look different. They appear as they were described by those who had a vision of them. And they all remind me of that one moment filled with grace so many years ago and I can hear my grandmother’s voice inviting me to: “Ask Mother Mary for help.”
My response to this invitation is no longer as quick, automatic or evident as it was when I was a young boy. I guess I have become a bit tainted by age and I may have lost some of my ability for spiritual seeing and hearing. Sometimes I wish for that uncomplicated time when I could just ask for help. I also wish for the amazing sense of Mary’s presence I had so many years ago. Maybe I don’t listen well enough? Or maybe I look in all the wrong places?
As we celebrate Mary during the month of May I will be looking for her, not only in the face of the many statues I have in my office but also in the faces of the many women who surround me. They have nourished my faith from the very beginning and they continue to do so until today. Some of them do this from the other side of this life while others do it here and now. And I will ponder the question whether Mary took on my grandmother’s face when she appeared to me or whether my grandmother looked like Mary? In either case, it is an affirmation that all of us are called—not only to become like Christ—but also to become like Mary, this strong Jewish women who dared to say yes to the greatest mystery of all: bearing God to the world.
On Mother’s day I will light a candle for my mother, my grandmother and for all the women who surround me as I think of them and honor them and pray for them. I will ponder their face in that of Mary and Mary’s face in theirs and I will “ask Mother Mary for help.”