Marian Devotion as a Way of Life
On December 8, Catholics celebrate one of our most beloved festive days: the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast commemorates the sublime mystery whereby, by a singular privilege of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin that she might be made a fitting vessel for the sinless Son of God. It is perhaps the greatest of all Marian feast days, serving to remind us of the marvelous privileges God has bestowed upon Our Lady.
When I first embraced Catholicism two decades ago, I was ambivalent about devotion to the Virgin Mary. I was not opposed to it, per se — I had studied enough to understand its historical and theological framework — but I questioned to what degree I could integrate Marian devotion into my spiritual life. I had dabbled in Protestantism for less than two years on my journey from agnosticism to the Catholic Church, but those two years were enough to leave me with a residual mistrust of the prerogatives Catholics assigned to Mary — that she was somehow “replacing” Jesus in the lives of Catholics. Eventually, I worked my way through this by getting to know actual Catholics and seeing that this was a slander with little basis in fact.
I started praying the Rosary when I was 19. I remember the first time I did it: it felt like something dirty. I was huddled behind a locked door in a dark side room in the First Presbyterian Church in Brighton, Michigan, where I worked as a night janitor. It was a strange experience, something I did more because “this is what Catholics do” than because I had a deep love for the Blessed Mother.
I thought I had put these misgivings behind me by the time I entered the Church on the Feast of St. Francis in 2002. But I faced new challenges when I went to live abroad in Austria at the Ave Maria College campus in Gaming. There, in the Old World, in the heart of the ancient Holy Roman Empire, Marian devotion was not a theoretical proposition, not a theological structure, but a way of life. Gilded statues of the Blessed Virgin adorned columns in village squares; roadside shrines to Mary cropped out of flowerbeds along scenic rural byways; and, throughout the country, men clanked their steins of ale together with a toast to the Mother of God.
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