Earlier this fall I wrote about my patron, St Francis of Assisi and how he was one of my gentle but persistent “guides” back to the Church on October 4, 2005, which is his Memorial Feast. In it I mentioned that he was most likely the most influential canonized saint during this process—other than the Blessed Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ herself. Since the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7) falls well within the octave of my return to the Church, I would like to share a few gems with you about how she, too, in fact even more so, was indeed responsible. I call it a “heavenly conspiracy theory” and I definitely believe one was going on between them during that crucial time for me. Please again read on and see if you may agree:
1) I was born on Christmas Day of 1955. My mother’s first name was Mary. Just an interesting coincidence, some may say, and I might have tended to agree at one time. But there is more…
2) When I returned to the Church and was going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) classes in order to become confirmed, we were required to produce a copy of our baptismal certificate. So it was I then learned that my godmother’s name was Mary Burns—and her husband, the late Matthew Burns, was my godfather. So now I had discovered two Marys in my life who together had birthed me into the Faith originally. It is of some significance as well that the Christmas narrative and early story of Mary is in only two of the four Gospels—St Matthew (my godfather’s name) and St Luke. So again another hint of the Mother of God working on me from the very beginning, through not one but both of my godparents.
3) I was baptized on December 31, 1955, at the family parish, which at that time was the Nativity of St Mary Catholic Church, an old country church near Waseca MN which later on had landmark status. So it was there that the third Mary (Mother of our Lord) brought to me the blessing of the Catholic Faith in the first place, through the other two Marys and at a parish particularly dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. This was also New Year’s Eve Day of course, and the Church Universal now celebrates New Year’s as the Feast of Mary the Mother of God, with the Vigil beginning the evening of December 31. At that time however, New Year’s was the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus—and being born on Christmas and then baptized on the eve of that Feast was still very amazing and Marian in nature as well.
4) My next experience with the Sacraments was at age 8, in May of 1964, where I received First Penance (Confession) and my First Holy Communion. Again Mary was at work—we by then had moved well over 100 miles but were attending St Mary’s Catholic Church in the small town of Milaca, MN. It was there too that I was first trained to be an altar boy and served for one year before moving to Princeton, MN where I eventually later graduated from high school.
5) While in Princeton, several members of our family, including me, began attending a charismatic/Pentecostal denomination (Assemblies of God) and I first learned that God was able and willing to give us what is often termed as the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” I asked for this gift, and received it with the evidence of speaking in other tongues according to Acts 2:4. I did not realize until many years later that the date I received my own “charismatic renewal,” August 15, 1970, was also the Feast of the Assumption—a major Catholic Marian feast which celebrates her being received into heaven without the decay of death. Although I do not believe my leaving the Church was the ideal, since I had not been confirmed yet and would not be for years to come as a result, God honored my simple faith and graced me, through His Mother, with the gift of the Holy Spirit at that young age. God knew then what I could never have guessed, that just over 35 years later I would receive the full seal of this same Holy Spirit as the priest anointed me with holy chrism blessed by the Archbishop after my return to Rome. I can only surmise that he chose to let me have a foretaste of it during those years away, and did so by giving me his precious Spirit in the only way I could receive at that time—not as a sacrament, but nevertheless allowing the graces of Pentecost to flood my soul and protect me over the years until I would return and receive fully and sacramentally. And protect me He did. It is of no small significance that Mary is often referred to as “spouse of the Holy Spirit” as well, and was indeed present at that first Pentecost in Acts. And at mine.
6) It happened to be, the very week I returned to the Church, that the Archdiocese was holding a Eucharistic Congress, a huge gathering of Catholic believers in Christ, on that very weekend. Part of the Congress included a Rosary procession, with Adoration of the Lord Jesus far into the night, at the Cathedral of St Paul, which is now my main home parish. I can only say that I was utterly compelled to go—I had already gone home from work and was very comfortable and settled, but it was as if I was being overwhelmingly driven to go back and sit before our Lord in Adoration, which was something I had not done since I was a child. Confessions were available that night, and I for the second time that week and in those 35 years away received pardon for my sins. I recall the priest giving me the penance of praying a “decade” of the Rosary. So I did so. Just like this year of 2011, that too was on a Friday night, and it was my first experience with the Rosary since perhaps junior high. And, as mentioned, it was the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Mary again. I most certainly could not have planned it out that way. I also had an experience that night which helped me return to a belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. What happened that night has no words, not then and not now, but I absolutely knew that Jesus was somehow present in that exposed consecrated Host on the altar. It was far more than “bread worship” and I was profoundly aware of Him in that amazing sanctuary. How it all worked, I did not begin to have worked out yet. I was not sure if He was “nearby” or if the Host was really and truly Him, but it did not matter at that moment. All I knew for sure was that He was made available in that Monstrance that night, with a profundity that defied any explanation beyond. And the lingering doubts since I had returned to the Church earlier in the week were rapidly disappearing, melting in the heat of His love which very honestly enveloped me in a way I will likely never understand until heaven. And Mary was and is the Mother of this Jesus in the Eucharist—her flesh and blood gave us His.
7) Jim Caviezel (Jesus from Passion of the Christ) arguably one of the two most “Marian” devotees in Hollywood within this generation (the other is Eduardo Verástegui of Bella fame), was also was scheduled to speak at this Congress and a year earlier, shortly after seeing that film, I had prayed very specifically to one day meet him in person and simply ask God’s blessing upon him. Although I have met a number of well-known people in my life I never had prayed such a specific prayer about meeting a “celebrity” and particularly to simply offer the blessing of our Lord to him or her! And Catholicism was not even yet “on the radar.”I truly believe though, looking back, that it was my first concrete step towards a return to Rome. In any case my seat at the Xcel Energy Center was with nearly 8000 others, and the chances of he and I actually meeting that night were quite razor slim since I was in the highest section and furthest away from the stage in that huge space. Later that day however I noticed a large section in the front which had been totally vacated by the Knights of Columbus who were there earlier for the morning Mass. Arriving to Mr. Caviezel’s session a bit early I made for those seats, and landed a 2nd row aisle one directly facing the stage! I still presumed that I would not likely meet him but at least I had a bird’s eye view and that in itself was a huge gift to me. When he finished speaking, however, he suddenly kissed the statue of Mary, and then just as suddenly came my direction, shaking hands with probably 6 to 8 young teen-aged girls who were seated on the floor in front of me by 5 feet at the most. As if self-propelling, I was out of that seat and my hand in his within literal seconds, and was able to make eye contact as well as mouth the words “God bless you” to him before he dashed off stage. I was probably one of a very, very small handful of people who met him that evening, howbeit ever so briefly, as to my knowledge he did not stay after to meet or greet. Our Blessed Mother indeed wanted him to have that blessing, and me to have the astounding experience of such a clearly answered prayer to finish out an amazing week of blessings.
8) The list could go on and on, but suffice it to say that Mary shortly then assigned to me two sponsors for my rather “late but right on time” Confirmation at age 50, and yet again both of those men were and are Marian devotees “to the max” as they say. I prayed for the right sponsor and God gave me not one but two Marian fanatics!!! And in every case listed above, all she ever did during this whole process was point me to Jesus over and over. And, as she told the servants in Cana at the wedding feast, to me—and to all of us—she says the same words—“Do whatever He tells you.” May we listen and hear her words today in the silent night of the Nativity.
Ave Maria and Merry Christmas!
- Mary’s Son, the Eucharist, and Me (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)
- Our Lady of the Rosary (sevenoaksordinariate.wordpress.com)
- The Rosary is Biblical (deaconjohnspace.wordpress.com)