In my ministerial experience with young marriages and families, I repeatedly come across similar struggles: busyness, stress, marital conflicts, parenting issues and a healthy Catholic guilt over the lack of devotion in the family. The need for God is palpable in the family dynamics and yet very little is being done, mostly from lack of time, but equally from lack of concrete ideas that can lead to tangible results.
I would like to offer one concrete idea that can help families to start to turn the corner in their family’s life of faith which I wholeheartedly believe will have tangible benefits to everyone in the household. My suggestion is devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
About one year ago, on May 13, Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I was asked to share a personal story about my own experience of devotion to Mary in my life and the life of my family. Dear reader, I would like to share that personal story with you. Believe me, not because I want to, if you know me, you know I am a very private person, but because I feel I must do all I can to encourage you in your struggles to balance faith and family. With this struggle I am very familiar.
I would like to talk to you about love. Those of you who have experienced falling in love with someone, how did that happen? Was it all the sudden or did it go through stages and grow over time? My guess is that for most people that relationship of love grew over time. This is what my relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary is like.
I knew of her, I went to the Church founded by her Son, I celebrated her feast days, but it was not out of love. I did it out of habit or custom or obligation. Real relationships are founded on love, but in order for my love to flourish, I had to grow as a person. You cannot impose a deep love on someone who is immature. I had so much growing to do. In many ways, during these painful years of mistakes and wrong decisions, Mary was there, supporting me from afar, praying for me and keeping me from the danger my actions probably deserved.
At some point, I decided that I needed to get my life back on track, and so I sought out Jesus. In her humility, she was content to stand in the background while I made some tough changes in my life, leaving behind a life of sin. The more I read, the more I realized that my models in faith, the Holy Saints, all loved Mary. I knew I needed to learn more about her so I studied several books about the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most important of which was “True Devotion to Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort. The result of reading this book was that my wife and I both made our consecration to the Virgin Mary. In many ways, this decision has influenced the rest of my family’s life.
After we started praying more to Mary, we started to pray more as a family. We introduced the rosary. After we enrolled our two oldest children in the Brown Scapular, another awesome Marian devotion, we really made the Blessed Virgin a bigger part of our lives.
That relationship which I told you was from afar and in the background began to move to the foreground. Mary is no longer relegated to the backdrop in the stories of salvation for me, but is highlighted; the Holy Rosary and the Litany of Loreto highlight the role Mary played in the life of Jesus and the history of our faith.
But relationships are not only or even primarily external. Yes, I pray the rosary, yes my family prays the rosary together, yes we wear the brown scapular, but what do you see of my love? You don’t see my growing love for the humble and brave Mother of Our Savior. You don’t see how much I admire her purity and obedience to the Father, the same Father which I need to obey as an ordained permanent deacon, husband and father.
Mary has become my model, she is my mother, she is my protector and she is my advocate. She gives me good advice “do whatever He tells you.”(John 2:5) She does it all quietly, humbly, lovingly and many times imperceptibly. St. Louis de Montfort said, “[The] Blessed Mother … is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus.” I have found this to be supremely true in my life, because every time I grow closer to her, the closer I get to him. The more I love her, the more my heart is inflamed with love for Him.
I have grown spiritually as a result of my deepening life of prayer. The result of my spiritual growth has been a serenity I had never known, it is as if the turbulent waves of my interior sea became small waves and then ripples and then stillness.
The world has not become less turbulent, I have become less turbulent and that affects everything in my life. It affects the kindness I show my wife, the patience I show my children and the wisdom with which I discern decisions in my life. From my own experience, I don’t tell you to learn more about the Blessed Virgin, I don’t tell you to investigate her, I don’t tell you to say an extra Marian prayer, I am telling you to throw yourself into her arms, she is the most tender, capable and loving of mothers. You will never regret it, my family and I certainly have not.
Blessed be God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the most excellent Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the most Holy Rosary.”
(Deacon Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. He serves as deacon for St. Hyacinth and St. Anthony parishes, Milwaukee. Deacon Henry wears many hats as a business owner, doctoral student and deacon for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but he says his most important hat is building his domestic church as a stay-at-home dad and homeschooling his children.)