I don’t like Mary?

Catholics love Mary. Every year approximately 5 million people visit Lourdes and Fatima, 1.5 million travel to Knock, and a staggering 15-20 million visit the Marian Shrine in Guadalupe. Veneration of the Mother of God is almost engrained in the Catholic DNA.

So why could I not bring myself to like Mary? I’ve travelled to Lourdes, said countless Rosaries, stared at statues until my eyes ached, just trying to feel something. But it never came. Many people in my parish have a great devotion to Mary, so I always felt guilty about being a bit huffy when the statue of Our Lady as she appeared in Lourdes was brought out on a Friday evening. I managed somewhat better on Saturday mornings with the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. But still, I would groan if the choir elected to sing “Lady of Knock” or “Bring Flowers of the Rarest” during Mass in May or at the Requiem Mass of a devoted parishioner. (I am still quite adamant that neither should be used in the Liturgy out of respect for good taste at least, but that is for another day…). When some Marian hymns crept into the Liturgy for no apparent reason, I was always very concerned about the intrusion of popular piety on the public prayer of the Church. And so, I was a terrible Catholic. (That’s certainly how I felt).

“The Devil hates Mary,” I read in countless blogs and articles. I continually felt I was fighting for the wrong side, but no matter how much I tried I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything resembling love for this Woman who appeared so alluring to seemingly everyone, but was too sickly-sweet for me – eyes fixed towards the heavens in a gentle gaze, hands folded softly, with perfect porcelain skin and delicate robes. This was not someone I recognised as the Mother of God. “What is wrong with me?” I hammered God repeatedly with that question.

Eventually, I accepted the answer. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t hate Mary. Catholics don’t have to be devoted to Our Lady of X, Y, or Z. I don’t have to believe that Mary appeared in Knock or in Lourdes or anywhere else for that matter. These are private devotions, and not central to the Catholic faith. (If they help you in your faith life, that’s brilliant – whatever genuinely brings people closer to God is always a good thing). So who was the Mary I sought? I decided to go back to the Mary I felt I could trust. The Mary who cradled her Son in birth and in death. The Mary of the Bible. The Ark of the Covenant, the Daughter of Zion, the New Eve.


Crushing the serpent?

Finally, I could see her. Not as a mass-produced statue or painting, not as the object of pious exercises, but as the Mother of God. Understanding how Scripture unfolded to reveal the immense majesty of Mary changed everything for me. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed: she will crush your head, and you will lie in wait for her heel” (Genesis 3:15). That’s more like it! I could never really imagine the Mary of Lourdes or Knock or anywhere else actually crushing the serpent’s head (any depictions of this seem ultra-gentle and too nice to me, almost as though she is caressing it with her foot rather than crushing it). Again, when we see depictions of her “clothed with the sun” (Rev. 12:1), or “crowned with twelve stars (Rev.12:1), these appear to be such pale imitations of the reality Scripture describes. This young woman, who speaks few words in Scripture but who is vital to God’s plan for salvation, has been placed at the centre of the battle between good and evil. Not as a mighty warrior, or an angry mother wishing to avenge the death of her Son, but a woman who stands silent and ready, poised, prepared at all times to follow God’s will.

It was this silent readiness that drew me to the next link in my journey to Mary. When in Drumalis for a training workshop some time ago, I found a few spare minutes to browse the bookshelves, and as I came to the end of what I thought had been a fruitless endeavour, the words caught my eye: “A Woman Wrapped in Silence.” Reading the blurb, I discovered that this book was a lengthy narrative poem written by John W. Lynch based on a Biblical understanding of Mary and her life. And as I began to read, I realised that this was the first time outside Scripture that I had found what I could describe as a truly human portrait of Mary. It is a beautiful and powerful read, one which I continually go back to in prayer. It has helped me tremendously with my relationship with Mary and with Christ.

Finally, I can say that I love Mary. I love Mary who said Yes to God, who gave birth in the feeding place of the animals to a Son who would give Himself up to death by the most violent and cruel means, so that he would become the Bread of Life and the Saviour of the world. At last, I know how to thank her and to love her.

I’d like to finish by sharing just one of many passages from “A Woman Wrapped in Silence” which has given me countless opportunities for contemplation and prayer.

She turned to leave. A woman in the dusk before a tomb. Her veils were on her and her step was slow, and looking, she could see upon a hill a cross stabbed upright in the earth, as if it were a sword that should not be withdrawn. She paused a moment. But there was no need or reason now for her to stay. She knew. This was an ended cross and was a past. She was a woman who had borne a Son. This was a cross. And on it He had died.


The Donkey – G.K. Chesterton

A poem for Palm Sunday and Holy Week

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.



When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’                                (Matthew 8:5-11)

Anyone who has worked in an office environment will have, at some point, experienced IT problems. When this happens, there are generally two options (or three if you count the tried-and-tested “Did you turn it off and on again?” method): an engineer can come out to your office to resolve the issue, or they can remotely access your system from wherever they are based. In order to do this, you will need to give them permission to access your computer from theirs. You need to allow them to remotely ‘enter into’ your system. Doing so requires a certain level of vulnerability and trust in the person to whom you are allowing access.

It is this vulnerability and trust that we see in the figure of the Roman centurion. Here we have a figure of authority, someone who is used to being in charge, who commands large numbers of soldiers and servants. The first step the centurion took was to be vulnerable enough to ask Jesus for help. The second step he took was to trust; to have faith that Jesus could do what he asked, and that He did not have to be physically present with the centurion’s servant in order to heal him. Both these steps required a substantial amount of humility from the centurion. This true humility did not lead the centurion to say, “Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof, so I’ll just have to accept that my servant won’t be healed.” The centurion’s humility was such that he realised, despite his power over many, that Jesus’ power was far greater, far stronger, and that a word alone from Jesus could heal his servant.

In this Gospel passage, Jesus shows us the power of humility. Indeed, His time on earth was marked by humility, from His birth in a stable to His death on a cross. Humility allows us to rely not on our own power, our own strength, but on the strength of our God who wants nothing more than to enter into our lives. Let us use this Advent as a time to give God access to our hearts, to recognise our unworthiness before Him, and in spite of that unworthiness, to accept with joy His unfailing help.

First Sunday of Advent


Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left. So stay away, because you do not know the day your master is coming, You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’                      (Matthew 24: 37-44)

Well, that escalated quickly. If you’re like me, Advent is the time when you can finally allow yourself to start thinking about Christmas. During this time, the Christian world prepares to recall and celebrate the wonder of Jesus’ birth. So why does the Church hit us with a Gospel about the end times at the very beginning of Advent?

Picture the scene: a family gathers around the tree on Christmas morning, the younger siblings eager to tear open the wrapping paper that surrounds their presents, a dad hoping for a new pair of slippers and a mum….wait, where’s mum? Dad gets up and goes back into the bedroom where mum is sleeping soundly. He gives her a nudge. “Are you not getting up? The kids are waiting.” Mum stretches, looks at the clock and wearily replies, “What? Waiting for what? It’s 6.30am on a Sunday. Why is everyone awake?” Suddenly it dawns on her as she looks at the date on the bedside clock. 25th December 2016. “Wait!? It’s Christmas? I’m not ready! I didn’t get round to buying presents, never mind a turkey. Why did no one warn me!?”

An unlikely story. Many of us will spend weeks, or even months preparing for Christmas Day, and it is easy because we know exactly when it will be. We work better with deadlines than without. We know the deadline for shopping online, the deadline for sending Christmas cards, the deadline for ordering the turkey. We know these things must be done by a certain date. If Christmas could be celebrated on any day of the year, a day of our choosing, would our preparations be as thorough? Or perhaps we would never actually get around to celebrating it at all.

And that is what makes our Gospel reading today even more difficult for us. Jesus tells us that He will come again at an hour we won’t expect. So how can we possibly prepare? There may be a sense of apathy, a self-assuredness that the hour He speaks of won’t come in our time. We don’t need to worry now. But if Jesus came tomorrow, how prepared would we be? Would we be ready to welcome Him? Or would we exclaim, “Why did no one warn me!?”?

In a sense, Advent can feel like a kind of limbo. On the one hand, we have the annual cycle of the Church’s year, and during this time we prepare each to recall Christ’s birth. On the other hand, we look forward, to a time not known to us, when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead (an acknowledgement we make each Sunday when reciting the Creed). We are continually reminded that Christ will come again, that we will be judged, and yet we often fail to prepare ourselves for this reality. So what can we do when we are constantly looking back to Christ’s time on earth and looking forward to His coming again?

The answer is given to us in the Gospel. We ‘stand ready’. We make our present position a stance of readiness. Each day we prepare ourselves to live as a disciple of God. Advent is a real gift in this sense. For the next four weeks, we have the opportunity to really focus on our place in God’s creation. To focus on what God has given to us, how He communicates Himself to us, and how we respond to that communication. Perhaps we can spend extra time in prayer during Advent. Many churches have Eucharistic Adoration nowadays – why not resolve to spend time with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist as often as possible? Perhaps, like me, you might want to spend more time reflecting on God’s Word, because it is in His Word that God reveals His plan for us. If you have children, take the time to make an Advent wreath with them and spend a few minutes together in prayer each day. Find a way of making your heart a home for Christ this year, and you will go a fair way in preparing yourself for when He comes again.