The Word Among Us

Advent 2018 Issue

She’s at the Top of My List

Mary has always held a special place in my heart.

She’s at the Top of My List: Mary has always held a special place in my heart.

Every time Advent rolls around, I begin to think more about the Virgin Mary. I marvel at her openness to God. I marvel at the way she resisted sin throughout her life. I marvel at the way she was able to stay close to God, even as she stood by her son as he hung on the cross.

Truth be told, Mary has always held a special place in my heart. Before I was baptized in the Spirit in 1971, I think I held Mary on a higher plane than Jesus—something I now know she would not want me to do.

In this final article, I want to share a little bit about my relationship with Mary, including some of the important ways she has been instrumental in my life.

A Marian Miracle? I was born with hydrocephalus, a condition often called “water on the brain,” even though the liquid in question is actually the fluid that generally flows between the brain and the spine. Hydrocephalus puts pressure on the brain tissue and can result in brain damage. To relieve the pressure, doctors drilled four holes into my skull, but it didn’t help. They didn’t expect me to live beyond the age of two. All they could do was give me medicine that was meant to manage the situation, not cure it.

Throughout this ordeal, my mother, Edith, continued to pray to Mary for a cure. The medicine didn’t help much either. It just made me throw up a lot. Ultimately, my mother told Mary, “If Joey throws up this medicine one more time, I’ll consider it a sign from you and I won’t give it to him anymore.” The very moment she said that, I threw up again—so she stopped giving me the medicine.

Within twenty-four hours, my little body began to deal with the fluid pressure all by itself. Doctors couldn’t explain it. “This is a totally different child,” they told my mom when she brought me in for my next exam. Was this a miracle? Did Mary take my mother’s prayers to Jesus and ask him to heal me? Or was it just a coincidence? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I truly believe it was a gift from Mary.

The Family That Prays Together . . . When we got married and began having children, my wife, Felicia, and I were clear that we wanted all of them to know about Mary as a loving mother. So each Sunday after Mass, we would sing a couple of songs and pray the Rosary together. Then we would have a late breakfast. My children loved to pray the Rosary—probably because they got donuts the moment we finished!

When we talk about the early days of our family, my children can’t remember any of my fantastic words of wisdom, but they do remember the Rosary. They all recall praying through the various mysteries together, and that has given them all a special love for Mary. In fact, one of my grandchildren considers Mary to be her hero.

Praying the Rosary together was a great way for my children to learn the gospel message. The Joyful Mysteries taught them about Jesus coming to earth. The Luminous Mysteries taught them about how Jesus preached and taught and healed people. The Sorrowful Mysteries opened their eyes to Jesus’ passion and death. And the Glorious Mysteries told them about the hope of living in heaven together with Jesus and Mary.

Some of those prayer times were fun, but many were not. Kids are kids. They are restless, especially when they know food is around the corner. They fight. They don’t always want to pray. But one thing is clear. Those Rosaries helped my children grow in faith. All those prayer times cemented in them a love for Jesus—and for his mother.

Mary Shares in Our Suffering. Mary cares for us, just as any mother cares for her children. She rejoices when we are doing well. Imagine how she must have enjoyed watching her son learn carpentry with Joseph. Imagine her smile when she saw Jesus heal someone or when she heard him preach so beautifully. Imagine her joy when the risen Jesus visited her on Easter Sunday.

Any mother knows that as much as she shares in her children’s joys, she shares even more in her children’s trials. Mothers want to rush to their children’s side and offer words of comfort and encouragement. They would do anything possible to help relieve their children’s suffering. And this is exactly how Mary loves us. She doesn’t just rejoice with us; she suffers with us as well. Not to take anything away from Jesus—and I don’t think he minds me saying this about his mother—but there is something special about a mother’s tender love that can heal the wounds of life caused by suffering.

I can attest to this firsthand. My youngest daughter, Christine, was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the eyes when she was just three years old. As she was going through radiation treatment, Felicia painted the cast she had to wear and turned it into a “Mary Veil.” This special cast helped Christine stay still, and she loved the idea of being like Mary as she faced that massive intimidating radiation machine.

Unfortunately, the treatment didn’t work, and Christine lost both of her eyes by the age of five. These were among the most painful years in my life. I spent countless hours in prayer asking Jesus and Mary to heal my daughter—and I still do today.

My faith was at a crisis during that time. “How could a loving God do this to my little girl? How can God expect me to tell people that he loves them and has a perfect plan for them when his plan for my little Christine seemed so not perfect?”

Through a combination of the prayers of my brothers and sisters in the Lord and the pure grace of God, I ultimately overcame my crisis in faith. But Mary played a key role as well. Every time I turned to her in prayer, I felt her telling me, “Joe, I know what you are going through. I know it hurts. My own soul was pierced through suffering. I am with you.”

The Model of Intercession. We all know the story of the wedding feast at Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). This was Jesus’ first miracle—the miracle that set the stage for everything Jesus had come to do. And it came about because his mother, Mary, brought a newlywed couple’s needs to Jesus. She wasn’t intimidated when Jesus asked her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” She just told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (2:4, 5). She knew Jesus would listen to her.

St. Louis de Montfort (1673–1716) once wrote about how Mary takes our prayers and perfects them—kind of like the way Jesus turned water into fine wine. De Montfort said that Mary weeds out all the self-centeredness in our prayers and then presents them to Jesus. She magnifies our prayers with her own prayers so that when she presents them to Jesus, they include her own intercessions. And who has more influence with Jesus than Mary?

Each day, I set aside a portion of my prayer time for intercession. I ask Mary to ask Jesus to heal my daughter’s eyes. (I also ask Jesus directly, but I know it can’t hurt to ask his mother.) Then I ask Our Lady of Grace to ask Jesus to send a fresh outpouring of grace on the Church for deeper conversions. I ask Our Lady of Peace to pray for an end to all the wars and for an end to poverty and for an end to abortion.

The Top of My List. If you count my mother, my wife, my sisters, my daughters, my daughters-in-law, and my granddaughters, there are twelve women in my life. Mary is at the top of this list and she will always remain on top. Mary deserves this honor, not only because she intervened in my life, but, more importantly, because of the way she gave up her own plans for God’s plans. So as Christmas approaches, I want to ask all of you to join me in honoring Mary in a special way. Please join me in thanking her for her motherly care, her pure intercession, and her steadfast love for all of us.