Why is devotion to Mary important?

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

This question may seem difficult to answer, but its answer is actually quite simple: because God willed it.

We may ask why God would want us to have a relationship with his mother – wouldn’t it distract us from him? Doesn’t it seem quite contradictory?

Not necessarily – and our experience attests to it. Let’s take, for example, a young man who meets his girlfriend’s parents. As he gets to know them, he realizes they’re a good family, enjoys being with them and also starts loving them in a way. Does that mean that by growing in love for them he will love his girlfriend less? Not necessarily. We could even say that the opposite is possible: his love for his girlfriend’s family can help him get to know and love his girlfriend even more.

Something similar happens in our relationship with the Virgin Mary. She’s not there to distract us from God, but to lead us to him.

Mary’s role in God’s plan

But why do we say that God wanted us to have a relationship with the Virgin Mary? Doesn’t it seem like too much of a stretch?

The Bible gives us the answer. In the Gospel of John, we find Jesus’ last words. They hold a special importance because, as we know, no one would waste their last breath by saying something superfluous. They carry a special meaning, they’re powerful. Jesus knows he doesn’t have much time left but struggles to say them anyway. Among these words we hear Jesus speak directly to his mother: “Woman, behold your son!” and to the beloved disciple: “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19: 26-27).

What does this mean? Many think that when Jesus calls his mother “woman,” he’s disrespecting or belittling her. But would Jesus really take the time to do that to his mother as he’s dying on the cross? Probably not. A deeper look allows us to see that the title “woman” carries a deeper meaning in the Gospel of John. 

Annunciation art

Jesus calls his mother “woman” because he’s calling her like the first woman in the Book of Genesis: Eve. John does something similar throughout his Gospel. He begins his Gospel with the same words as the Book of Genesis – “In the beginning” – to highlight that while Genesis tells the story of Creation, his Gospel tells the story of the New Creation brought about by Christ. In this New Creation, Jesus is the New Adam (also see 1 Cor 15: 21-23) and Mary is the New Eve.

Mary is the “woman” who’s seed (Jesus) would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3: 14-15).

So, by calling her “woman,” Jesus is calling Mary the “New Woman,” the spiritual mother of all who are born into the New Creation brought about by Christ. She becomes the mother of every beloved disciple, of every person who follows Jesus. God has given us a great gift – his own mother as our companion.

Our role in God’s plan

But why would God do that? What would we need Mary for?

This has to do with the way God has chosen to act in history, in his plan of redemption. God chose to act through “middlemen” or mediations. If he so wished, he wouldn’t need us to cooperate with him in his plan. He could’ve appeared to the whole world and convinced everyone. Yet, he told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28: 19). This means that God chose to reach people’s hearts and lives through other people, through mediations.

This proves true even in our own lives. How many of us have embraced the Christian faith because of what our parents or someone important in our life taught us, because of someone’s example or invitation? How many times has God talked to us through others? Every time we use the word “through” we’re talking about a mediation – someone in the middle though whom God speaks to us. God acts through others, he uses mediations.

Another example of mediation is praying for one another. The letter of St. James clearly calls us to do it (Jas 5: 16). When we pray for a brother or sister in Christ, we become the “middleman”, like Moses, who begs God for someone else. There’s nothing wrong with being “mediators” in this way.

Only one Mediator

But 1 Timothy 2:5 clearly says that Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man.

As we have seen, God does act through mediations, but only Jesus is Mediator with a capital “M,” we could say. That is, only he was capable of uniting man to God, only he could become the bridge that overcame sin and brought us to new life. No one else is mediator in the way Jesus is. We have the “Mediator,” who is Jesus, and “mediators,” us Christians. Jesus wanted us to participate in his mediation, but this doesn’t mean we replace him or compete with him. This mediation is what allows us to invite people to know him. He willed his plan of salvation to be carried out in this way. So, when we say we or Mary are “mediators,” we’re obviously not saying that we’re “Mediators” like Christ. We’re simply saying that he chose to let us partake in his mission by reaching others through us.

When Catholics “pray” to Mary, we’re not praying in the same way as we pray to God. We’re asking for her intercession, the way we ask our brothers and sisters for prayers. That is what we ask from her in the Hail Mary. 

Here is where the Virgin Mary comes in. She takes a special place among us, who participate in Jesus’ mediation, because God chose to come to us through her and gave her to us as Mother. Her mission consists in always leading us to him: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). She, like us, mediates under Christ’s mediation. When we say she intercedes for us, we are not saying we forget about God. It simply means we turn to her for prayers, something all Christians do when they ask for prayers from their brothers and sisters.

So, when Catholics “pray” to Mary, we’re not praying in the same way as we pray to God. We’re asking for her intercession, the way we ask our brothers and sisters for prayers. That is what we ask from her in the Hail Mary. 

First, we salute her with the Biblical words spoken to her by the angel and Elizabeth: “Hail [Mary] full of grace; the Lord is with you” (Lk 1: 28). “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb [Jesus]” (Lk 1:41-42).

And we end by asking for her prayers: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

What a beautiful prayer! God has given us the beautiful gift of a spiritual Mother to help us become one with him. Wouldn’t we honor him by accepting her?

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.