Many years ago, when Jack O'Malley and I worked together in Dallas, I would usually drive him to the airport at vacation times. Jack's family lived in Chicago, Invariably, after we got the car moving, Jack would say, "Dame-Babe, hear my confession." Much later, he became an air force chaplain and perhaps grew less nervous about flying. To this day, I have not. Whenever the pilot hits the throttles, I pause, make the sign of the cross, and recite the Memorare. "Remember, O Blessed Virgin Mary, that never was it known . . ."
Perhaps I should do more. I know a lady who is nervous about flying, but who is unwilling to stay at home. Throughout her flights, she usually has the Rosary in one hand and a Martini in the other!
There are a number of reasons why Marian devotion should denominate the sincere Catholic priest. The first is that Jesus Christ has given us the gift of His Mother, so that she is now the Mother of each of us. If we are his disciples, accepting the obligation to preach His Truth, we must proclaim her role in salvation to those to whom we are sent. Jesus Christ expects this of us.
Another reason why Marian devotion should identify us is that without this devotion, we are out of balance. We live in an all-male enclave. In the contemporary period we have experienced a lessening of priestly intimacy, a greater mingling of priests and female religious, a heightened sensitivity to women's concerns, and the exaggerations and excesses of feminist movements.
But each of these has yet to be evaluated objectively, and perhaps that evaluation must still wait for quite a long time. One thing is certain; the surest route to a clearer evaluation is through prayers to Mary. Such prayers will have the double effect of keeping us in balance and of leading our hearts and minds to a proper reverence for feminine values.
Still another reason is that a personal devotion to Mary will necessarily evolve in each of us a deeper appreciation of maternal values. My mother was 93 when she died, quietly slipping away from this life. She lived in a rather nice nursing home and was pretty much unaware of the folds around her. She had no attention span. And while she would greet members of her family, she quickly lapsed into inattention. But all through her adult life she was a loving mother and a very prayerful lady. Those of you who have been blessed with such mothers know what I mean when I say that feminine values are somewhat easier to grasp by a man whose mother was successful at her task. We are not, of course, to be effeminate, and I suppose that effeminacy in a son is unwelcome to a successful mother. Even as a happy wife can soften, if not remove, the unwholesome masculine tendencies in her husband, leaving him a better male for her good efforts, so she can foster true masculinity in her sons, while supporting good manly values.
It must have been that way in the hidden life of the Holy Family. Clues in the Gospels lead to the conclusion that Mary had no clear idea about what the future held for her son. Even so, she reared him with all the care and attention that a loving mother bestows on her child. We can meditate -- even muse, if you will -- profitably on the family life of Jesus during all those "hidden years." And the more we reflect prayerfully, the more will we understand the role of Mary in the life of Jesus.
A better understanding of Mary's role in Jesus' life gives us an every-clearer role of Mary in our lives. The historical fact of Mary's choice by God to be the mother of the Savior is elegantly important in our meditations. God chose her for us. God chose her to accomplish his purpose, which is to bring you and me to eternal joy. And because that is God's choice, we must cooperate with that choice.
After the gift of himself to you, Mary is God's greatest benediction. Devotion to her, prayers to her, our expressions of gratitude to her, are indispensable elements of the successful Christian Life. Marian devotion is not an option for the well-formed Catholic. It is an ingredient that is necessary.
As a boy, I used to serve the Sorrowful Mother Novena on Friday nights at Holy Rosary in Houston. That was an extraordinarily popular devotion around the United States during the years of the Second World War. The devotion, to be sure, was unduly emotional, and soon after the war began to fade. There were, as well, other devotions and other celebrations that overemphasized the role of Mary in our spiritual lives. Perhaps it is no wonder that after the Second Vatican Council, Marian devotion took a nose dive. To this day, there are many religious and priests, who have no Marian devotion whatever.
We must foster true devotion to Mary, our Mother. Until that devotion is more widespread among the Catholic faithful, the Church will continue to slide into ever smaller ghettos. Good priests, I believe, have always had a good balance regarding devotion to Mary. Largely, that is because they have true devotion to Mary, without exaggerating that devotion.