A devotion to Mary began with a rosary at age nine for Charles Lewis. CNS photo/Jim West

Charles Lewis: The Brooklyn roots of a Marian love affair

  • February 17, 2021

I am writing this in early February on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The account of that great biblical scene appears in Luke.

Scholars say Mary was there to undergo ritual purification. Under Mosaic Law a woman was considered ritually unclean for 40 days after giving birth. The law also said that if the first child is a boy, he had to be dedicated to God.

The part about Mary’s purification seems to be a gap in my knowledge. What most of us recall is the prophet Simeon looking at Jesus and realizing that he is cradling in his arm the Saviour of the world.

But there was more … something foreboding: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to His mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.’ ”

This is a long way from “what a cute baby.”

For those who pray the rosary this story comes up twice a week under the Joyous Mysteries. I love the rosary. There is so much to it. It is the story of salvation history with beads. Amazing.

I always try to see this story from the point of view of Mary. Imagine hearing Simeon’s words. Clearly she already knew that there was something special about her child. But to hear it confirmed by Simeon it still must have been a shock.

I wonder whether she asked: How does he know? Here was a stranger somehow perceiving this great mystery. Perhaps in those days men and women lived closer to the divine and so prophecy was not considered the domain of those who today prowl city streets with sandwich-board signs announcing the end is nigh.

We always talk in the Church about how deep was Mary’s faith. She believed Gabriel without any foreknowledge of this sort of thing happening in normal life. Her “yes” changed the entire course of human history, but likely she did not perceive that fully. Who could? She believed the shepherds and the Magi. And now before Simeon she believed him, too. But belief does not mean there was not a shock of realization.

One of the reasons I became a Catholic was because of Mary. Other than the Orthodox, most Protestants do not revere her the way we do. Many Protestants bring her out for Christmas then pack her away. Not us. She is Mother of God and Mother of the Church. She is the dispenser of all graces and the Queen of Heaven.

As I have gotten older I have grown closer to her. Many of us — I have twice — consecrate ourselves to her. I suggest giving that a try. It is always good to get closer to our Mother. Some join Marian societies like the Militia of the Immaculata, which was started by St. Maximilian Kolbe in the 1920s. Kolbe died in Auschwitz when he volunteered to take the place of a condemned man. His life was utterly Marian.

In truth, to say it plainly, I love Mary. A friend of mine used to call her “Your gal.” I have always been in love with her.

When I was nine, a very religious Italian woman who lived on my block in Brooklyn gave me a rosary. She also gave me a little pamphlet with the words to the Our Father and Hail Mary. I can still feel how that rosary felt in my hands. It began my love affair with Mary. I cannot explain why but it did. Maybe it was the beginning of faith.

I am not sure what that woman saw in me. It would take years before I became Catholic. Maybe she saw something in me that I could not see. Maybe she had faith that a kid from a so-so neighbourhood in Brooklyn could find the truth. He could find Mary.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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