Ave Explores Series | Mary | Week 4

Opening the Door to Mary

by Rev. James Phalan, C.S.C.

Young Bernadette Soubirous was overwhelmed by grace. While scavenging firewood for her poor family near a cave on a cold winter day, she saw an unimaginably beautiful girl only slightly older than herself emerge from a brilliant ball of light in a cleft of the rock face. We call her Our Lady of Lourdes.

Juan Diego was certainly taken by surprise when an extraordinary lady placed herself on his path while on his way to Mass, saying that she was the Mother of God. We call her Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Her apparition in Mexico in 1531 gently averted a collision of Spanish and Aztec cultures that was on the verge of a becoming a bloodbath. Her appearance in Lourdes, France, immediately became a Sign of the Kingdom of Heaven among us.

In both cases it was Mother Mary who took the first step. She asked that chapels be built so that she could gather her children, saying to Juan Diego she wanted to “show her Love, Jesu.” When she looked at Bernadette, the girl’s fear disappeared. For both Bernadette and Juan Diego the encounter became an invitation to a deep relationship, heart-to-heart communication.

Many identify Lourdes as a place and a mission of healing, both physical and spiritual—and rightly so. I have served in this holy place for three years, blest as a priest to be participant of and witness to so many experiences, particularly through the sacraments. I have seen that the source of the healing is found in the relationship to which Our Lady invites us all, wherever we are, with her Son, Jesus! In the first place, Our Lady came to Bernadette to lead her to know and love Our Lord, as they prayed and meditated the Rosary together at the beginning of each of the eighteen apparitions.

To lead us to Jesus on a way of ever deeper love and union, that is what Our Lady always wants to do and has continued to do as Mother of the Church! The apparent plethora of Marian devotions and prayers is due to her, to a great extent, as she has accompanied her family over the centuries in all sorts of circumstances. When we understand this, Mary and prayer with her become so much more accessible. It is she who comes to us. Yet this is not because Christ is in some way the frightful judge to whom we are terrified to approach. Rather, as Pope Francis loves to say, the Lord knows it helps us to have a mother—to have his mother as our mother. She shares in his mercy so that, in the Lord’s Family, we all share that mercy in our world.  She especially wants to share peace: Christ is our peace.

Yet in our world which speeds continuously on overdrive, anxiety and loneliness are epidemic. They seem to isolate us. How do we even begin to find peace? The way of Mary is often called a “school” to find our way to peace. Our Lady offers us the Rosary, for example, to invite us to stop and take some time. Hold it in your hand and feel connected to something bigger than you! Take time to breathe and make the Sign of the Cross. Slow yourself down as you start to say some simple words from the Gospel, the Rosary prayers that get into the marrow of your bones. Turn your mind to Jesus and his life (the “Mysteries of the Rosary”) and see your life in his light. 

Open the door to Our Lady to let her be the Mother helping you and your family to learn to pray. She who is called the “Spouse of the Holy Spirit” will help you to learn his ways! Christian prayer is about living more and more in the Holy Spirit. He will be your teacher and guide.

There are so many good and beloved Marian devotions and prayers to help you. You have lots of friends on the journey in your parish and other communities as well. Ave Maria Press and many other Catholic media sites are waiting to help, offering fine resources to support you on your journey of prayer with Our Lady. The mission I have served in for years, Family Rosary, which continues the work of Venerable Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., has been entrusted with the mission of helping families to pray. Come to us, too, for help!

Let Mary help you pray!

Download this article as a PDF here.


Rev. James Phalan, C.S.C., is a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, United States Province of Priests and Brothers, who has served for twenty-seven years at Family Rosary and is now chaplain to English-speaking pilgrims at Family Rosary Mission at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.



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Books to Consider

Virgin, Mother, Queen
My Queen, My Mother
A Heart Like Mary’s
Our Lady of Charity
The Reed of God

Based on Your Reading

Marian Consecration by Katie HartfielMary in the Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema by Maria Morera JohnsonDevotion to Mary Is Rooted in the Bible by Rev. Edward LooneyWhy Mary Matters by Sonja Corbitt