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The Deacon's Bench

A favorite joke: St. Peter is giving Jesus His monthly tour around heaven. Jesus notices there are some new faces who clearly don’t belong there. He’s understandably concerned. “Peter,” says Jesus, “I know who these people are, and some of them aren’t supposed to be Up Here. What’s going on?”

Peter stops and sighs. “Well, they come up to me at the front gate, and I turn them away. So then they just go around to the side door, and Your mother lets them in.”

Mary is like that.

When no one else will let us in, the Blessed Mother is there, opening the screen door and telling us to wipe our shoes and hurry, before the flies get in. Mothers tolerate their wayward children in ways that no one else will. They are there with a hug and a tissue and, sometimes, a good swat on the head when needed.

But there is something about Mary. We see her differently—theologically, of course, and literally.

Down through the centuries, we have embraced and celebrated different images of Mary. She is the beatific handmaid, the suffering servant, the first disciple, the purest of virgins. She is the fair-skinned Madonna of Michelangelo, and the dark-skinned pregnant peasant of Juan Diego.

More recently, she is also the sorrowful Palestinian of Mel Gibson—a woman with blood on her face, dirt on her hands, and every care of the world written on her brow. It is that image of Mary that has moved so many recently—and for good reason, I think.

This is a Mary who shatters the image so many of us Catholics grew up with— the mysterious, placid Lady in Blue of the holy cards, night lights and plaster shrines. The Mary of “The Passion” has lived a hard life. She has been a single mother in a poor village,raising her son in a perilous time, under foreign domination, but with a steadfast sense of God’s plan for her, and for her child. She has been terrorized, and terrified; she has toiled and shed tears. And still, she refuses to surrender to defeat.

This is a Mary for every mother who has worried over her children, sacrificed for them, and watched them suffer a terrible and agonizing death. This is a Mary for the mothers of AIDS victims, and the mothers of dead soldiers, and the mothers of Somalia
and Rwanda and Calcutta. She is a Mary for our time.

As we begin this beautiful month, we will turn again and again to the Mary we know and love, in the many ways we see her. She will be honored, crowned by schoolchildren, sung about, and hailed on countless beads clutched in countless hands around the world.

And we will continue to go to her with our prayers and petitions. We know that she will be there—to listen, to comfort and, just maybe, to help us in the
side door.

Originally published in the bulletin of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church, Forest Hills, New York.

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