For all my born-again piety, I was still 15 years old and all too conscious of "cool." Just months before, I'd left behind several years of delinquency and accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior in a Protestant church. My parents, who were not particularly devout Presbyterians, noticed the change in me and heartily approved. If it took religion to keep me out of juvenile detention, so be it.
From the conversation I overheard, I could tell I'd be going home. I felt instant relief--followed by serious concern. My mother will have to pick me up! What if my friends see her leading me out of the school? What if she tries to put her arm around me? Humiliation was on its way, rapidly approaching Upper St. Clair High School in my mom's Oldsmobile. I could already hear the guys jeering at me, the girls writing me off as a prom date. If I had been a Catholic at the time, I might have recognized the next 15 minutes as purgatorial. Although I stared at the ceiling above the nurse's couch, all I could see was my future as "Mama's Boy."
I heard the office door click open and Mom's voice exchanging pleasantries with the nurse. I sat up to face a woman coming to me with the utmost maternal tenderness.
"Mom," I whispered, before she could get a word out. "Do you suppose you could walk out ahead of me? I don't want my friends to see you taking me home."
That dear woman didn't say a word. She turned and walked out of the nurse's office, out of the school and straight to her car. From there, she mothered me home, asking how I felt, making sure I went to bed with the usual remedies.
It had been a close call, but I was pretty sure I'd escaped with my cool intact. I drifted off to sleep in almost-perfect peace.
It wasn't till that night that I thought about my "cool" again. My father visited my room to see how I was feeling. Fine, I told him. Then he looked gravely at me.
"Scott," he said, "your religion doesn't mean much if it's all talk. You have to think about the way you treat other people." Then came the clincher: "What you did to your mother today was shameful."
Scott Hahn is author of 'The Lamb's Supper: The Mass As Heaven on Earth' (Doubleday).
Yet isn't that the way it is with many Christians? As he hung dying on the cross, in his last will and testament, Jesus left us a mother. "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home."
We are his beloved disciples, his younger siblings. His heavenly home is ours; his Father is ours; and his mother is ours. Yet how many Christians are taking her to their homes?
Moreover, how many Christian churches are fulfilling the New Testament prophecy that "all generations" will call Mary "blessed"? Most Protestant ministers--and here I speak from my own past experience--avoid even mentioning the mother of Jesus, for fear they'll be accused of "crypto-Catholicism." Sometimes the most zealous members of their congregations have been influenced by shrill anti-Catholic polemics. To them, Marian devotion is "idolatry" that "puts Mary between God and man" or "exalts Mary at Jesus' expense." Thus you'll sometimes find Protestant churches named after St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, or St. John--but almost never see one named for St. Mary. You'll frequently find pastors preaching on Abraham or David, Jesus' distant ancestors, but almost never hear a sermon on Mary, his mother.
Far from calling her "blessed," most generations of Protestants pass to their judgment without calling her at all.
This is not just a "Protestant problem." Too many Catholics have abandoned their rich heritage of Marian devotions. They've been cowed by the polemics of fundamentalists, shamed by the snickering of dissenting theologians, or made sheepish by well-meaning but misguided ecumenical sensitivities. They're happy to have a mom who prays for them, prepares their meals and keeps their home; they just wish she'd stay safely out of sight when others are around who "just wouldn't understand."
I, too, have been guilty of this filial neglect--not only with my earthly mother, but also with my mother in Jesus Christ.. The path of my conversion led me from juvenile delinquency to Presbyterian ministry. All along the way, I had my anti-Marian moments.
My earliest encounter with Marian devotion came when my Grandma Hahn died. She'd been the only Catholic on either side of my family, a quiet, humble, and holy soul. Since I was the only "religious" one in the family, my father gave me her religious articles when she died. I looked at them with horror. I held her rosary in my hands and ripped it apart, saying, "God, set her free from the chains of Catholicism that have bound her." I meant it, too. I saw the rosary and the Virgin Mary as obstacles that came between Grandma and Jesus Christ.
Even as I slowly approached the Catholic faith--drawn inexorably by the truth of one doctrine after another--I could not make myself accept the Church's Marian teaching.
The proof of her maternity would only come for me when I made the decision to let myself be her son. Despite all the powerful scruples of my Protestant training--remember, just a few years before, I had torn apart my Grandma's beads--I took up the rosary one day and began to pray. I prayed for a very personal, seemingly impossible intention. On the next day, I took up the beads again, and the next day and the next. Months passed before I realized that my intention, the seemingly impossible situation, had been reversed since the day I first prayed the rosary. My petition had been granted.
From that moment, I knew my mother. From that moment, I believe, I truly knew my home in the covenant family of God: Yes, Christ was my brother. Yes, he'd taught me to pray, "Our Father." Now, in my heart, I accepted his command to behold my mother.