My very first penance was to say the Magnificat. I think it was also my shortest penance, but the priests I've tormented since know me better. Of course, at the time, I didn't have the Roman Catholic version of the canticle memorized, and I could only recall the Anglican one by singing it, so that's what I did. I sang my first penance before a white marble image of Our Lady.
Between that, my first prayer connected to the Sacraments, and the Regina Caeli, I never stood a chance. Mary became my spiritual "Audrey Hepburn", the epitome of what I wanted to be and that for which nothing in my childhood had prepared me. Alas, I will never be doe-eyed, swan-necked, or elegant. I will never be full of grace either, but one must try.
It is a terribly flawed perception that the Protestant world has of Mary. I know, for I once saw her as they do. To them, she is a graven image. She is a goddess. She is a falseness that keeps us from the Biblical Jesus. She is antithetical to the WORD.
I learned differently from listening to a quiet group of women praying. I was there for choir, and they always started with a corporate Rosary. I knelt with them, but my intentions were to say only the Our Father and the "Jesus" prayer. Yet, as I listened to the soft rise and fall of the melodic voices of my new choral friends, I realized that the words didn't mesh with my understanding. Literally taken, something Protestants are so wont to do, they weren't praying TO Mary, they were asking Mary to pray FOR them.
Such a simple thing, that concept. How often had I heard my Baptist relatives and friends say to a grieving child, spouse, or parent, "Our loved one is with Jesus now, looking after us." I've even heard them mention the signs they've received from those who have passed on, letting them know that all is well.
Yet, this simplicity is never applied by them to Mary, she who was conceived without sin so that she could be worthy to bear the Word Incarnate, she who was given to us at the foot of the cross as our mother and we, with John as the symbol of our race, entrusted to her care in that same moment. She who was assumed body and soul into heaven...why should we doubt that she can speak to her Son on our behalf?
There is an old hymn that I sang as a child that says "We'll understand it, all by and by." I had to step out on faith, that what I did not understand might be a failing in me, that I, like Saul, might still have scales on my eyes, that I needed something more to remove them. "Blessed are they who believe without seeing."
This first grasp of what Mary was to us, as God's children, allowed me to look beyond my petty questions and lend myself to belief without understanding. That came later for me, in what I have termed my clicking epiphanies.
It was music that granted me the beginning of that understanding. It was the beauty of the liturgy that drew me into the Peace of God, that first tentative encounter with the Joy that has nothing to do with material happiness. I heard the Regina Caeli without understanding a word of it, but I recognized the Beauty of it. I saw the incense rise, and it was easy to imagine our prayers and supplications rising with it. I heard the words of Christ repeated, I saw the age-old actions of the Consecration, I saw Christ lifted and lowered from the cross, and in the breaking of the Host and in the receiving of His Body, I knew Him in a way that made me long to know Him better.
So I decided to meet His mother. I came to her through hymns and a rosary. I met her as I traveled the Stations of the Cross. I heard her commanding the servants at the Wedding of Cana to "Do what He tells you." I admired her faithfulness at the foot of the cross. Always, she is fixed upon her Son. Always, her intent is to bring our attention to Him. She, who cradled the unborn Christ (as all pregnant mothers do) accepted the Sorrows that came with being a mother. Then she adopted us, too, and here we stand as John did, looking upon Christ on the cross, and hearing him say, " Behold your mother", even as she looks upon us and says, "Behold my Son."
So I ask her to pray for me as my choir mates did so many years ago now. I approach Our Lady with supplications both flippant and serious, for me and for others, and while I cannot hope to be as effectual as those who have led me to this spiritual place, I do hope (to quote an old friend) that when I stand before Jesus, that He will smile upon me and say, "Darlene...Darlene...oh, yes, my mother spoke of you..."
Holy Mary, Mother Of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.