Leaning on Mary
A strong devotion to Our Lady brings blessings to priests
One of my earliest memories is kneeling down with my father as he led my brother and sisters and I in praying the Rosary. Later, during my young adult life as I searched for my Christian identity and purpose, it was Mary’s influence through the Rosary that not only kept me in full communion with the Church but helped me to discover my vocation as a Catholic priest. I came to understand and trust that no one knows Jesus more personally than Mary. Yes, it was when I developed a personal relationship with Mary that I truly came to know the person of Jesus and to hear his personal invitation to follow him as a fisher of men.
As a priest of Jesus Christ, I continue to foster my devotion to Mary, to make it more personal and to not take for granted the grace of her advocacy. I find this a necessary part of remaining faithful to my priestly promises to Jesus, to continue to follow her wise council and to “do whatever he tells” me to do (Jn 2:5) in order to allow her complete “yes” to God’s will (Lk 1:38) strengthen and perfect my weak “yes.” Contemplating her obedience to the Law’s purification rites despite the personal humiliation she suffered helps me to humbly follow the promise of obedience to my bishop. Her poverty of spirit helps me to be diligent in my promise of simplicity so that I may not be too attached to the things of the world. Her model of deep prayer inspires me to keep my promise to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). If I get weary in following my promise “to celebrate faithfully and reverently” the mysteries of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, I know Mary is there to encourage me, just as she was with Jesus on the Way of the Cross. Even if nobody else understands, she does.
Mary’s perpetual virginity helps me to faithfully and fruitfully follow my commitment to the celibate life. She is the perfect feminine complement to my masculine and priestly heart, which helps foster the necessary maturity in relating with women. Having female friends is one of the most challenging — but one of the most important — parts of being a healthy priest. The attraction for women does not magically disappear at ordination, nor does the desire for married and family life. But with the intimacy that comes from Marian devotion, one’s sexuality is better integrated into his celibate vocation and more easily ordered toward the greater sacrifice of love. Mary’s sacrifice brought about the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus. With Mary’s help I sense a greater fruitfulness in my offering of the Eucharist, which not only benefits my priestly identity, but also fosters a greater devotion to Our Lord’s true presence in the hearts of the faithful.
Therefore, in addition to the promises made at ordination, a priest does well to entrust his life to Mary’s care. Like many priests, I have recited a daily prayer of total consecration to Jesus through Mary ever since I was introduced to the devotion by St. Louis de Montfort in the seminary. I have shared this devotion with my parishioners. It balances my masculine temperament and leadership approach with an authentic and motherly femininity. With a Marian identity, our parish is more united in working together to witness to Christ. Knowing Jesus as Lord and Mary as mother brings everyone together — priest and parishioners, men and women, parents and children.
As a pastor, I often wonder if I’m adequately doing my job of passing on the Catholic faith in its fullness. Wrestling with my own weaknesses and those of my flock, I find nothing more powerful and effective in overcoming doubts than turning to Mary’s intercession, especially through the daily praying of the Rosary. It is what kept the Faith alive in me. I know that it will keep the Faith alive in my spiritual children, especially when I kneel down with them and lead them in prayer as my father did with me and my family. Equipping them in this way helps me to have peace of mind that they will come to know Jesus personally and find their personal vocation through Mary’s powerful intercession.
FATHER TIMOTHY GALLAGHER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and pastor of St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Cedartown, Georgia.