On the day that Butchy died, there were a lot of people at my parents’ house—family and friends. It was one of those occasions when everyone thinks that someone else is looking after the baby. Actually, my mother had a 3-month old infant at that time—my brother, Bob—so maybe she was occupied with him.
My Uncle Frank was leaving for work, backing his car out of the driveway, when the accident happened. He didn’t know that Butchy was behind his car, and he backed over him. There were many details I was never told. People want to forget details that are that painful. The only other thing that I know is that Butchy died in my mother’s arms on the way to the hospital.
My mother told me that, after Butchy’s death, she had a recurring dream of waking up, and he was at the foot of her bed crying, and, the more she reached for him, the farther away he got. I can’t even imagine how painful that loss was for her and my father.
It occurred to me once that that dream described, in reverse, my relationship with my mother. The more I reached for her, the farther away she got. I think she wore a kind of psychological armor, designed to protect her from any more emotional wounds by trying to prevent any emotional bonds.
Like any normal child, I wanted to be close to my mother. I wanted to be cherished by her, like I saw so many other little children cherished by their mothers. I wanted to be loved through hugs and kisses and tender words. I wanted to be loved for who I was. I wanted her to be pleased with me. But my mother, though she joked a lot and could laugh in any situation, kept her tender heart under lock and key.
When I was afraid, lonely, or having any kind of emotional distress—if I sought comfort from her, she gave me the message, “That’s life!” Or, similarly, she many times told me that I was too sensitive.
Whenever I brought my report card home, proud that I was on the honor roll again, typically, I would have only one B, and the rest A’s. When I handed the report card to my mother, her usual response was to ask me why I didn’t get all A’s.
One time my mother told me that I had plenty of book sense, but no common sense. She also told me that I needed to marry a rich man so I could hire a maid, because I would never make a good housekeeper. That particularly hurt, because I was the one of my mother’s children who was always ready to help her with housework, but the work I did was never good enough for her. For instance, when I washed dishes, she criticized the way I stacked them. In these and other ways, my mother tore down my self-image, giving me the message that I would never be good enough.
When I was about eleven years old, I think that I gave up on my mother. I decided that I would never be able to please her—that she would never love me—so I wouldn’t try any more. I still did what my mother expected from me, but I never seriously tried to reach out to her again until I was in my forties. I think that all of my life I felt like a “motherless child,” and maybe, after that, even more so. Looking back, I realize that there was a tender place in my heart that became hard at that point.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
It has occurred to me, as I have been reflecting on my wounded relationship with my earthly mother, that there have been many blessings that have come through that wounded relationship. I realize that there are gifts of my heart and soul that have come through those wounds, gifts that could not have come in any other way. I am truly filled with deep gratitude for those wounds, which have been making me the daughter, the mother, the wife, the little handmaid, the whole woman (very good and beautiful) that God planned for me to become—planned even before I was conceived.
Because my mother pushed away my heart, I have been seeking heart to heart relationships all of my life. In that search, I have been growing in compassion for, and understanding, of others. I am a person who connects at a deep level with others. The gift that I have cherished the most for the last several years is my heart to Heart relationship with Mary, a gift that has drawn me ever closer and deeper into the Sweet Heart of Jesus.
A few years ago, when I was on a journey of healing of the wounds of my relationship with my mother, the Lord spoke to my heart and told me that I had been consecrated to the Blessed Mother from my conception. (I believe that you, also, my little handmaid sisters were consecrated to the Blessed Mother at your conceptions.) This knowledge of my consecration to the Blessed Mother from my conception was powerfully healing to me. It was as if a laser beam of God’s healing love penetrated to the center of my heart, where my mother’s rejection had caused a kind of cancer of self rejection. I knew from that moment on that I had never been a “motherless child”—that I had had the best, most loving Mother, all of my life, and she had been with me all of the time—interceding for me, protecting me, comforting me, filling my need for a Mother in ways I was not aware of until the past few years. I had believed that I was not worthy of a loving mother.
When I was a child I didn’t know that the Blessed Mother was my mother. We didn’t have devotion to the Blessed Mother in my family.
I remember only one occasion in my childhood in which I experienced devotion to Mary. It was the only year that I attended a Catholic school. My parents were separated at the time. My mother, brothers and sisters, and I lived in Baltimore with my maternal grandparents, while my father lived in New Orleans. It was a very painful, depressed time for me, because I was separated from the parent whose love I cherished, while I was with the parent by whom I felt rejected.
We had very little money, but my sisters and I were able to go to a Catholic school on a scholarship. As is traditional, in May a May procession was held to honor the Blessed Mother. The girls came to school dressed in pretty white dresses, the boys in blue suits with white dress shirts and ties.
Because we had very little money, my mother was unable to buy me a new white dress, so, instead she bought one at a kind of thrift store, an old-fashioned, lacy dress that must have been very pretty when it was new, but now it was very yellowed. My mother took it home and bleached it, but it was still a very light shade of yellow. This is what I wore to school for the May procession.
No one said anything to embarrass me, but I was deeply embarrassed, noticing the obvious difference between my dress and the other girls’ pretty, new white dresses. I was twelve years old at the time, in the seventh grade, a time when fitting in socially is extremely important to an adolescent. It was the first time in my life that I felt poor, surrounded by those who had more, materially.
When I brought my flower up to Mary’s statue and laid it at her feet—surprisingly!—I felt a very tender love for her for the first time in my life. Fifty years later, as I write this, I understand that the love that I felt at that moment was an emerging awareness of the love that she had for me. It was a seed that remained dormant for decades.
Mary is my Mother, who always hugs me when I most need a hug.
Maybe devotion to the Blessed Mother would have sprouted a lot sooner in my heart, but within a year of that experience I had left the Catholic Church. When we were reunited with my father, we learned that he had left the Catholic Church and become a member of the Church of Christ. My mother, my sisters, my younger brother, and I started attending church with him, and within a few months, I was baptized in that church. It is a church that believes that praying to Mary is idolatry, a grievous sin, so I left behind, for decades, my budding awareness that Mary is my Mother, who loves me with a love greater than even the most exceptionally loving earthly mother can feel. It is hard to imagine that her love for each of her millions of children is just as great, for God, who knows that we need a Mother as well as a Father, has given her the grace to see the very good and beautiful gift that He has created in each of us, from our conceptions.
Mary is my Mother, who waited for me and prayed unceasingly for me when I turned away from her and from her Divine Son, Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
When I became a member of the Church of Christ, Jesus did not abandon me. He came to me in Scripture. I was directed to read the Bible every day, and I did so with joy. Jesus became my Constant Companion, and I experienced that close Friendship with Him until, after my youngest sister’s death in 1969, I lost my faith. He did not abandon me, though I felt that He had; but I abandoned Him.
For almost a decade I became an agnostic—unsure of God’s existence. That was a period of terrible darkness in my life. I was sexually promiscuous, and I had four abortions. (I will write about this in greater detail later.)
When I got tired of the emptiness of my life, I searched for and, through God’s great mercy, regained faith in His existence. When I began searching for the church that God wanted me to become a part of, I saw a television documentary about the daily apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, in Medjugorje. That documentary reached deeply into my heart, and I knew, without a doubt, that the reported apparitions were real. I was so excited and grateful! I remember that, deeply in my heart, I thought, “God’s love for us must be so great, since He is sending the Mother of His Son to this wicked world every day, to call us to conversion!”
Whenever I think of that deep thought, I think of the Scripture:
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but my Father who is in heaven. (Mt 16:17)
Within a few years of seeing that documentary, I was blessed to make a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, alone except for the band of angels that I never saw, but I felt their powerful protection. In Medjugorje Mary’s soul magnified the Lord to me, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and even more powerfully in the Most Blessed Sacrament. A few months after I returned home to my family, I also returned home to the Catholic Church. When I think of that homecoming, often an image comes to me of Mother Mary leading me (a little girl dressed in her beautiful white First Communion dress)—alone except for her—up to an old-fashioned communion rail to receive Holy Communion.
Mary is my Mother, who never rejected me, in spite of the shameful condition of my soul, but led me with joy back to her Divine Son, Jesus, to be cleansed in His Precious Blood.
When I returned from Medjugorje, I had two powerful dreams that clearly communicated that I was called to have a special relationship with Mary. In the first one I was standing before a group of people in a Catholic Church, and I began a talk by saying, “Mary has called me to consecrate my life to her.” The second dream even more powerfully, and more simply, expressed my consecration to Mary, because in it my name was changed to Bless Mary. At a close friend’s advice, I did (for the first of several times) the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, which God gave to the Church through St. Louis de Montfort, a consecration that several popes have made, and, as a result of the good fruit that they received, have recommended to the faithful.
In spite of these powerful experiences, when I returned to the Catholic Church in 1992, I had a lot of ambivalence and fear about devotion to Mary. After all, as a teenager I had been given strong messages that praying to Mary was sinful. Yes, I knew that, when we “pray” to Mary, we are actually asking her to pray for us and with us. Still, I had a deep fear at times that my devotion to Mary was not from God.
What helped me to come to a peaceful place, for the most part, about my relationship with Mary was my observation that those who had a strong devotion to Mary also had the strongest devotion to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. One sign of that strong devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was that, when possible, many of them attended daily Mass. And, so, the concern that some express, that devotion to Mary draws us away from Jesus, is unfounded. Just the opposite is true: devotion to the Blessed Mother draws us closer to her Divine Son, Jesus. The Blessed Virgin Mary loves Jesus more than any of us could imagine. When she was conceived, her whole vocation was to bring the Savior into this world, and this continues to be her vocation, which she accomplishes when, through her intercession, Jesus is born in our hearts.
Yet, even though I knew that I was consecrated to Mary, I didn’t feel close to her in my heart. When I spoke to her, I felt her always to be seated on her throne in heaven. I believed that she heard me and loved me, but I couldn’t get close to her. I couldn’t understand how some of my Catholic friends spoke about Mary, with such joy, as if she was someone who lived with them in their own homes.
Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your Mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:27)
In 1999 I met a retired priest who had done healing ministry with women who had had abortions, and I asked him if he would celebrate a Mass for my aborted babies. He graciously agreed to do so, and he welcomed me with a few of my family members and Church friends into his little home, where he celebrated a Mass at his dining room table.
During the Mass, during the Consecration, an image came of me as a little girl, and I was running towards the Blessed Mother, who was seated. But, every time I got close to her, I would feel compelled to run away from her. This happened repeatedly.
This morning, during my quiet prayer time, I decided to journal about that image of me running towards the Blessed Mother, never able to reach her. I would like to share with you a portion of my entry:
I urgently needed you, Mother, but, when you came so powerfully into my life, I was afraid to trust you. I think you are an essential part of my healing from those abortions, Mother. I not only need God’s forgiveness, which I know I have received. I need a deep sense that you have forgiven me. I need to feel your embrace telling me that I am still beautiful in your eyes, that I am very good, that God has restored, and is restoring, the beauty He created in me.
Will you give me a healing word, Mother? The Blessed Mother responded: “Receive my love completely, my child. It is you who shut it out.
How can I get past the barriers in me to receiving your love completely, Mother? “Pray the Seven Sorrows Rosary for your healing, until you are fully healed. Love yourself, as God loves you, and I love you…The healing is coming, because you are committed to doing God’s will…You are ready to finish the chapter now. You don’t have to be fully healed to write it.
It’s difficult for me to share with you what is still unhealed in me, my little handmaid sisters. In American culture, so much emphasis is put on success, and, if we are not fully successful, we are supposed to put on a face of being successful. But Our Sorrowful Mother comes to those who are broken. I ask myself over and over again why she chose me to be the foundress of the Little Handmaids of Our Sorrowful Mother, because I think that a foundress is supposed to be a saint, and I know that I am so far from that. But she does not expect us to be saints; she does not expect us to be perfect. She comes to us in our brokenness and in our sin, holds us tenderly, and prays with us for our healing. Please pray for me, my sisters, as I pray for you. Let us pray for all of the women who need to be restored to their true dignity and vocation, which, I believe, includes all of us to some degree.
Mary’s daughter, Cami