ColumnsDisciple’s Corner

Closing our discussion of saints with a reflection on the Blessed Virgin Mary

This week’s column marks the final Disciple’s Corner for the current school year and the last of our discussions based on Father James Martin’s book “My Life with the Saints.”

I want to thank those readers who offered kind and encouraging comments during the year and apologize to any readers who were offended, angered or confused by something they read here.

[ms-protect-content id=”1339,323,1059,1325,324,257,322,6459″]

I am grateful to all of you for your patient and thoughtful attention.

The last saint for our reflection is actually the first and the most revered saint in the Christian tradition: the mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, Mary.

Martin finds in Mary the perfect example of holiness — and a model for all of us aspiring to sainthood.

In her, Martin writes, we discover a real human being, the first to receive and announce the Incarnate Word, a brave young woman who bore a son at any early age, took refuge in a foreign country to protect him, raised him under difficult circumstances, and lived in faith a life of surprise, uncertainty and mystery.

Martin believes that the Annunciation exemplifies how we all experience God in our lives, which may be one of the reasons why Mary seems so familiar.

Like Mary, Martin says, our experience of God always happens on God’s initiative and usually strikes us with fear and confusion. God responds to our doubts with reassurance; God asks us to remember what God has already accomplished in our lives. Then God leaves it up to us to decide how we will respond.

When we say “yes,” as Mary did, Martin writes, we too are asked to nurture the Word of God within us and to bring Christ into the world — not exactly in the same way Mary did, but in our own time and in our own circumstances.

As best I can determine, there are over 150 different titles or descriptions of the Blessed Virgin in the Roman tradition alone; some derive from Scripture, some from doctrine, some from cultural or devotional traditions. When trying to explain the universal popularity of Mary across time and cultures to people preparing to become Catholic, I use this little story whose exact origin I don’t remember.

According to this allegorical account, it seems that one day St. Peter came to the Lord with a complaint: “You know, Lord, that you appointed me to be in charge of the Golden Gates. Sadly, once in awhile I have to turn someone away. But do you know what happens then? They go around to the back door, and your mother lets them in.”

The point, I think, illustrates how important Mary is for Catholics. However much we love our mother, we have an even closer bond with Mary, our grandmother.

What do you think?

Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how much you consider Mary a model for your own life. How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • Why do you think Catholics have such a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother? Do you think devotion to Mary adds or detracts from our relationship to Jesus? How has your own experience mirrored that of the Annunciation? In what ways does your personal experience resonate with that of the Blessed Virgin?
  • I think the Blessed Virgin is …

Learn More

Think more about why grandmothers are so endearing:

 Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.

 For a long time I wondered: What is it about the Annunciation that is so captivating?

Perhaps it is because [it] depicts the dramatic entrance of the divine into our everyday world. … Perhaps it is because the passage highlights the special role of women in the divine plan. … Perhaps Mary is someone whom many believers hope to emulate: humble, obedient, loving, trusting. …

But the Annunciation drew me in for a different reason: it seemed that in this Gospel story Mary wonderfully exemplifies the role of the real-life believer. … [T]he story offers us a microcosm of the spiritual life.

— James Martin in “My Life with the Saints.”