We're three weeks into attending a new church--20 minutes north and across state lines. In Catholic language, that means we are in a new Diocese--the Archdiocese of Baltimore, America's oldest. Our move back to Maryland feels like a move back into "Mary's Land." For the past three years, we've really felt her absence in church.
I've given away my entire collection of 50 or 60 plastic rosaries to adults that had never seen a rosary before. I'm not good at sharing rosaries. (In Carmelite speech I'm "to attached" rather than "detached.") I like to pray best with cheap plastic rosaries for the same reason I carry cheap plastic Bic pens in my purse--I'm forgetful and prone to lose things. These plastic rosaries that I had, I "liked" them. I'd pick out a special one on retreat or at a prayer rally. I'd like their color, or the way the beads felt in my hands. The way some women match a certain pair of shoes to her outfit--I'd like to match a rosary to my prayer intention of the day. With five kids and a prayerful husband, I felt like I needed to have 50 rosaries inside my house.
Sometimes when I used my rosary in church, I'd see such a hunger in another adult or child's eyes. Often a person had never seen a rosary before. Not that they didn't remember the order of the rosary prayers, they had never seen one used before. People would ask me what I was doing and when I talked briefly about the rosary their eyes would light up. "This is how we talk to our Mother?" Even with all my attachments, I couldn't resist begrudgingly giving up my favorite rosary of the month.*
In my new church there are 10 plastic rosaries hanging up in every single pew! I want to dance a jig. There is a statue of Mary inside the church! There are beautiful holy cards stacked casually on every surface. In three years of attending Mass, I received one new Holy Card when Pope Francis became pope. Teaching Religious Ed for two years almost wiped out my collection because my kids were so excited to have some choice in the matter of picking out their favorite image of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints.
I realize in retrospect that for the past 3 years, I've been living the hidden life of a Missionary. West Virginia is extremely religious, but only 5% Catholic. Mary is not talked about among most Catholics. Possibility this is a sort of a conscious thing the priests do to help evangelize to other Christians who often see Mary as a divisive element in our theology? Regardless, Mary is not celebrated in most churches around my area of the Eastern Panhandle. There are no May Crownings. Her feast days are not talked about in advance during Sunday Mass, even though many are required days of Holy Obligation. I almost missed some required Mass attendance days because it took so much personal research to find out when, where and what time those special Masses were celebrated.
I've even sat through some homilies that were uncomfortably heretical. "Um, no. The Mother of God is not a "female version of God." She's fully human. Mom, I can't believe I have to listen to such drivel during your Feast of the Assumption. This is making me miserable!" was a thought pattern I had during one unhappy Mass.
Now our church home is transferred back to Maryland, even if our physical address remains in West Virginia for a while. I feels really good to go back home. My husband said "If you asked me three years ago, I would have said nothing could have shaken my faith in Mary. She's my mother!" Yet the absence of seeing Mary outside the walls of our home affected us. She wasn't talked about much. She wasn't prayed to often. She was largely ignored in our church. Over time, my husband and I got more distant in our love for her.
May is the month of Mary! I'm so happy to be her daughter. I found my love for her late in life. My devotion to her is so much sweeter for going a long time without realizing that I was the cherished, beloved daughter of a Queen.
*I'm so grateful to the readers who sent me two rosaries from the Holy Land. They are all I have right now. Mom really knew I needed them because I was busy giving all mine away. Thank you!