I cannot remember exactly why I knelt before a statue of the Virgin Mary for the first time. It was about a year ago. I suspect my priest told me to pray a few Hail Marys after confession. I’d seen parishioners pray on the kneeler before her at the front of the sanctuary. As a new Catholic, I’d been testing out various “features” of my new faith home. Why not say my prayers there?

Usually, the first time I experiment with a new spiritual practice my analytical mind takes over and ponders what I’m doing and whether it “makes sense.” This is a perfectly good way to undermine any spiritual benefit that might accrue to me (but, alas, most of the time, that’s the way it works for me at first). For example, when I took the Rosary for a spin a couple of times, my mind was fixated on following precisely the order of the prayers, while I mentally wondered how this ancient practice could shape a soul. In other words, I did anything but enter into the praying the Rosary as such. I assume I’ll eventually learn to appreciate the practice.

But when I knelt before the statue of Mary at my home parish that afternoon, I was startled. I moved my eyes from her delicate toes (that suggested the feet beneath her gown that crushed the serpent), to her gently outstretch arms, to her fixed gaze. Her focus was distant and yet caring, as if she was looking upon the millions who beseeched her. Her lips betrayed just a hint of a smile and her fondness for those millions. I knew instantly that included me, this sorry excuse for a man kneeling before her.

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