Welcome to the Our Lady of Charity Book Club! We’re reading Our Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love by CatholicMom contributor Maria Morera Johnson.
The intertwining of faith, family, and culture in Cuban history is striking, and a contrast to much of modern life in the United States, where society is often segmented in various ways, perhaps due in part to our fierce love of independence. What can Cuban history teach us about the intersection of faith, family, and culture?
I’d venture to say the values I share in this memoir are the same values we’ve historically held in the United States, and frankly, in western Christian civilization: a love of family, a love of country, and certainly a deep faith in God. I see these values in my Catholic Cuban-American friends where Marian devotion is expressed through Our Lady of Charity. But I see the same in my American friends of different ethnic backgrounds who express the same intensity of devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, or Our Lady of Lourdes, or Guadalupe, or Czestochowa. We love Our Momma, just as surely as we love our moms. I hope that in this book what the reader sees is how we are more alike than different in our devotion to the Blessed Mother, and ultimately and most importantly, to her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
You note that despite people of varying races living alongside one another in Cuba, there was unity amidst diversity – a very “catholic” concept. What can the Cuban experience teach us about race relations in the United States?
Pre-communist Cuba was actually very similar to the United States in many ways. The history of race and oppression is painful in both countries and both have needed, and continue to need, growth and love. We can look to the Blessed Mother, particularly in the image of Our Lady of Charity, for the lesson that we are all God’s children; we are all brothers and sisters; we all have human dignity in God’s eyes, and should treat each other with that same fraternal love and dignity. I’m sure it grieves the Blessed Mother to see instances where we fail each other in this way.
The immigrant experience, your experience, is a perfect metaphor for the Christian life. You say, “I am neither here nor there – a foot in each country.” As Christians, we can say the same; we have a foot in this world and the next. How do you think the immigrant experience can enrich our faith lives?
I think the immigrant experience is essentially an exercise in hope. The immigrant is looking for a new experience, seeking a new life. She looks forward, trusting that the promise of safety or opportunity or freedom will be achieved in her new country. This display of hope certainly can inform us as Christians. We place our hope in the Lord. His sacrifice for us, each and every one of us, is also a promise for salvation if we follow Him. Like the immigrant, we are looking to move from this temporal experience to the eternal life which is our salvation.
You recount how your devotion to Mary and your entire faith, in fact, were compartmentalized. Do you think our modern lifestyles tend to promote that compartmentalization? If so, how?
I definitely think our modern lifestyle promotes a sense of compartmentalization of our lives. There’s an app for everything, and it seems that a little box rules our waking hours. It’s easy to keep our relationships segregated to the comboxes. I can’t count the number of people who have declared to me they prefer a text conversation to a phone call. When we shy away from relationship, we make the walls in those boxes impenetrable. Ironically, even though I had placed the Blessed Mother in a little box for a Rosary or a Hail Mary, it was through Mary, and reciting the Rosary with a friend, and then with friends in a group, that I really released myself from the perceived safety of those boxes and allowed myself the vulnerability of living my faith openly.
The graces of a papal visit are evident in Cuba’s history and in your personal faith story. What would you say to those considering participating in the Masses and events surrounding a papal visit?
I think there’s an element of rockstardom to a visit with the pope, and we can become fangirls over the opportunity to attend these massive outdoor Masses. Given the celebrity-worship we have in the culture, it could easily turn into that level of excitement. But I would say most faithful people can approach it with balance and a proper perspective. I mean, there’s a fun and joyful part of my being able to share that I have a selfie with Pope Francis and it opens a conversation. But I also have the pleasure and honor, and truly the spiritual gift of having spoken to him. He held my hands and looked into my eyes and asked about my family. In other words, there’s the celebrity moment in sharing the picture, but it doesn’t even approach the intimacy of exchanging a brief conversation where I felt we were engaged. It was special in that moment, but as a faithful Catholic, more so in that in his office as pope, I was engaging with the Vicar of Christ, the history of the Church, touching the Fisherman’s Ring as he held my hands. I recognize that not everyone has an opportunity for this kind of meeting — but it’s still all a part of a papal visit, whether he is visiting us in our country or we are traveling on pilgrimage to see him.
What is one way that Catholics of non-Cuban heritage can adopt devotion to Our Lady of Charity?
I think developing a devotion to the Blessed Mother under this title, Our Lady of Charity, is a beautiful experience and it has very little to do with whether or not we are Cuban. We are drawn to titles of Mary because they touch something within us. In the case of Our Lady of Charity, we have a presentation of Mary that catechizes in a unique way – she holds the Baby Jesus in one hand, and the Cross of our Salvation in the other. Contemplating Mary in this particular image is a comprehensive look at the Gospel. I could pray a full Rosary gazing upon this image.
This quote made me smile: “Maybe I am a cat lady of Catholic sacramentals.” Which sacramentals are your favorites and why?
Oh boy. There’s a reason I said that! I have a vase filled with rosaries and I assure you I’ve prayed with each one. I have so many religious medals that I could open a random drawer in my house and if I root around in it I would come up with a medal. I have so many holy cards that I am embarrassed to tell you just how many I have, and I am incapable of getting rid of them so they just get packed up in boxes. I have accumulated statues of saints over time, and I have a bobblehead of St Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Francis – I know those aren’t sacramentals, but you see? I am a little nuts. I always have a little bottle of holy water in my purse. DO I need an intervention? Nah. I own it.
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Copyright 2019 Carolyn Astfalk