Welcome to the My Queen, My Mother Book Club! We’re reading My Queen, My Mother by Marge Steinhage Fenelon. Scroll to the bottom of this post for information on how to order our Book Club selection.
In the introduction to My Queen, My Mother, you mention the “Mother Thrice Admirable” image that your own mother hung in your home and which prompted your devotion to the Blessed Mother. Similarly, I can say that the statue of the Blessed Mother that my mother kept on her nightstand did much the same for me. How can Catholic mothers better foster such quiet evangelization in our homes, nurturing a devotion that accompanies us on our lifelong pilgrimage?
Carolyn, I’m so glad that you, too, have been scooped up by our Blessed Mother! She is a wonder, isn’t she? In terms of evangelization in our own homes, sacramentals are of vital importance. Statues and images of Our Lady put a tangible to the divine for our children. We human beings are sensory creatures — in order to understand the spiritual world, we have to have some experience in the natural world. So, being able to “see” our Blessed Mother will help our children to become attached to her just as it happened with you and me. We also need other sacramentals like rosaries, candles, and holy water because they bring alive the rituals of our Catholic faith and a further attachment to Mary. Additionally, they are vital weapons against evil.
However, it’s not enough to just have these things in our homes. Our children need to see us use them, not in a showy, but rather in a genuine and subtle way that demonstrates our own devotion. Our children won’t connect with the Blessed Mother if they don’t see us connecting with her — talking to her, praying to her, admiring her, and venerating her. Invite your children — one at a time and sometimes all together — to join you in your devotions. Take the time to explain what you’re doing and why and never force participation. Doing something that will pique their curiosity will open the door for dialogue. Remember that the supernatural must first be presented on a natural level.
While I was taught about the first settlement in St. Augustine, Florida, in grade school, like you, the story of the pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock decades later took precedence in study and in my imagination. How can the restoration of that knowledge impart to Catholics a greater appreciation for Catholicism’s role in our nation’s founding?
Sadly, we’ve come to a point where there is a disjointed view of our American history. We study history in the secular aspects only and ignore the religious aspects altogether. It’s as if American history and Catholic American history are two completely different subjects having nothing to do with each other. That, unfortunately, has been going on for generations. This gives the impression that man makes history and God — if He is present at all — just goes along for the ride. The Church is seen as an ineffective, docile entity that just does its own thing while in truth the Church via her members has been a vital part of the discovery, founding, governing, development, and future of our United States.
If we want to counter that, we need to dig up some of those old Catholic American history books that previously had been scoffed at and dig into them. We need to dare to swim against the tide and research who the prominent Catholics were and what roles they played in American history.
In doing this, we come to appreciate how God has, is, and always will be the center of all history. He has a plan for all of us and that plan is woven into the actions, reactions, and words of every American citizen, including those prominent in the unfolding of American history.
In reading about each of these Marian shrines and historical sites, I was struck by the unity amidst diversity, which is the hallmark of being a “catholic” Church. What can a unified faith across various cultural traditions and practices, charisms and congregations, and even devotions to Our Lady, teach our country about the nature of unity?
Put simply, I can answer that in one word: God. We are all children of God, and He has given us a mother who cares for us, tends to us, guides us, and intercedes for us before her Son, Jesus Christ. Through our baptism, we are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ regardless of our backgrounds. Because of His words on the cross — “Son, behold, your Mother,” “Mother, behold, your son.” — we are substantially and irrevocably bound to Mary as our mother, no matter where we’re from or how we live that reality.
Similarly, all citizens of the United States are considered Americans and because of that, we share the same American heritage, history, rights, and responsibilities toward our country. Hopefully, we share a grand love for her as well. We also share the same obligation to adhere to God’s commandments and to His will for this land that we call home.
Reading the diverse historical accounts of Catholics in America spanning both the continental United States and several centuries, I had a firm sense that Catholicism had an integral part to play in the American experience and in the service of our nation. And yet, historically Catholics seeking public office in this country had their loyalty called into question. During your pilgrimage, did you gain any insight into the part politics and prejudices have played in American Catholicism?
I can honestly say that I did not experience this or gain any wisdom about it. That’s not because there aren’t any politics and prejudices — there are — but rather because the people who administrate and volunteer at the shrines are focused on the vitality of the shrines themselves. The closest I came in this regard was the reality that these shrines are basically on their own in terms of funding and support. None of them receive any government money to help in their work.
Were the staff at the shrines you visited aware that you were not only on pilgrimage but conducting book research? If so, how were you received by the shrine sites, which you note despite their significance (particularly in places such as The National Shrine of Our Lady of Help in Wisconsin) remain relatively unknown and, in some cases, in danger of closing?
When I first started, I inquired with each of the shrine directors, explaining the project and its goals and asking their permission to include their shrine. I explained to them that I intended to travel as a pilgrim and to visit and experience each shrine as any other pilgrim would. I purposely did not do a lot of research ahead of time, did not make much announcement prior to my visits, and I asked the shrine directors to do the same. Really, only a few key staff members knew at each site who I was and what I was doing there. I made sure to note that my hope was that, through My Queen, My Mother, they would gain visitors and support for their shrines in addition to my goal of increasing Marian devotion overall in our country.
I was warmly welcomed at each site and truly felt at home at every single one of them! The shrine directors went to a great deal of trouble to connect me with staff and locals who could talk to me about the shrines’ history, legacy and the anecdotes of Marian apparitions and miracles that happened there. I call these anecdotal apparitions and miracles because, while there were witnesses and in many cases a written testimony, none of them have been formally Church-approved except for the apparition at Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin.
In visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in New York, you call to mind those who have suffered — some to the point of death — for our faith in America. How important is this history of sacrifice and martyrdom for the future of the Catholic Church in America?
Without the blood of these martyrs, our Catholic faith would not have come to the United States at all. It would not have taken root, grown, and spread as it has. If it were not for these men and women who gave their very lives for the Faith, we would not be able to attend Sunday Mass at our parishes or spend time before our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. There wouldn’t be any parish churches. There wouldn’t be any Marian shrines either. We can’t ever forget the heroic sacrifices of those who came before us, and we must pray for the grace to imitate their heroism now and in the future. In reality, we must be ready to shed our own blood — figuratively or perhaps actually — for the Faith.
This book is a special gift to those who, for whatever reason, are unable to make a pilgrimage. With so many more beautiful and historic Marian shrines in the United States, do you anticipate another such living novena?
Carolyn, I smiled when I read this question. I could do 50, maybe even 100 more of these living novenas! For as many as I visited for My Queen, My Mother, there are 100 more that I haven’t. Practically speaking, I would need funding for another such pilgrimage, since My Queen, My Mother was funded from our family resources and we would not be able to do that again. Ultimately, though, it’s up to our Blessed Mother what will come next. I have crowned her Queen of my work and so she calls the shots. If she wants it to happen, it will happen.
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Copyright 2019 Carolyn Astfalk