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. I know I don’t fully understand this yet, but I know enough that I am sure I want to offer my life in this way. I need to start somewhere, and I have faith that I can learn along the way with your guidance. I thought these words as I sat alone on my hotel bed, in a different country over 2,000 miles away from home, while attending a professional conference. I was concluding Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, which I had started to read by chance when it was passed out at many churches across my diocese on Ash Wednesday. I had never heard of the concept of Marian Consecration before but began reading it leading up to the Feast of the Annunciation, which fell on the week prior to Holy Week in that specific year. Other than feeling a sense of gratitude for Mary based on finding out in my early twenties that she was who attracted my grandmother to becoming Catholic and consequently the reason why I was born into the faith, up until the point of reading that book, I had never thought very much about her role in my life, nor did I feel a specific connection to her. A little over a month later, through the process of reading, I knew that was something I wanted to change, even though I was unsure of what all that would entail. Based on Mary’s fiat, I knew that sometimes in life we are called to take the first step even when we have so many unanswered questions and uncertainties. I wanted to do the same, so in that moment, I chose to move forward in faith and began the prayer of consecration to Jesus through Mary. In the introduction of Our Lady of Charity, Maria Morera Johnson mentioned her consecration, but it was in the final chapter that she cycled back and explained it in more detail. I loved pondering similarities and differences between how we arrived at the moment of consecration, as well as considerations of the impact.
Copyright 2019 Amanda Villagómez
Both devotions [the Rosary and consecration] required more from me than I was ready or willing to give. I loved the idea of praying the Rosary, and I loved even more the idea of consecrating myself through this wonderful thirty-day commitment to prayer and contemplation. However, neither fit my lifestyle, and it would take years for me to recognize that these two devotions would never fit my lifestyle. I had wanted a devotion that fit my daily routines instead of changing my daily routines to fit God’s will for me. I needed to change. (p. 90)When we seek holiness, we are called to conversion in different ways as an ongoing, life-long process with different aids along the way. I appreciated that Maria Morera Johnson said, “The fruit of my consecration to Jesus through Mary is both astounding and humbling” (p. 99) and captured that the process is an adventure. Fittingly, leading up to the focus on consecration, the second to last chapter centers on how we are all pilgrims and the role of pilgrimages and shrines in our spiritual journeys. Of her family’s history and how it intersects with the political landscape of Cuba and the United States, she stated, “I have often felt the heavy load of exile. [...] I am neither here nor there. But divine providence has brought me here” (p. 73). She later connected this sense of exile from Cuba to the common human experience.
The truth is we are all exiles waiting for the day we are reunited with our Father in heaven. Until then, we are pilgrims here on earth, searching for a place we call home. (p. 83)Recently my spiritual director was talking to me about providence and the importance of not just thinking about it within the context of the future. He talked about how God delights in me as a Father in the present moment, seeing the beauty in the process of my life and where I am right now, as well as His role in it. Multiple times he has used the phrase, “He writes straight with crooked lines.” In this particular conversation, he was highlighting the lack of utility of comparison because it can prevent us from seeing and appreciating all that God has done in our lives, as we journey towards Him. Maria Morera Johnson talked about how her devotion to Mary led her to a more mature relationship with Jesus, as Mary always points towards her son. That also resonates with my experience, and the statements from my spiritual director have prompted me to realize that now Jesus is pointing me towards better understanding the love of the Father. As my life continues to unfold, there are many layers yet to be revealed by each of the persons in the Trinity, Mary, the other Saints, and people striving for holiness. Each of our journeys are unique. Yet, pondering the beauty of glimpses into the story of another provides insight into our own, so I am always grateful to those, like Maria, who are willing to share parts of their lives with us.
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- Of shrines and pilgrimages, Maria Morera Johnson said, “Visiting la Ermita [The National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity] is food and fuel for my spiritual journey [...] Pilgrimages have been a long-standing part of our Catholic faith. They are not essential or required of us, but they do enrich us in many ways” (p. 81). What role have shrines and/or pilgrimages played in your life?
- Maria Morera Johnson also stated, “We don’t need to travel far to go on a pilgrimage. Our communities often have historic churches or shrines that can serve that purpose. After all, we go on pilgrimage to strengthen our prayer life, to do something out of the ordinary for the renewal in our faith. Careful planning and the intention to ‘be a pilgrim’ would probably yield wonderful graces from the experience of a local pilgrimage” (p. 82). What local pilgrimage could you prepare for and go on in the near future? What are the possibilities in your local region?
- What is one way that growing in relationship with Mary and better understanding her life has helped you to deepen your faith? Or, if you do not yet identify as having a relationship with Mary, what questions do you have about Mary or about fostering a relationship with her?
Copyright 2019 Amanda Villagómez