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Scott Hahn - Every Mother’s Son: Confessions of a Marian Prodigal

For all my newfound piety, I was still fifteen years old, and all too conscious of “cool.” Just months before, I’d left behind several years of juvenile delinquency and accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. My parents, who were not particularly devout Presbyterians, noticed the change in me and heartily approved. If it took religion to keep me out of juvenile detention, so be it.

Zeal for my new faith consumed me, most of the time. But one spring day, I was aware of something else consuming me. I had a stomach bug, with all the unpleasant symptoms. I explained my predicament to my homeroom teacher, who sent me to the school nurse. The nurse, after taking my temperature, told me to lie down while she phoned my mother.

From the conversation I overheard, I could tell I’d be going home. I felt instant relief and dozed off.

I awoke to a sound that cut me like a razor. It was my mother’s voice, and it was saturated with maternal pity.

“Ah,” she said when she saw me lying there.

Then suddenly it dawned on me. My mother is taking me home. What if my friends see her leading me out of the school? What if she tries to put her arm around me? I’ll be a laughingstock . . .

Humiliation was on its way. I could already hear the guys jeering at me. Did you see his mother wiping his forehead?

If I had been Catholic, I might have recognized the next fifteen minutes as purgatorial. But to my evangelical imagination, they were sheer hell. Though I stared at the ceiling above the nurse’s couch, all I could see was a long and unbearable future as “Mama’s boy.”

I sat up to face a woman approaching me with the utmost pity. Indeed, it was her pity that I found most repugnant. Implicit in every mother’s compassion is her “little” child’s need—and such littleness and neediness are most definitely not cool.

“Mom,” I whispered before she could get a word out. “Do you suppose you could walk out ahead of me? I don’t want my friends to see you taking me home.”

My mother didn’t say a word. She turned and walked out of the nurse’s office, out of the school, and straight to her car. From there, she mothered me home, asking how I felt, making sure I went to bed with the usual remedies.

It had been a close call, but I was pretty sure I’d escaped with my cool intact. I drifted off to sleep in almost perfect peace.

It wasn’t till that night that I thought about my “cool” again. My father visited my room to see how I was feeling. Fine, I told him. Then he looked gravely at me.

“Scottie,” he said, “your religion doesn’t mean much if it’s all talk. You have to think about the way you treat other people.” Then came the clincher: “Don’t ever be ashamed to be seen with your mother.”

I didn’t need an explanation. I could see that Dad was right, and I was ashamed of myself for being ashamed of my mother.

Spiritual Adolescents

Yet isn’t that the way it is with many Christians? As He hung dying on the cross, in His last will and testament, Jesus left us a mother. “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:26-27).

We are His beloved disciples, His younger siblings (see Heb 2:12). His heavenly home is ours, His Father is ours, and His mother is ours .Yet how many Christians are taking her to their homes?

Moreover, how many Christian churches are fulfilling the New Testament prophecy that “all generations” will call Mary “blessed” (Lk 1:48)? Most Protestant ministers—and here I speak from my own past experience—avoid even mentioning the mother of Jesus, for fear they’ll be accused of crypto-Catholicism. Sometimes the most zealous members of their congregations have been influenced by shrill anti-Catholic polemics.

To them, Marian devotion is idolatry that puts Mary between God and man or exalts Mary at Jesus’ expense. Thus, you’ll sometimes find Protestant churches named after Saint Paul, Saint Peter, Saint James, or Saint John—but rarely one named for Saint Mary. You’ll frequently find pastors preaching on Abraham or David, Jesus’ distant ancestors, but almost never hear a sermon on Mary, His mother. Far from calling her blessed, most generations of Protestants live their lives without calling her at all.

This is not just a Protestant problem. Too many Catholics and Orthodox Christians have abandoned their rich heritage of Marian devotions. They’ve been cowed by the polemics of fundamentalists, shamed by the snickering of dissenting theologians, or made sheepish by well-meaning but misguided ecumenical sensitivities. They’re happy to have a mom who prays for them, prepares their meals, and keeps their home; they just wish she’d stay safely out of sight when others are around who just wouldn’t understand.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

I too have been guilty of this filial neglect—not only with my earthly mother, but also with my mother in Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary. The path of my conversion led me from juvenile delinquency to Presbyterian ministry. All along the way, I had my anti-Marian moments.

My earliest encounter with Marian devotion came when my Grandma Hahn died. She’d been the only Catholic on either side of my family, a quiet, humble, and holy soul. Since I was the only religious one in the family, my father gave me her religious articles when she died. I looked at them with horror. I held her rosary in my hands and ripped it apart, saying, “God, set her free from the chains of Catholicism that have bound her.” I meant it, too. I saw the rosary and the Virgin Mary as obstacles that came between Grandma and Jesus Christ.

Even as I slowly approached the Catholic faith—drawn inexorably by the truth of one doctrine after another—I could not make myself accept the Church’s Marian teaching.

The proof of her maternity would come, for me, only when I made the decision to let myself be her son. Despite all the powerful scruples of my Protestant training—remember, just a few years before, I had torn apart my Grandma’s beads—I took up the rosary one day and began to pray. I prayed for a very personal, seemingly impossible intention. On the next day, I took up the beads again, and the next day and the next. Months passed before I realized that my intention, the seemingly impossible situation, had been reversed since the day I first prayed the rosary. My petition had been granted.

From Here to Maternity

From that moment, I knew my mother. From that moment, I believe, I truly knew my home in the covenant family of God: Yes, Christ was my brother. Yes, He’d taught me to pray, “Our Father.” Now, in my heart, I accepted His command to behold my mother.

…I wish to share that insight—and its unshakable scriptural foundations—with as many Christians as will listen to me, prayerfully, with an open mind. I wish especially to address fellow Roman Catholics, because many of us need to rediscover our mother, discover her for the first time, or perhaps see her with new eyes. For even those who remain faithful to the Mother of God can sometimes do so in a needlessly defensive way—defiantly standing by their mother even though they can make little scriptural sense of their devotions. They cling to a handful of passages from the New Testament as a sort of last Marian resort. These good Catholics—though they do revere their mother—don’t fully understand her significance in the divine plan.

For Mary fills the pages of Scripture from the beginning of the first book through the end of the last. She was there, in God’s plan, from the beginning of time, just as the apostles were, and the Church, and the Savior, and she will be there at the moment everything is fulfilled. Still, her motherhood is a discovery waiting to be made. While still a Protestant, when I was an aspiring Scripture scholar, I once set myself to researching motherhood and fatherhood in the Bible. I found hundreds of pages of excellent scholarship on fatherhood, patriarchy, paternity, and so on—but only a few paragraphs on motherhood, matriarchy, and maternity.

What’s wrong with this picture? Perhaps motherhood is so little understood and appreciated because our mothers are so close to us. Infants, for example, don’t even understand that Mother is a separate entity until they are several months old. Some researchers say that children don’t fully come to this realization until they are weaned. I’m not sure that we can ever distance ourselves psychically from our mothers—though as teenagers we make them walk several paces ahead of us.

Step Up

Let us make this discovery together, then. Let’s walk with God’s people through the moments of creation and fall and the promise of redemption, from the giving of the Law to the establishment of a kingdom. At every turn we’ll find the promise of a homeland, complete with a dazzling queen who is also a mother to her people. At every turn we’ll also find the promise of a home, complete with a mother who is also a powerful intercessor for her children. At the most important stage, we will find a queen mother, who alone can complete Christ’s kingdom and His home.

Even if you feel you must start this journey a few paces behind—at a distance from history’s Most Blessed Mother—I beg you to keep walking with me, and with Mary, toward our common destination, our common home in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Dr. Scott Hahn is a former Protestant minister and now an internationally recognized Catholic theologian and apologist. He is Professor of Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville and author of several books. This article was excerpted from Hail, Holy Queen, Doubleday, 2001.

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