Spiritual guidance for anyone seeking a path to God. explorefaith.org


Explore God's Love Explore Your Faith Explore the Church Explore Who We Are  


In the News



May 19, 2005:
Anglicans acquiesce to Catholic dogma on Mary

Saints, prophets, and spiritual guides

The Lure of Saints

Questions of faith and doubt

Mystery and Mysticism


Signpost: Daily Devotions

Oasis: Take a Moment to Meditate

Reflections for Your Journey
Register for a
weekly reflection

Send a card from explorefaith.org


August 16, 2005

The Virgin Mary Among Us
by Jon M. Sweeney

Mary sometimes seems like the attic ghost that will not rest. Her image is routinely observed by the faithful on windows, walls, and highway overpasses all over the United States and abroad. She “appears,” much like angels appear in the Bible. The faithful interpret these visitations as if Mary has some urgent messages for humanity, and usually that message is for increased faithfulness to her son.

The Second Vatican Council, convened in the 1960s by Pope John XXIII, upheld the notion that Mary is the divine mother of all Christians. In fact—even though the Council is often criticized for having minimized the role of Mary to satisfy Protestant objections—it goes out of its way, in this passage, to describe Mary’s “saving office.”

The motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues [today] uninterruptedly from the consent that she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. (Lumen Gentium, 62)

It is no wonder, then, that Mary is always reaching out to communicate to people. That’s the framework for understanding her apparitions and visitations. Again, to quote that document from the Second Vatican Council: “The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” Her role, and her names, are similar to that and those of the Holy Spirit. In fact, in many ways, Mary is for the devout Catholic what the Holy Spirit is for the devout Protestant. The difference is that no one ever claimed to see the Holy Spirit standing in front of them.

Some of Mary’s visits are in the most unusual places. Clearwater, Florida, for instance, was the site in 1996 of an image of the Virgin Mary which has drawn millions of people ever since. Mary appeared to be superimposed on the surface of some windows on an office building. A shrine was eventually erected at the foot of the building on Highway 19 and a crucifix was situated beneath the windows.

Kyle Maskell, a troubled youth, was convicted of hurling steel balls with a sling-shot through the top layer of windows, effectively decapitating the image of Mary. The boy was first put into a foster home, and then jailed for ten days in 2004, after a judge ordered him to pay $2,300 for the damage and court costs, as well as serve two years probation after his release. Millions of people came to see the image of Mary in that glass before its destruction and now, Shepherds of Christ Ministries (who began leasing the building in 1998 in order to safeguard the windows) says that an image of Christ is once again clearly visible in some remaining glass.

This past April, a highway underpass in Chicago, Illinois was the site of another visit from the Virgin Mary. Just as Pope John Paul II was dying in Rome, a salt stain appeared on the Fullerton Avenue underpass of the Kennedy Expressway that very closely resembled the head of the Virgin of Guadalupe holding John Paul, supporting him in his frailty.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago, according to the Associated Press and CNN, said at the time: “These things don’t happen every day. Sometimes people ask us to look into it. Most of the time they don’t. [The meaning] depends on the individual who sees it. To them, it’s real. To them, it reaffirms their faith.” A large shrine soon gathered around the image, including an artist’s rendering of the image in oils, candles, and flowers left by the hundred, perhaps thousands, who prayed there. On April 25, 2005, according to the Chicago Tribune, even Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said of the shrine: “If it's helpful in reminding people of the Virgin Mary's care for us and love for us, that’s wonderful.”

Two and a half weeks later, a 37 year-old homeless man, Victor Gonzalez, was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for painting over the salt stain with black shoe polish the words “Big Lie.” At first, city workers painted over the image, in order to remove the offending graffiti, but by the next day, a number of the faithful had carefully removed the city’s brown paint, as well as the black graffiti, leaving only the original salt stain looking largely as it had appeared before the criminal incident.

All of these experiences of Mary prompt the obvious question: Why does she provoke such strong feelings in people? What is it about Mary that is so compelling? Many other communities in the United States have experienced visitations from the Virgin in recent years as well, including Cincinnati, Ohio and Tickfaw, Louisiana (fifty miles north of New Orleans). The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is hesitant to officially approve or sanction any of these new visitation sites of the Virgin. But the Catholic faithful, and others, don’t seem to mind. It is one more example of the separation between private devotion and ecclesiastical authority, common in every religious tradition around the world.

Jon Sweeney is an author and editor living in Vermont. His new book is


(Return to Top)


Send this article to a friend.

Copyright ©1999-2007 explorefaith.org