Not long ago, my children and I were heading westward on the Long Island Express-way, hoping to see the statue of Our Lady of America during its historic visit to New York City. This nine-foot image of our Blessed Mother had been brought all the way from the Basilica of St. Louis, King in Missouri to commemorate the sixth anniversary of September 11. On arrival, the statue was ushered through the Holland Tunnel by NYPD and Port Authority officers, conveyed by fire truck to Ground Zero, and hoisted movingly up the steps of St. Peter’s Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral by uniformed firefighters. Knowing she would be staying for only a few days at Our Lady of the Angelus Church in Rego Park, we were eager to pay a visit and attend Mass.
Now, it is often the case that the children pose their most probing questions when crowded in the car, and my 13-year-old daughter wondered aloud, “Mom, how do atheists explain away things that point to the existence of God — like incorrupt saints, for instance?” Seven children — at least four of whom were old enough to listen — lingered for an answer. “They can’t, though they may try,” I ventured, pausing a moment to add, “We should always remember that people who reject God need to have ‘faith’ in their decision. They need to ignore the stirrings of their own hearts and chalk up all the blessings He gives to fortune or coincidence.”
Our exit came at that very moment, and I left my little audience hanging, my attention diverted by road signs. I thought I needed to get on the Grand Central Parkway, but a driver persisted in the lane to my right, refusing to let me over. Just about ready to despair, I saw a sign for 108th Street and realized that this was the exit we really needed. My mistake would have taken us a half hour out of our way, at least.
“You see,” I said to the children jovially, “the atheist would call that a good piece of luck, but we see through the eyes of faith and recognize it as a blessing. Clearly, Our Lady does not want us to miss Mass!”
Buoyed by this thought, I added, “And do you know what? I have been worried about not being able to park the van in this part of Queens, but now I am going to trust that the Blessed Mother will take care of it.”
Our hulking 12-passenger van made a rather large needle threading its way through narrow one-way streets. Predict-ably, the modest parking lot beside Our Lady of the Angelus was packed, but, as we passed through, an excited cry was raised in the back, “Mommy, look, there’s our spot!” Sure enough, close by the outdoor shrine to Our Lady and quite near the door, the perfect spot awaited with open arms, wide and slanting and unreserved, so that we slipped right in to its welcome embrace.
The children tumbled out of the van, rejoicing over our parking space.
Unfamiliar though the parish was, this simple blessing made us feel a part of things, and we were no longer strangers but children coming home to our loving mother. Tucked inside our own side door she stood waiting, Our Lady of America, depicted in a gown of flowing white and bearing the lily of purity, her left hand poised delicately near her immaculate heart. We slid into our pew, quietly smiling, our hearts warm with faith and confidence, each of us with one more reason to remember that our Mother will always take care of us.
Kneeling down beside the children, I prayed they would always see Our Lady as their mother and that this tiny seed of Marian devotion sown in childhood might become a bloom to tend their whole lives long.
Pearls from the Catechism:
“(Mary) is a mother to us in the order of grace.” CCC Section 968.
“‘The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.’” CCC Section 971.
On the teachings of the Church as opposed to atheism: “‘For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart.’” CCC Section 2126.
[Previously published in The Long Island Catholic]
2010 Alice Gunther