Every Mother's Son: Confessions of a Marian Prodigal

SCOTT HAHN

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 heard the office door click open and Mom's voice exchanging pleasantries with the nurse.

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: "What you did to your mother today was shameful."

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.


Generations Gap

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 to his own 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 prophesy 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 St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, or St. John — but almost never see one named for St. 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."


Unstrung

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 only come, for me, 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.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Scott Hahn. "Every Mother's Son: Confessions of a Marian Prodigal." New Covenant (May, 2001).

This article first appeared in New Covenant but is included as the introduction to Scott Hahn's new book, "Hail, Holy Queen" (Doubleday).

Reprinted with permission of Scott Hahn.

THE AUTHOR

Scott Hahn is Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He is the author of many books, including Lord Have Mercy, Letter and Spirit, Understanding the Scriptures, Swear to God, Scripture Matters, Understanding Our Father, First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity, Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, and co-editor of Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God. Dr. Hahn has also written numerous articles in lay and academic publications.

Scott Hahn received his Bachelor of Arts degree with a triple-major in Theology, Philosophy and Economics from Grove City College, Pennsylvania, in 1979, his Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from Marquette University in 1995. Scott has ten years of youth and pastoral ministry experience in Protestant congregations (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kansas and Virginia) and is a former Professor of Theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia. He entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, 1986.

Copyright © 2001 Scott Hahn




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