My Conversion Story

To read my conversion story, I have posted it in .pdf format available for download.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My weekend at St. Lazare's Retreat House

As I sit here at St. Lazare's Retreat House I can't help but be struck by the artwork and statuary. There is a stained-glass portrait of St. Joseph, photographs of mother Theresa, a drawing of several head shots of Pope John II (soon to be “Saint”), a photograph of Pope Benedict XVI, a photo of each of the past directors at the retreat house, a huge painting of St. Vincent DePaul, a painting of Jesus in the garden, several crucifixes, stained-glass that looks like it came from the 1970s or 1980s, and more.

But today I'm really struck by the statues and the stained-glass portrait of the Blessed Virgin, our mother, Mary. I've seen the same depictions of her before many times. But I've never really been so moved by their beauty. The artists wonderfully portrayed her beauty, grace, and expressions of love and invitation.

Certainly the real Miriam, mother of Yeshua, spouse of Yusef, did not look like this. This is an idealized, very Germanic or Scandinavian Mary—beautiful, but not Jewish. As Christianity began its trek westward, Mary took on a decidedly Western look. When Mary appeared at Guadalupe to Juan Diego, she appeared as a young Mexican girl. In one of my favorite movies, Guadalupe a Spanish-language film, Sandra Espil, chosen to portray Mary is a lovely young woman with a sweet disposition. Her voice is loving and tender, wonderful to behold and delivered in lyrical Nahuatl.

People of African descent often will depict Mary as a dark-skinned woman, usually in the artistic style indicative of the culture of the artist. This beautiful Madonna was painted by Donna Rathert found at

In China, there is Our Lady of Sheshan.

Then there is Our Lady of Akita, Japan who actually weeps.

There are so many others I could mention. Every artist portrays Mary to the best of his/her ability. If it is a stylized work, or an abstract, they attempt to make the entire work beautiful at least in the artists’ eyes.

The race or ethnicity of Mary as depicted in art is not important. The important thing is, who she is to the artist? And how does this work move me? If it does not move me, why doesn't it? Does Mary have to look European or Jewish or African otherwise she has no meaning for me? This may speak to our own prejudices more than anything else.

The most important thing is not, was Mary beautiful? The artwork is not intended to show us what she looked like, but to draw us into her bosom, to be presented to her son. So does the work do that? I am certainly drawn to the traditional Nordic Mary. I have also have a tender spot for the Mexican people, probably my favorite non-USA ethnic group.  Our Lady of Guadalupe is especially important to me.

Mary is the mother of the Church regardless if the person is Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist... so if she is the mother of a European, she's European. If the person happens to be Filipino, she is Filipino. As she is our mother, so we are her children, like it or not.

Whether she is presented as beautiful or homely, Germanic, Jewish, African, or Mexican, Chinese Japanese or Philipino— none of it compares to the inner beauty of this holy young woman. When given a choice between accepting God and his Word and facing likely ridicule and judgment by her husband, family, friends, synagogue, and community. She put it all aside and said, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” All generations have called her blessed, and she remains blessed forever.

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