With Mother

Photo credit: “The Madonna of the Streets” by Roberto Ferruzzi

By Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC

With Mother’s Day coming up on May 9, in what has long been celebrated as the Month of Mary, I want to reflect on how the motherhood of Mary has guided me in my life.

I was drawn to Mary’s motherhood through my own mother, a prayerful woman who taught me that all who desire to be a beloved disciple of Jesus have a spiritual mother in Mary.

While I was growing up, she kept me on the straight and narrow. For instance, she took a deep interest in my companions. Who were they? Were they practicing Catholics? Were they from good Catholic families? I’ve come to understand her concern — that the people in our lives can greatly shape the lives we lead.

 Because of my mother, as a child, near my bed, I had a copy of the painting “The Madonna of the Streets.” Oddly enough, the woman in the painting looked and dressed in a manner similar to my mother (until the mid-1960s, when her style changed like everyone else’s), and I had always assumed it was a picture of my mother and me.

When I started walking to public school as a child, I always walked past our parish church, which had an outdoor shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. I was raised in such a way that it was only natural for me on most days to stop and say a prayer at that shrine, coming and going.

On Easter, year after year, my family always watched the Warner Brother’s movie “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima.” By the time I was 16 years old, I knew the dialogue of the movie.

At 18, I went to a diocesan seminary where I encountered a huge “Madonna of the Streets” in the lobby entrance. That’s how I discovered that the artwork wasn’t, in fact, a picture of my mom and me; it was a painting of the Mother and her Son. Seeing it with fresh eyes helped me to discover a different meaning in it. It depicted a mother enduring hardship and poverty while safeguarding the Christ Child. Through her love, she opens our hearts to her Son, thus encouraging all of us to be His beloved disciples.

Fast forward five years, and I discovered another “Madonna of the Streets” at the Pine Street Inn in Boston, where I assisted feeding — body  and soul — itinerants. Another five years past, and the next “Madonna of the Streets” happened to be an African-American icon by a Jesuit priest that hung at a Catholic Church in Milwaukee where I did another form of ministry.

I then started to suspect what I now know is true: Because of the devotion to Mary that my mother instilled in me, the Blessed Mother has filled my life with other great influences that have helped me to draw closer to her Son.

For instance, as a deacon, I came to Our Lady of Peace Parish (which was a major beehive of parish life with parishioners from 17 zip codes) in Darien, Illinois. In the same town (barely a mile down the street) was the National Shrine of St. Theresa, staffed by Carmelites. It was a quiet place of prayer to which I would often escape. My love for the contemplative Carmelite spirituality increased at my next parish, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which brought me in contact with the Carmelites at Holy Hill in Hubertus.
Around this same period of time, I met Fr. Peter Mary Rookey of the Servite Order. He had a deep devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Then, through his healing ministry in Chicago, I met the ever-charismatic Immaculee Ilibagiza, who wrote Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust and Our Lady of Kibeho. In the latter book, she discusses Our Blessed Mother’s apparitions in Kibeho, Rwanda, that took place in 1982-83. Our Lady called for prayers for the conversion of sinners. She asked people to obey the Church, to love God, and to love our neighbor in humility and simplicity. She also called on people to pray the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows.

Immaculee’s book The Boy Who Met Jesus was about a non-Christian who was visited by Jesus. It’s my personal favorite of her many books.

I did several conferences with Immaculee. She, in turn, introduced me to Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, who died this past January due to complications with COVID-19. I was delighted years ago to have brought him to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to speak about his healing ministry. After all, part of our baptismal call is to bring healing to others and to bring each person closer to Christ, the Suffering Servant, who always does the Father’s will.

I mention these parts of my life as a springboard for your own reflection on how the Blessed Virgin Mary has guided you in your life and how she brought into your life the people who helped shape you as you journey to your eternal home with the Father.

I could mention many others, but most importantly I should mention St. Faustina. When I joined the Marian Fathers, I had not heard of her. As a novice, I didn’t feel drawn to her, and she wasn’t spoken of much, nor was there much mention of the Divine Mercy revelations given to St. Faustina. It was only after my ordination that I became increasingly more familiar with her and her Diary.

Now, as the director of the Holy Souls Sodality, I read her Diary daily and constantly discover the profound importance for each of us to conform ourselves now to doing the Father’s will. As Mother Angelica would say, “You have only one task in this life: to become a saint.” In St. Faustina’s Diary, at entry 515, she asks deceased souls “if they are happy?” and they respond, “We are happy in the measure that we have fulfilled God’s will.”

I thank my biological mother for setting me upon this incredible journey of faith!


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