by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
When visiting St. Benedict’s Abbey earlier this year, Father Meinrad Miller gaveme a copy of the book, “A Warrior in God’s Service: the Memoirs of Peter Henry Lemke (1796-1882).”
Father Lemke was instrumental in bringing the first Benedictine monks to the United States and, in particular, bringing the Benedictine monks to Kansas. He planted the seed for what would become St. Benedict’s Abbey. Father Lemke grew up in Germany. He was not reared as a Catholic. In fact, before his conversion to Catholicism in his native Germany, he was a Lutheran minister. By the time Father Lemke had come to Kansas, he had been a Catholic for more that 30 years and a priest for more than 25. Yet, it was in Kansas that his devotion to Mary deepened and took on new meaning.
At this time, Father Lemke was more than 60 years old and living in Doniphan. Zealous in attending to the pastoral needs of his people, Father Lemke made a pastoral call to the home of a dying man. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived, the man had already died. After consoling the man’s wife and children and arranging for some of their neighboring parishioners to assist this bereaved family, Father Lemke began his trek back to Doniphan. Along the way, he got caught in a terrible thunderstorm, the likes of which he had never before encountered. Father Lemke described his predicament in these words:
“Thus, I found myself standing there, surrounded by darkness, almost being swept away by the fast rising waters, and had no idea as to which direction I should be going. Because out on these prairies, one is very much like a ship on the ocean which has lost its compass. I was really in a dangerous situation. The day had been extremely hot, it was the beginning of September, I had perspired a lot, I had had very little sleep and just a meager amount of food, and I was sure that, in my confused state of mind, I was not going to be able to survive the night. So, I threw myself down on my knees in the grass and begged Mary, the Helper of Christians, to come to my aid. With this, I confess, it came to my mind that up to this point my honoring of Mary had been rather tepid, maybe even cold. Yes, I was still a semi-Protestant. On this occasion, however, I called out to her in fervent prayer, asking that I would not be allowed to come to an end out here so miserably unprepared. Yes, I even asked her to show me a sign that she truly was the Helper of Christians. And show me a sign she did.
“When I arose from my prayer and looked out over the tall prairie grass, where there had been nothing but a deep darkness before, there now appeared right in front of me a bright light. I set out at once in the direction of this light and came to a small house, much like those that people built out on the prairies in order to establish their claims. After I had drawn away the curtain or sack that served as the door to the entrance, I observed next to the lantern a young woman busily sewing. The lantern was placed in the only window in the entire structure.She had her back turned away from me. When I called out to her, she jumped up and cried out in fright. From the bed in the corner, there came the voice of a small child: ‘Mommy! Mommy! That is actually Father Henry!’ This child had actually been to Mass in Doniphan with her mother, and I soon ascertained that I was but a few miles from my destination.
‘Now, my dear woman,’ I said, ‘explain to me why that light had been placed into the window.’ Her reply was, ‘I had put my child to bed early, and after she had fallen asleep, I also lay down in bed with her because the frightening weather unsettled me. During the night, the child became restless and began to cry. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that she had seen a woman clothed in white standing in front of the bed. I myself became disturbed, I got up and lit the lamp and, after I had calmed the child, I sat down and began mending one of my husband’s torn garments.’”
In Father Lemke’s mind, there was no doubt that Mary had answered his prayer by appearing to this young child. The mother placed the lamp in the window just as Father Lemke was raising his eyes from prayer asking for a sign.
For Catholics, the month of May is always a special time of increased devotion to Mary. This weekend, as we celebrate and give thanks for our earthly mothers, let us seek in some way to also honor our heavenly mother. From our own human perspective, we know how gratified we are when others show respect and kindness to our earthly mother. Why would we doubt that Our Lord would grant special consideration to those who honor his mother?
Perhaps, like Father Lemke before his amazing experience of Mary’s maternal care during a Kansas thunderstorm, your devotion to Mary has been underdeveloped. I encourage you to entrust to Mary whatever special need you have at this moment in your life. Call out to Mary in prayer and ask her to go with you to Jesus with your request. Honor Mary in a way that we know pleases her by praying a daily rosary during the remaining days of May. If possible, pray the rosary as a family. Who knows?
Maybe you will discover a guiding light in the midst of the storms of your life.
Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, pray for us!
Mary, the first Disciple of Jesus, pray for us!
Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!
Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us!
Mary, Mother of Consolation, pray for us!
Mary, Mother of Divine Hope, pray for us!
Mary, Mother of Divine Providence, pray for u!