How Many Languages Does Mary Speak?

by | Dec 21, 2022 | Formation, Reflections

In a sense, I have never outgrown the “why” stage of childhood.

Parents may realize it is all part of children trying to understand their world. They are alternately amused, frustrated, and stumped when they hear their child ask “why.”

We also sometimes speak of regressing into a kind second childhood as we age. These questioning “mindwalks” may my reliving the “why” stage of life.

In this Vincentian Mindwalk, I slipped into questioning mode about the many apparitions of Mary.

Each December 12 many celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe.

My questions begin with how many languages does Mary speak?

Some facts

I began by noticing how many apparitions were to children or the unschooled.

  • 1531, Guadalupe, Mexico – In Mexico Mary appeared four times to a young recent convert to Christianity, Juan Diego.
  • 1830, Paris, France – In the chapel of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Mary showed herself three times to a novice Catherine Laboure (age 24).
  • 1846, La Salette, France – Mary visited Maximin Giraud (age 11) and Melanie Calvat (age 14) while they tended sheep.
  • 1858, Lourdes, France – the Virgin showed herself eighteen times to Bernadette Soubirous (age 14).
  • 1917, Fatima, Portugal – Lucia de Santos (age 10) and her two cousins, Francisco (age 9) and Jacinta Marto (age 7), reported six apparitions of Mary.

Some questions

I asked… why! In our hierarchically structured world, most would expect Mary to appear to the powerful and educated. Why did she choose such young ordinary people?

A tentative answer might be…

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27

I also noted that in these apparitions, Mary spoke not only in the native language of the country but often in a local dialect.

Again, I wondered why. Then I remembered…

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets…”

Some implications for evangelization today

With increasing emphasis over the past century, Popes have spoken of the need to respect and honor each culture.

Then I remembered something I learned early in my formation as a member of a congregation with a special commitment and mission to bring and be “Good News” to those on the margins, whether physically or spiritually.

I was taught that we must first learn the language… and also… the culture of a people we were sent to.

Much has changed in the last half-century. Roles have been reversed in many ways. We used to send missionaries to Africa, etc. Now they send missionaries to a country with dwindling numbers of priests and religious.

We see these missionaries struggle to understand our language and customs.

But I fear we have missed something very important that transcends any specific national culture. We are now living in a digital world… and digital culture. This digital culture and way of thinking is deeper and more universal than the language of any country today.

We are at the level of so many who succeeded in learning a second language as my own parents did. But, I saw them struggle to absorb a culture I was born into.

Today Covid has forced us to use email and zoom. But we are still thinking as immigrants in a digital culture.

We are bewildered by a culture very different from a culture rooted in print media.

Mary today models reaching out to a culture different from the culture in which she evangelized Elizabeth.

 A final question…

What adaptation must we make as missionaries in a digital culture?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk