Mary in the Woods

On Friday morning while on retreat at St. Meinrad, I found one of the two grottoes with Mary that are on this campus. Both of these special places are hidden away in the woods, away from the church, not on the map.  They are nearly impossible to find unless you ask for directions from someone who has been there.


I’ve read that statues of Mary have been discovered in caves and in fields – and when they are removed and placed in churches, within a few days they have miraculously returned to where they were found.  It is as if Mary does not want to be in church, in a cold, lifeless building.  Mary is all about being among us, the commoners, where we are, as we are.

I find it significant that this image of Mary depicts her as if she is a non-Catholic at Mass.  This arm position says to the priest to give a blessing only – that this person cannot take Communion.  Following their rules – she could not take Communion because she was not Catholic.  She was Jewish.  But if it weren’t for her saying “Yes” to God – to letting the Holy Spirit of God work through her, Jesus would never have come into this world.  The Catholic Church could learn a lot from Mary.


The other grotto is quite far away.  You have to walk away from the seminary, the guest house, the church.  You have to walk by two small lakes and into the woods. I found it on Saturday.  This is the view looking back at the place where we stayed on retreat.  It is the closest building to this grotto, and also the furthest building from the church.  This is significant.

The actual grotto is another five minute’s walk from here.


There are no signs or path.  You’d never know that this was here until you are almost upon it.


Mary greets you with open arms.



Notice the detail – she is barefoot, and she is stepping on a snake with fruit in it’s mouth. This is the snake from the Garden of Eden, and that is the apple that Eve and Adam ate.  Mary is the antidote to that poison.  It is said that they brought original sin into the world with this act of rebellion against God.  Mary brought grace into the world by acting in accordance with the desires of God.


Someone had been here before me and left an offering of wildflowers for her.  They had faded and were musty.  We must daily refresh our faith and reconnect to the true Vine in order to remain alive in spirit.


Holy Door

There is a “Holy Door” at St Meinrad Archabbey, in St. Meinrad, Indiana.  These special doors are usually opened only once every 25 years and for a limited time. Pope Francis asked for these special doors (located in certain churches all over the world) to be open earlier than the normal interval to focus on the quality of mercy. You get a plenary indulgence for walking through and reciting a prayer in the church (along with a few other obligations). Each church that has a Holy Door should have information on what is required.

From reading the letter Pope Francis wrote about it, he wants this sacrament available to everyone.  He did not indicate that this is just for Catholics.

Here is the sign at the door in St. Meinrad.



Here is the door from the outside.


Here is the doorknob.


Here is the door from the inside.


Normally these doors are locked or in some cases even bricked up.  They are never doors that you would just happen to walk through – they are never the main doors.  Not all Catholic churches have these special doors set aside for this sacrament.

What is a sacrament?  It is “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual gift.”  These doors are reminders of the grace and mercy that God grants us – has granted us, will grant us.  We, being forgetful beings by the very nature of our being human, forget that God loves us unconditionally, and constantly welcomes us back when we stray.  We forget that God is the father that runs to greet us when we have wandered away, just like in the story of the Prodigal Son.

Going through a Holy Door doesn’t save you – you are already redeemed by Jesus.  That bill has already been paid.  But going through reminds you of that gift, reminds you that you are eternally loved.

A Plenary Indulgence is not a “get out of hell free card”, or a “get into heaven free card”.  You’ll have to look it up to know what the Catholic Church means by that term.  As for me, I don’t hold with the idea of indulgences or of penance, because they go against the message of Jesus.  Indulgences say that the Church, in the person of the ordained ministers of the Catholic Church, is able to forgive you for your sins, which is not something any human can do.  That is something God, and God alone, does. The idea of penance indicates that you have to pay for your sins yourself, which would mean that you are ignoring the price that Jesus paid for you on the cross.  Yes, we are to constantly be on guard for our sin, our times of “missing the mark”, and turn away from it and turn towards the Light that is God.  We are to make amends for our actions, certainly, but we can never buy our way into God’s love – that is something we already have.

Rattle not OK

When I was young, my parents had bought something for me for Christmas that had a sign on the outside of the box saying “Rattle OK”, meaning that if you shook the box and heard loose pieces rattling about, that it was normal – nothing was broken. But for us, a “rattle” is not a good sign. If we are scattered – if pieces of our selves, our souls, are loose, it is a sign that we need help.
Think of God as the good parent that God is. If you are carrying a heavy burden (of worry, stress, fear, anxiety…) hand it over to God to take care of it. It is too heavy for you alone, you cannot bear it. But God, the kind and capable parent, can carry whatever is weighing you down and knows what to do with it.
We are trained by the world to be independent, to bear up under incredible stress, to solve our own problems. However, Jesus teaches us that God is more than willing and able to help us if only we ask. We are not made to be alone, to do everything ourselves. To rely solely on your own ability is to put yourself in God’s place. This is a form of idolatry – it is to say that you do not need God, because you are enough. Instead, give your burdens and brokenness to God, the faithful and capable parent, to take care of.