When I was about 13 or so we took a family vacation to St. Augustine, Florida. We always camped on our vacations and locations near a beach were a definite favorite. In between campfires and hanging out at the beach, we took the time to go to the Mission Nombre de Dios. Dating back to the 1500s, it was America’s first mission and is full of rich history and deep faith.
The grounds were beautiful. The great cross that towers high above as you walk through peaceful gardens, the tranquility of the shrines and chapels; they all lead to a deep and quiet time of prayer with the Lord. As we walked through the various places, one place touched me the most. The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. It is the first shrine in theUnited States dedicated to the Blessed Mother. The image of Our Lady of La Leche is that of the Virgin Mother Mary nursing the infant Jesus. The devotion to Our Lady of La Leche dated back to the 4th century in Bethlehem and has spread throughout the world.
As a young barely teenage girl, I’m not sure what it was that drew me to this particular shrine. Or at least, I wasn’t sure at the time. Something struck me in this depiction of such a simple, human, normal act between a mother and her child. To think of the Blessed Mother nursing the Son of God is just so beautiful!
We were always allowed to get a souvenir from our vacations. On this trip I chose to visit the gift shop at the Mission and selected a small, all white replica of the statue of Our Lady of La Leche. I already had one small statue of the Virgin Mary given to me by my uncle and godfather. But this one was different. I took it home and placed it on the shelf in my bedroom. When I moved to my dorm in college, I took it with me. In the three times I have moved since then, the statue has always found a place in my bedroom.
I never thought too much about what drew me to it. I would look at this reminder of Christ’s humanity, of God’s deep love that sent His Son to become a tiny infant child, of Mary’s resounding “Yes!” to the Lord’s will, and I felt peace.
A few weeks ago I was going through my holy cards looking for one of Pope John Paul II from his beatification and came across the holy card that I had gotten with my statue of Our Lady of La Leche. On the back was this prayer:
Lovely lady of La Leche, most loving mother the Child Jesus, and my Mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only, His spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Saviour. Intercede with Him now, my loving Mother, that, in accordance with His will, I may become the mother of other children of our heavenly Father. This I ask, O Lady of La Leche, in the Name of your Divine Son, My Lord and Redeemer. Amen.
I read this prayer and suddenly knew why I had been led all those years ago to this devotion. I have always wanted to be a mother. More than that, I firmly believe that my call is to be a loving wife and mother. As a young girl there was no way I could have imagined the pain that would come from longing for a child. But still something in the statue drew me in. I know now that God knew I would need some reassurance, some extra peace, and led me to this beautiful devotion to the Mother of the Lord. He knew I would need a reminder to trust in His Almighty plan for my life, just as Mary did.
As Mother’s Day approaches this weekend, I wanted to share the devotion of Our Lady of La Leche with you all. The devotion to her is not only for women praying for children, but extends to all mothers and all people. Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for those longing for children. But I know God is faithful. He drew me to this devotion many years ago before I even knew how much I would need it. It is not about a statue. It is about the ultimate trust in God’s path for me. He gave me this longing for motherhood and I know that, in His perfect timing, one way or another, I will one day be celebrating Mother’s Day with children of my own.
Our Lady of La Leche, on this Mother’s Day I ask you to pray for all women. For those who are mothers, for those who are pregnant, for those who have lost children, for those who long for children. Help us to seek God’s will, shine His light, and spread His love in all we do. Amen.*All images from http://missionandshrine.org/