Last week, I wrote about an experience I had during the summer of 1974. At that time, I was 17 years old. I had a part-time job at the Ramada Inn in downtown Peoria, and one Saturday night after work, I drove to the Shrine Mosque in downtown Peoria to see if I could catch the second half of a show that featured a professional barbershop quartet. The quartet had won the previous year’s international competition of barbershop quartets.
When I arrived at the Shrine Mosque, it was intermission and the men in the quartet were standing outside near the back of the building, getting a breath of fresh air. After I introduced myself and told them that I had missed the first half of their show because I was working and that I had organized my own quartet in high school, one of the men invited me to watch the rest of the show from backstage. I gladly accepted and followed them into the side door of the building.
Years later when I thought about what had happened, two questions popped into my mind: Would the organizers of the show have approved of me entering the building through the side door to watch the second half of the performance, without first paying for a ticket? Did the men in the quartet have the authority to allow me to enter the building to watch their performance?
Regardless of whether they had the authority, the men in the quartet had the power to invite me to watch the show from backstage. Authority and power are two different things. The U.S. Supreme Court may have the power to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage, but they don’t have the legal or moral authority — either under the U.S. Constitution or under the laws of God. Our politicians may have the power to allow illegal aliens to enter into and remain in our country, but neither the Constitution nor any law gives them the authority to do so.
After arriving at the Shrine Mosque, if I had walked into the main entrance of the building, I probably would have been able to still purchase a ticket, but I would have ended up being forced to sit somewhere in the back of the auditorium.
By introducing myself and talking to the members of the quartet, I was able to stand backstage and watch them perform. I was also able to interact with them before they went back onstage, as well as after they completed their performance. Consequently, my experience was much more enhanced and memorable than it would have been if I had walked into the main entrance, purchased a ticket, and watched the show from an assigned seat in the back of the theater. Most of the people in the audience would have paid extra to be able to do what I did.
Last week, I asked you to imagine a heavily guarded building in Heaven that is made of 24-carat gold. Inside the building are all the graces that are available for people on Earth. In order to secure the grace to grow in holiness and to resist evil, individuals can purchase tickets to get into the building through its main entrance. A ticket can be purchased with prayer, suffering, reception of one of the sacraments, or the performance of an act of mercy.
But there is an easier way to get into the building that very few people know about: Rather than enter through the main entrance, a person can enter the building and have greater access to God’s grace by entering through the side door.
I periodically have clients who come into my office reeking of smoke, body odor, and various other unbearable smells. It’s obvious that they have not bathed or washed their clothes for several days or weeks. When they hand documents to me, the documents smell as bad as the people do, so bad that I don’t want to even touch the documents. When they leave, the stench of their body odor remains in my office and the hallway they walked through to get to my office.
At the office, we have a can of Lysol that we routinely use to spray the areas where our smelly clients have been. Unfortunately, the Lysol doesn’t make the smell go away completely, but it does do an effective job of covering up the stench with a more tolerable smell.
There is a horrendous “smell” that attaches to our souls when we sin. Our human senses are unable to pick up the smell, but God and the angels (good and evil alike) are able to smell our sins. Each type of sin has its own unique, unbearable smell to it. Pride has a different smell than lust. Laziness smells differently than avarice and greed. Envy and anger have their own particular smells. If we were able to actually smell the stench that emanates from our accumulated sins, we would lose consciousness.
When we receive the sacrament of reconciliation, although our sins are forgiven, the stench of those sins is not removed from our souls. The only way to remove the stench is by presenting tickets to God that have been purchased with prayer, suffering, reception of one or more sacraments, or the performance of one or more acts of mercy.
While there is a small minority of people who are able to purchase enough tickets to remove the stench before they die, most people who die in the state of grace must first pass through purgatory before reaching Heaven. Purgatory is the “place” where the stench of sin is removed and a soul is prepared for Heaven.
One major factor that complicates the process of exchanging a ticket for grace is that when we present a ticket to God in exchange for grace, we also pass on with the ticket the unbearable stench of our accumulated sins. The stench attaches to the ticket in the same way that the stench of unclean individuals attaches to their clothing and documents.
So what happens when we approach the side door of the grace-filled building with our ticket? The door is guarded by the only perfect human being who ever lived: the Mother of God. Like the man in the quartet who invited me into the theater through the side door, the Blessed Virgin Mary has the power to allow individuals into the grace-filled building through the side door.
We still need a ticket to get in, but something magical happens when we hand the ticket to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She removes all of the stench of sin that is attached to the ticket before she presents it to her Son, Jesus Christ. She doesn’t mask the stench; she completely removes it. She purifies the ticket so that it will be presentable to God. She would not have it any other way.
The Mother of God has the power and the authority to purify a ticket before presenting it to God. That power and authority were given to her by the Holy Trinity — the Son she carried in her womb for nine months, raised to adulthood, and saw die on a cross; the Holy Spirit who conceived the Son of God in her womb; and the Father who proclaimed that she would be immaculately conceived inside her mother’s womb.
Just as I received a favored position at the performance at the Shrine Mosque by going directly to the men in the quartet instead of the organizers of the show, those of us who choose to go directly to Mary will receive a favored position when our tickets are presented by her to God Almighty.
No one knows the reason Jesus came to us through Mary. It is a profound mystery. It is also a profound mystery as to why we receive favored status when we go to Jesus through Mary. How do I know about this profound mystery? I initially learned about it from reading the writings of several of the saints, including Saint Bernard, Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, and Saint Louis de Montfort. I later verified that it was true by putting it into practice in my own life.
If you do not currently have a devotion to the Mother of God, it’s time to start turning to her every day for guidance and protection. She will see to it that you receive favored treatment from her Son.