Emily Benson
Emily Benson
One summer when I was a kid, I had a spout of nights when I couldn’t sleep. 

I remember counting sheep, playing with toys, naming and renaming all of my stuffed animals, until eventually giving up to seek out my mom for some magical sleep solution. 

My mom told me to try a trick she used to fall asleep: to repeat as many Hail Mary prayers as I could. Frustrated with her advice, (I was expecting a kid-sleeping pill or special tonic marketed to secure slumber) I crawled back into bed, expecting little results. I said maybe 10 prayers and then suddenly it was morning. 

I still use this sleeping trick to this day (and I highly recommend it for any fellow insomniacs), but more than a way to ensure a less-groggy morning, I think this is where my love for praying to Mary started.

There’s always been something special about turning to Mary — who we celebrate in the month of May —  for help. As a kid, I never connected that strongly with the Catholic Church. Its Gothic architecture intimidated me, and I struggled with the ritual of Mass on my personal faith journey. 

But those nights of silent prayer with Mary, that’s where I connected to God. And I’m not the only one who has found something special in those prayers to Mary, and I think there’s a way to harness this love for the greater good.

Time and time again, it’s her prayer that calms people. Jan Nudo, manager at Divine Mercy Catholic store in South Glens Falls, grew up Protestant and converted to Catholicism as an adult. A big reason, she told me during our interview, was Mary. 

“Mary, she just scoops you right up,” she said. “I think people who struggle with problems go to Mary because when you’ve got an issue, you don’t want to go to your father, you go to your comforting mother.” 

The late Bishop Elias James Manning, a native of South Troy, served as priest and then bishop to the Diocese of Valenca in Brazil for over 50 years. I FaceTimed with Bishop Manning in 2019 (with his beautiful stucco-walled parish in the background), when he told me about the rise of Protestant and Evangelical Christians in his historically Catholic country. Bishop Manning recalled striking up a conversation with a local woman waiting for the bus, who told the bishop she decided to become a Protestant.

Bishop Manning said he asked her if she would miss the Blessed Mother. Her answer was interesting, he said, as she turned to the bishop and said, “Everybody misses their mother.”

I think for some Catholics (myself included) it can be hard to conceptualize Jesus’ love for us; a love so vast and unconditional that it almost seems too good to believe. But a mother’s love we can conceptualize because it’s a similar kind of unconditional, irrevocable love.

It’s a love you feel in the good times — mom’s homemade brownies or a hug on a sad day — and in the bad — when you lose your temper and get upset. Through the good, the bad and the ugly, it doesn’t matter, a mother’s love is there.

Maybe we all should try to love like mom: To love one another wholly, warts and all, is one step closer to spreading that unconditional love that God — and mom — gives us every day.