Bob and Penny Lord wrote this about Marian Apparitions of Our Lady just before they wrote the book Many Faces of Mary.
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My relationship with Mary is a very personal one. She is my first love. I can talk to Mary. I can count on her. I have been in love with her for as long as I can remember. It’s been an on again, off again romance with us, not on her part, but on mine. She’s constant. She has always “been”. When I’ve broken away from her, wrapped myself up in the glamour of the world, she stood by. When I thought I had outgrown her, didn’t need her anymore, she waited. I always came back. She was always there.
Our bond is unique. I’ve never heard anyone speak of their feelings for her in the same way that I do. But I wonder if the truth is that others do feel as I do towards her, but just don’t know how to say it. Or possibly they are afraid to say the words “I love You. I have always loved you.” I’ve spoken to many people who have a special devotion to Mary. I’ve looked at their eyes as they speak of her, and what she means to them.
They say with their mouths, things like “I have a strong devotion to Mary”, and “I always pray to Mary”, or “She has never let me down”. But their eyes betray their words. There’s a cloudiness in their expressions, a wetness in their eyes that tells of a much deeper emotion than their lips proclaim. I wonder if they wouldn’t rather blurt out, “I deeply love Mary. I always have. I put her on a pedestal, not the way you would a holy person, or a saint, but like that perfect woman whom you’ve found, and will love forever”. I want to shout it from the rooftops. “I LOVE HER!! I’M IN LOVE WITH MARY!!” So, instead, I write a book.
Mary has guided me and protected me all my life, from the time my mother carried me in her womb. My mother, a good Irish Catholic girl, used to tell everyone that she had a dream while she was pregnant with me. In that dream, she found herself walking through a haze, towards a great light off in the distance. She was drawn to it. Though she had no sensation of walking, she got closer and closer to the source of the light. She could make out the figure of a woman holding a child. The haze lifted. She recognized Mary standing in front of her, holding what she assumed to be the Christ Child. The child was beautiful and radiant, but not as brilliant as Our Lady. My mother recalled that she thought this was unusual. Her belief was that Jesus would outshine everyone. The splendor of His Presence would overcome even the aura of His Mother.
She awoke from her dream puzzled as to why Our Lady would appear to her, holding the Baby Jesus, and why the aura surrounding Mary was greater than that of the child. She assumed the vision was a sign from Heaven that my birth would be a successful and healthy one. My mother went on to complete her pregnancy, and I was born a robust and healthy handful. Her attention was diverted to welcoming and taking care of the new member of the family. She forgot about the dream.
In her story of this dream, mother recounted that something uncanny happened as I grew into my third month. She had the strange feeling that she knew me, as though from another time, another place. I looked so familiar to her. She racked her brain for days, trying to unravel the mystery. Then one night she had the same dream again. Only this time, she understood why the child had not outshone Mary. The child in the dream, the same child Mary had held months before, was not the baby Jesus. It was me.
Mary said to my mother “He is mine. Take care of him”.
My mother kept faithful to the charge she had been given as well as she could for as long as she could. She was the victim of an alcoholic husband, my father. She suffered greatly, trying to salvage her marriage, and at the same time, take care of two young boys. The Great Depression ended. The war years came. There was plenty of money around for defense workers. But while other people amassed fortunes during the war, or at least little nest eggs for the future, my father spent all his money on liquor and friends. Neither my mother, my brother nor I ever saw “Happy Days are Here Again”. Babies, we found ourselves going to every bar on the waterfront in Brooklyn, near the defense plants and shipyards, on payday, trying frantically to find my father to get a little money before it was all gone.
By the time the war was over, my mother was a beaten woman, without any self worth. Her youth and innocence had been stolen from her. The one chance my parents had at making something out of their lives, had been wasted. It was now behind them. The balloon of the big war money had burst. My father went back to the meager existence of struggling to make ends meet. My mother finally gave in to my father; she, too, became an alcoholic. They lived out their lives in misery and disappointment.
I don’t mean to speak harshly of my parents. They were good people. I loved them very much. I’m sure they are both very happy and at peace with Jesus and Mary in the Kingdom. They were just victims. We know about victims. We see our children, victims, falling dead every day from the satan of drugs. We’ve lost almost a whole generation. In my parents’ time, it was the satan of alcohol. They were victims of the Roaring 20’s, the Flapper Days. Alcoholism was the socially acceptable behavior. They were completely overwhelmed by the culture of the anti- Christ prevalent in their day. When the great chastisement of the Depression overtook them, they were already addicts.
My mother was not able to fulfill the mandate Mary had given her. Mary, my lady, had to take over personally. She had plans for me from the very beginning. When I was very young, I felt the compelling desire to spend my life wrapped in the warm, protective cloak of Mary in the Church. I remember once, at age 11 or 12, wanting to go to Mass every morning during Advent at a local cloistered Monastery in the Bronx. The masses were celebrated at 6:45 a.m. That meant I had to wake myself at 6 a.m. because my father, who was the first to rise, didn’t get up until 6:45 a.m.
In those days, we didn’t use expressions like “Filled with the Holy Spirit”. I just had a thought. Everybody else had a thought too. They thought I was crazy. I couldn’t explain why I wanted to do it. I just did. It was very cold when I left the house at 6:20 to go to the Monastery. I’ll never forget the gusts of cold winter air hitting my face, penetrating through my winter coat to my clothes, to my skin, as I opened the front door of my house each morning. At the beginning, right after Thanksgiving, it was cold. By the time Christmas eve approached, it was bitter. There were days of freezing rain, and days of gentle snowfall. But all the mornings gave me great peace, walking in the pre-dawn hours, just Jesus, Mary and me. I believe that year, 1946 or 1947, was the most beautiful Christmas I have ever experienced. I never felt so fulfilled at Mass. I can still recall the fragrance of burning candles and incense. From that time, churches have always had a special aroma for me. The voices of the nuns chanting their morning prayers still echo in the recesses of my mind.
Until I began to write this book, I never realized how much an 11 year old has a need for tranquility, for belonging. I was so at home in that Monastery. I didn’t want to go back out to the cold world. I was in my mother’s womb, warm and protected. My mother was Mary.
I thought I had a vocation to the priesthood. I never fantasized being a priest, wearing priestly clothes or doing priestly things. I envisioned myself in the Presence. I was not sure what Presence. Mary was there. The colorful saints, whose lives I had read, or had been read to me, were there. Jesus was very much there. That little monastery on Baretto Street in the Bronx was there. It was the hub. I believe that more than a vocation to the priesthood, I had an overpowering desire for relationship with people I was deeply in love with. I had never met them personally or physically. But they were all there, around me, speaking to me, touching me, loving me. And at the head was Mary, the indescribably beautiful Mary.
There is an expression used by the young people today, “Get into the Real World”. The confusion lies in determining what is the Real World and what is Fantasy. At age 14, I thought the real world was the world of girls, drinking and partying. That had been the world of my father. That world was calling me. My biological system had gone through the trauma of puberty, and with it my value system. Physical and emotional discoveries overpowered me. In addition, I broke out in pimples all over my face. As I grew into my teen age years, the distorted glamour of evil pulled me away from my true love. Eventually, it drew me away completely. The images I thought to be real, I learned in later years were fantasy, unreal. The only reality was the love I had embraced as a child, then walked away from completely as a young man.
There’s a wise saying, “The 35 year old man has to live with the decisions made by the 18 year old”. Our whole lives are determined by the mistakes we make as young people. That should have been my fate. But my Lady didn’t let it happen. She had too much work for me to do. She was willing to wait for me until I finally grew up.
Every now and then, Mary showed herself very strongly in strange ways, in strange places. For example, I worked at Radio City Music Hall as an usher during my high school days. I had become romantically involved with the girls in the Corps de Ballet, and the Rockettes. They were all older than I; but as long as I was willing to adopt their way of life, they accepted me. Although I was going to a Catholic High School, I had all but forgotten about Mary and the Saints. They didn’t fit into my new life style. At about that time, somehow, a book came my way. It was called THE SONG OF BERNADETTE. It dealt with the apparitions of Mary to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in the year 1858. Here I was, completely lost in this beautiful book on Mary and Bernadette. I was a contradiction, sitting in the Employee’s Cafeteria of Radio City Music Hall with all my new found show business friends, older girls and guys whose values had nothing at all to do with Mary or anything Marian. I still have that book from 1952. The cover is gone, as are the first 7 or 8 pages. But it is a very special book to me.
The pull from Mary was strong, very strong, but not strong enough. For a few months, I was renewed in my love for her and Our Lord Jesus, but then I began to backslide. Soon the transition was complete. I was back to my old ways. I had left her behind. Every now and then, she came back into my consciousness. But I conveniently pushed her out of my mind. Even during my time in the service, I was stationed in France, not 200 miles away from Lourdes, but I never went to visit her at her shrine. Paris was 600 miles away, yet I went there every chance I had. But when I was in Paris, I never visited the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, or the Church of Our Lady of the Victories.
SEPTEMBER 23, 1957. Dates are very important. Jesus used numbers as symbols during His Ministry. In the history of the Church, many important events occurred on September 23. Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968. The first Eucharistic Congress in Abruzzi was held on September 23, 1921. I met Ernest Hemingway in the Yankee Stadium and got him to autograph one of his books on September 23, 1957. But the most important thing about September 23 is it is the day my Penny was born. And September 23, 1957 was the day Mary chose to place Penny in my path.
We refer at this time to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, Verses 28-30. We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his decree. Those whom He foreknew He predestined to share the image of His Son, that the Son might be the first- born of many brothers. Those He predestined, He likewise called; those He called He also justified; and those He justified, He in turn glorified.
I believe very strongly that God has planned out the lives of every soul He has created. While we have to say “Yes” in the same way that Mary said “Yes” in order for God to work in our lives, I believe that He has orchestrated a beautiful life for all of us, if we just get out of the way. I believe that God has had a plan for me since before I was born. I believe that Penny and I were chosen for each other from the beginning of time to be husband and wife. I believe that Mary came to me in the form of Penny, to be the instrument to bring me back to the Lord, and to give myself to Him through Mary in full time Ministry. These are things I believe. I know for a fact that Penny was given to me for my salvation.
In the early days of our marriage, Penny and I spent most of our time struggling to survive, much like any average married couple. Our Lord Jesus had to take last place, and with it, my Mary. But they waited. They knew what work we had to do, and they allowed us all the normal desires that young married couples have, a good job, beautiful children, a house, cars, money.
We worked hard. We have always been achievers. It was almost as if we had a check list. First we achieved the children, then the house, the cars, and finally the money. When we had achieved everything we wanted, we lost our 19 year old son, our precious boy, to an overdose of drugs. He was a victim of that world. Instead of blaming ourselves for allowing a society to exist that could destroy our children, while we were busy achieving, we blamed God. Doesn’t everybody?
Still, Jesus and Mary waited. They gave us four years to mourn, to turn off God, Church, and each other. Then, on January 1, 1975, The Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the first day of the Holy Year, they hit us over the head with a two by four. We will never forget it. It was a typical New Year’s Day. We had stayed at home. Our daughter Cheryl, (now Sister Clare) had come over for dinner with our grandson, Rob, and a Jewish friend. The conversation centered around important matters, the Football games that day. We had dinner. After it was over, and everyone had left, I took the table cloth out to the patio to shake it out. Again, I HAD A THOUGHT.
We hadn’t been to Mass on Sunday for four years. My thought was, I’d like to go to Mass every day from now on. First I called the local church, where we had never attended Mass, to find out what the schedule was. Then I went in to the family room where Penny was watching television. I said, “Honey, how would you like to go to Mass every day from now on?”
Her reaction was normal. She was completely shocked. But she had a thought. “For many years he went to Mass on Sunday for me. I owe it to him, for whatever reason he has, to support him in this.” The first day we entered the church, I had a feeling that I can’t describe, except to say I had come home. The warmth I had felt as a child in the Monastery in the Bronx at daily Mass had returned. Penny said my eyes gleamed with love for Our Dear Lord in the Eucharist, and everything that the Church represented. She was afraid for a time that I was going to divorce her to become a priest.
That was the beginning. We have never missed the gift of the Eucharist one day from that time to this. We’ve given ourselves up to full time ministry. We don’t earn the kind of money we were used to. We don’t have the freedom to go anywhere, or do anything we want anymore. But the places we are not free to visit, we don’t want to visit; and the things we cannot have, we don’t want. We have come home. LORD, IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE.