The following is Deacon Ken Finn’s account of his remarkable interactions with Mary, the Mother of God.
My first encounter with the Blessed Mother happened when I was travelling in an RV with my wife, Marie. We co-authored a Catholic Bible-study, called The Bread of Life, and we were making a grand circle, clock-wise through the outer states of the country, introducing our study to parishes. One night, at the beginning of our trip, we parked our RV in the parking lot of the mission in Santa Barbara, and as we lay down to go to bed, our conversation turned to the sadness of people who are unable to bond with their mothers from birth. My wife and I had adopted three children, who were about eight weeks when we got them, and we wondered if they might have been deprived of the precious gift of early bonding.
The next morning, as my wife lay asleep next to me, I felt very much alone, as my mind wandered through thoughts about how I didn’t get much bonding from my own mother. My mom had lived in a tenement house in Boston, and one icy cold early morning, when she was seven months pregnant with me, she stepped outside, slipped on the ice, and fell down a flight of stairs.
She began to hemorrhage severely and was rushed to the hospital. In the emergency room, I was immediately delivered. When the doctors caught sight of all of two pounds of me, lifeless and quiet, they placed me on a table, and left me for dead. Turning all their attention on my mother, they did their best to try to stop her bleeding and keep her alive. After a few minutes passed, they heard a small squeak coming from my direction. “He’s alive!” they realized, as they refocused their attention on me.
Seventy-five years ago, when I was born, there were no antibiotics. There were no incubators. I went through a lot of trauma as a newborn, and I was separated from my mother for the first several months of my life. My mother recovered from her fall, and not having a car, she travelled every day on foot, in ice-cold weather, through the snow, to the hospital, so that she could bring me her breast milk. On her way there and back, she’d talk to Jesus and the Blessed Mother, praying with great faith that they would love me and take care of me.
As I lay in the RV that night, feeling lonely and sad, thinking about the first few months of my life away from my mother, I suddenly saw a vision standing at the end of my bed. It looked like the figure of the Blessed Mother. I could not see her clearly, but could make out her body, which appeared as if in a mist. Lovingly and compassionately, she spoke to me in a clear voice, saying, “You never were away from my presence while you were in the hospital, as well as when your mother fell down the stairs in the cold, snowy, bitter, morning. I was there with you when you coughed, when you were bleeding, when you cried out in fear. I bonded you with me and your mother with me. She got her strength and hope to know that you would survive because you had so much love at your birth.”
I woke up Marie and told her about this immediately after it happened, and she said simply, “Well, you really bonded with the Blessed Mother. That’s why you have such a compassionate heart for the poor and for those who are sick and hurting. You know what they’re going through, and you know the love they need.”
It was true. My fifty years of marriage and ministry with my wife had always involved helping the helpless, the lonely, the imprisoned. We personally befriended Mother Teresa and served alongside her with her Missionaries of Charity sisters in Tijuana, Mexico. We formed a non-profit to give away free Bible studies and pamphlets to prisoners. We led a prayer group, which prays the rosary outside of an abortion center. As a deacon, I loved to preach the Good News and share the love of God with everyone around me.
And ever since birth, I’ve lived with ill health, due to being premature. When I got older, my mother took me every Wednesday to the local cathedral to say a novena, hoping I’d be cured. I never did heal, but I never stopped living either. With half of both my lungs surgically removed and what’s left being diseased tissue, with ongoing lung infections doctors say will kill me, with bronchiectasis and COPD and oxygen strapped to me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, since 1993, I now go from one health problem to another; but I keep going. I feel I should work as much as I can now, because God has a reason for me being here. A friend of mine once said, “You’re a really nice guy. You’re not a man of your word, though. You’ve been dying for twenty-five years, but you keep on backing out.”
The impetus for the ministry work my wife and I share, and what we had in common when I proposed to her (on our first date!), is our deep affinity for Jesus. I grew up very aware of my love relationship with Jesus, but less aware of my personal relationship with Mary. After the remarkable moment in the RV, when the Blessed Mother reassured me that she had bonded with me as an infant, I felt a deeper respect and appreciation for her, yet I wouldn’t say our relationship suddenly became intimately warm and personal. It wasn’t until something happened at of the annual Medjugorje Peace Conferences in Irvine, California that the Blessed Mother truly entered my heart.
I participated in the conference because, while Jesus remained the focal point of our intimate relationship with God, the appearances of Mother Mary in Medjugorje had greatly affected me and my wife’s spirituality for the better. I had no doubt that the Blessed Mother was alive and present and doing the work of her Son in Medjugorje, and knowing that she was active today, made God’s care for us and the Blessed Mother’s participation in our lives so much more real. Someone can say that so-and-so is alive on earth, or alive in heaven, but what does that mean without that person actively sharing in one’s day-to-day life? With Mother Mary actively participating in the world, now, her aliveness had so much more credibility.
At the Medjugorje Peace Conference, I was one of the deacons assisting in the Mass. I dressed in an alb and stole, along with the other clerics present, and when it was time for us to sit down, because there were so many of us, we sat in the bleachers at the side of the stage, which supported the altar. At the final part of the Mass, as I stood up amongst the priests and deacons, I was approached by a tiny, elderly woman, dressed in an old style Mexican dress, with a bandana tied around her head. She carried a little basket of spiritual trinkets, crucifixes and little medals and the like, and asked if I would bless them. This seemed so unusual to me because the conference costs money to get into, and one never sees a very poor person there. I took her little basket and blessed it, and then handed it back to her. The woman had tears in her eyes and was literally begging for support. In thanksgiving for her courage, and moved by compassion and a sudden burst in my heart of love for her, I then I kissed her on the forehead and said a little quiet blessing for her. She smiled at me, revealing a set of ugly cracked, black teeth, with even blacker spaces in between them. Then she spontaneously put her head on my chest, wrapped her arms around me, and started to sob softly. I looked down at her and hugged her. She then kissed me on the cheek and walked away from me, disappearing behind a large television camera. A priest standing next to me said, “What was that all about?” I wondered myself. We both waited for the woman to come out from behind the T.V. camera, but she never did, and there was no other way by which she could have left. She just disappeared.
At the conference, a select few people were invited to go into a room upstairs, where the Medjugorje visionary Ivan would have his apparition of the Blessed Mother that evening. I was fortunate to be one of them, so I climbed the stairs and entered the room, where several people knelt and began praying the rosary. I joined them, waiting and watching to experience some personal sign of the Blessed Mother’s presence, but I didn’t see anything happening. I felt tired, sick, and out of breath. I asked Mary to intercede and heal my lungs. But I didn’t feel anything. I asked her for a healing from a hernia. No response. And then I asked her to heal my arthritis. Nothing! I was hurting so badly. The apparition ended, and just before the people in the room left, a woman leaned over to me and said, “Wasn’t that wonderful!”
“No it wasn’t,” I thought, sitting there feeling alone, discouraged, and disappointed, thinking of all my unanswered prayer requests.
Then as soon as I was alone, I heard the strong voice of a young woman talking to me. The hairs on my arms stood straight up. “Why are you so disappointed with me?” said the crystal clear female voice. I was startled and a little afraid. “Did you not recognize me when I put my head on your chest and sobbed softly, because so many people are still rejecting my Son and trying to hurt Him?” When you kissed me on the forehead in your compassion, I then kissed you on the cheek to tell you that my Son loves you very much and is very pleased with you.”
My fear left and turned into excitement and confusion. “Wow! What just happened?” I wondered. I left the room in a daze and shared with a priest, Fr. Steve Barham, what had transpired. He confirmed the reality of what I’d heard, and who it came from. For days, I couldn’t stop thinking and talking about it. The Blessed Mother hadn’t just spoken to me, she had hugged me, in the distressing disguise of a poor, elderly, Mexican woman.
About two weeks later, my wife and I traveled to Tijuana with Serving Hands International to go to the Missionary of Charity houses. There, Marie helped pass out food, blankets, and clothes, while I passed out free Bibles, Bible studies, and rosaries, and blessed each person as they passed through the line. I started telling my friend Brian about the lady I saw at the Medjugorje Peace Conference Mass, as the many people were filing by, taking what they needed. Then I looked over at the line, and at that very moment, I saw the same elderly lady with the same clothes she was wearing at the conference. Our eyes met, but she didn’t say anything to me. She just looked at me and smiled. Excitedly, I told Brian, “That’s her! She’s the one!” She continued to walk through the line, but didn’t take anything that was offered, and then stepped out the side door. Brian and I both ran to the door, which led to an outdoor courtyard, but she wasn’t there. She had disappeared again.
I feel special in the presence of the Blessed Mother now. Ever since she came to me, I have had a much stronger connection to her. If I met her today, I’d say with great hope and excitement, “It’s good to see you again!” Someone I respected very much has become my dear mother.
By Christine Watkins