There was once an ardent atheist of Jewish heritage who was challenged by an acquaintance to wear the miraculous medal for a month and to say the Memorare twice each day. Being a religious skeptic, the atheist initially scoffed at the challenge, but then accepted it in order to prove how little it would matter.
Much to his surprise, this innocent dare ended life as he knew it. Unbeknownst to the atheist, many people were praying for his conversion. At the end of the month, at a church in Rome, Mother Mary appeared to him. Recognizing her from the medal around his neck, he fell prostrate at her feet. “I was lying prostrate, bathed in my tears, with my heart outside of myself.”
When the vision subsided, “I felt such a total change within me that I believed that I was someone other than myself . . . I tried to find myself and I did not find myself . . . The most ardent joy sprang from the depth of my soul.”
Struck with a deep gratitude, this uncatechized neophyte wasted no time in getting baptized and taking Holy Orders. He went on to devote his life to the conversion of Jews and the care for the orphaned, poor, and uneducated in Jerusalem. His conversion popularized the miraculous medal, hastened the Proclamation of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and inspired countless saints, among them St. Maximilian Kolbe, who celebrated his first Mass at the site of the apparition and conceived of the Militia of the Immaculata after hearing this powerful story.
The man was named Alphonse Ratisbonne, and he became Fr. Marie-Alphonse. He is just one among the great cloud of witnesses to whom we owe a debt of gratitude on this great feast of the Immaculate Conception, a feast when we remember the unique role of a human mother in the great drama of redemption.
That drama of redemption is played out each and every day in our homes and in our hearts, where our simple prayers are offered up to the Lord—often through the intercession of his Mother, our mother. She is sinless, immaculate, and so perfectly able to lay our intentions at the foot of her Son. Trust her to beseech him on your behalf. Your prayers to our mother are not empty words, as Fr. Marie-Alphonse realized, but powerful tools to come to know true joy.
And so we pray,
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me.