I’ve always thought it strange that there is no moment in official public liturgies of our Church where a believer can stand up and share an experience of God. Now, Kevin Matthews and his “Broken Mary” talk has awakened me to think of another way to give Catholic witness.
Evangelical and pentecostal churches often ask during their services “Can I get a witness?” Wouldn’t it make our Sunday liturgies more relevant if someone — at least occasionally– could get up after Holy Communion, walk to the lectern and tell the community of a recent experience of the Lord that was life changing? Let’s hear it for an experience of God!
I can’t think of an instance where this has happened in my fifty years of presiding at the Eucharist. Oh, wait! I have heard the designated parishioner on Stewardship Sunday speak of how giving ten percent in the weekly collection has changed his/her family’s life for the better. Something similar sometimes happens at the promotions on the Sunday before Catholic School’s Week. Typically, a couple stands before the Sunday Mass gathering after the announcements and relates how sending their child to a Catholic School has benefited their family. Maybe these two instances of what I am talking about are not the best examples (because the pastor has contrived a way to urge tithing, for example) but they are genuine heart-felt expressions of how the Lord has touched a family and deepened its experience of religious life.
Recently, I heard an hour of testimony by a former radio celebrity, Kevin Matthews, about his life-changing experience of recovering devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. He calls his talk “Broken Mary.” For this non-liturgical event this particular church, in a suburb of Chicago, was full — five or six hundred people.
After we prayed the rosary, Kevin Mathews stepped out in front of the community to talk about his conversion from a nominal Catholic to enthusiastic promoter for devotion to Mary and through her to consecration to her Son. His voice was unmistakable, the same voice most of us had listened to when he was on The Loop AM 1000 in the ’80s and ’90s. His sense of humor was warm and spontaneous. The crowd loved it.
His witness was to tell us his story of conversion. He was fading as a celebrity (as radio was fading as a powerful medium). Diagnosed with a rare form of MS, he soon found himself without work while still raising a family. A triple whammy: job loss, incurable disease, and fading celebrity status. He was carrying all this on his shoulders when he had a life-changing moment.
As he was exiting his car to buy some flowers at a florist shop outside of a cemetery near Chicago, he noticed a large broken statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus,lying next to a dumpster. The statue was fractured in half just below the waist and Mary’s hands were broken off, too. The grime and grit of exposure at the dumpster clung to the discarded statue. He thought: “Mary is broken. I’m broken, too.” Thus, the Broken Mary story of Kevin Matthews was born. He rescued the statue brought it home.
The grace of God and the blessing of Mary saved him from the despair he was going though. He now relates his Broken Mary story to packed churches. Kevin reminds people to pray the rosary and be proud of being Roman Catholics. It’s his testimony, a personal experience of Jesus through his mother. “I guess I’m a Jesus freak now,” he said.
After the “Broken Mary” testimony by Kevin Matthews, hundreds of us formed communion-like lines so that we could get up close and personal with this image of the Mother of God in crude concrete. The image is large enough to be placed above an altar but that probably wouldn’t happen because Broken Mary’s repair shows like an ugly, long encircling scar. It is the tender image of Mary of Fatima and Mary, the Immaculate Conception. But she was damaged somehow and her hands are broken off, still missing. Many of us felt in front of Broken Mary that we were broken, too.
Kevin Matthew’s Broken Mary story was told before a rapt audience of believers. It’s the kind of thing that should happen more often in our Catholic churches. It makes real and challenging the Gospel that we hear about in homilies every Sunday. If we can’t find a place in our liturgies for personal witness, then lets promote more events like “Broken Mary. After all, shouldn’t our brothers and sisters in the Faith be given an opportunity to pour out their fervor for what we all profess each Sunday in the Creed? (Click here to buy Kevin Matthew’s book, “Broken Mary.”))