In 1858 Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a young girl in Lourdes, France. Our Lady called herself the Immaculate Conception. One year later Our Lady appeared to Adele Brise, a young woman in Champion, Wisconsin, and called herself the Queen of Heaven. Both of these titles are rooted in the fact that Our Lady is the Mother of God.
The following is adapted from a talk given at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.
Who are you?
Adele said to the Lady, “In God’s name, who are you, and what do you want of me?”
“I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.”
Who are you? “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.”
What do you want of me? “I wish you to do the same.”
As we celebrate the feast of the Mother of God, let us try to learn everything we can from these few words of Our Lady to Adele. First, let us consider what it means for her to say, “I am the Queen of Heaven.” Then, let us try to understand what “who prays for the conversion of sinners” means. And finally, it will be important for us to know what she means by, “I wish you to do the same.”
1. I am the Queen of Heaven
Scripture says: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev. 12:1)
Our Lady has given herself various titles at various times in history, and in this particular place she called herself the Queen of Heaven. This apparition happened shortly after the apparition at Lourdes, where Our Lady called herself the Immaculate Conception. Historical events happen at certain times and in certain places as specifically planned by God for specific reasons. In a short space of time, Our Lady gave us the name of her beginning, and the name of her end. To call her the Immaculate Conception is to point to her unique beginning. She is the only human person who was immaculately conceived, so that she can take the name Immaculate Conception as belonging only to herself. Likewise, she is the Queen of Heaven, the only Queen, and can take that title as belonging only to herself. Both of these titles of her beginning and her end, both of these facts of her conception and her destiny, depend on something else.
All of her titles can be traced back to one title, to one fact. This is a fact that was fought over fiercely in the early Church. This is a fact for which people have died and for which people continue to die. The fact is this: Jesus Christ is God, and Mary is the Mother of God. Jesus Christ is Theos, and Mary is Theotokos. In each of the Church’s articulations of the dogmas of Our Lady, the central fact of her being the Mother of God is the root reason for the dogma.
She was immaculately conceived. Why? Because she was to be the Mother of God. (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus)
She was assumed into heaven. Why? Because she was the Mother of God. (Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus)
She is the Queen of Heaven. Why? Because she is the Mother of God. (Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam)
If we want to understand what it means for Mary to be the Immaculate Conception; if we want to understand what it means for Mary to be the Queen of Heaven; if we want to understand anything at all about Mary, we need to understand what it means for Mary to be the Mother of God. And if we want to understand what it means for Mary to be the Mother of God, we need to understand what it means that Jesus Christ is God.
So that is my plan in this first part: To understand what it means that Jesus Christ is God. Then to understand what it means that Mary is the Mother of God. And then to unfold from there what it means that Mary is the Queen of Heaven.
1.1. Jesus Christ is God
Jesus Christ is God. This man, who is alive right now, and exists in some place right now, this man, is God. What does it mean to be God? There is something we have to understand about what it means to be God if we want to get anything right in theology. Without a correct understanding of one fundamental fact, everything else is radically off. The fact is this: God is always first. (ST I.2) In everything, in every respect, God is always first. This very moment, right now, he is holding everything in existence. This very moment he is working in each thing, and is the first one to determine how things are happening and how they will happen.
He has a huge plan that involves everything down to the motion of every atom. He is directly in charge of every single event in this world, every single motion. (ST I.22) He is directly in charge of the human heart as well. (CT I.129) There was a heresy in the early church, the Pelagian heresy, and its echoes can be heard today in the center of each of our hearts. Whenever we affirm that there is some part of us, the very center of us, that belongs only to us, we are echoing this heresy. The little Pelagian inside of each of us wants say that although God is first in most things, our own choices still belong exclusively to us. This is a heresy.
God is always first. It is true to say that God has given us a part in our own salvation. He has given it to us to choose good or evil. He really has given us the glory of choosing. But God is still always first. Not only does he make us to be humans, the kinds of thing that can choose, but he is also before each and every one of our choices. He has priority in everything we do in every moment, even our own choices.
Now, we are getting into the realm of mystery, as to how God could be first and how we could also be masters of our own choices. But these truths are clearly stated in Sacred Scripture (e.g., Sirach 15:15, Proverbs 21:1), the Catechism (CCC 302ff.), Augustine (e.g., On Grace and Free Will), Aquinas, etc. Everything points to the fact that God is the first cause of everything, including our free choices, and that we are at the same time free to choose.
God’s being first in our own free choices is actually a comforting thing. If in the final moment, our salvation depended simply and only on our own wills, we would all be lost. But in the final moment, God is still first, and even before our own will, God himself has priority. In a mysterious way, he causes your will to be free. He doesn’t wait for us to act first so that he can react. He doesn’t wait for the laws of nature to unfold so that he can intervene. No. God acts first, he acts during, and he acts after every event, big and small, from the curve of an atom to the rise and fall of nations, and everything in between. God is sovereign absolutely. There is nothing that does not fall within his providential care: principalities, powers, life, death, and even your own will.
God is always first. The first few words of Genesis are: “In the beginning, God…” The first few words of the Gospel of John, unpacking these first few words of Genesis are: “In the beginning was the Word.”
“And the Word was made flesh.” This man, Jesus, is God. St. John says in his first letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands…” There are some men and women who got to see the face of Jesus with their own eyes. They got to touch him with their hands. There is something special about touching a living person. It’s not like touching a piece of wood. It’s not like petting a dog, who can sense and respond to you. It’s something more. When you see someone, when you touch someone, you are touching a person, not just a body. To touch the person is to touch an everlasting thing: it is to touch someone who can love and know you.
This is what is included when we profess that Jesus Christ is one person in two natures: it means that when you touch his body, you touch the person of God. When you touch Jesus you don’t touch a human person, you touch a divine person, the very person of the Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, eternally begotten of the Father, the God who holds all things in existence at this very moment.
When you see the face of Jesus, you see the face of the person – the divine person. You could serve him a meal when he comes over to dinner. You can serve God food to eat. You can chat with Jesus, and you are chatting with a person – a divine person. You can give him a kiss on the cheek, and you kiss the divine person.
Likewise, if you slap the face of that person, you slap the person. You slap the person of God. If you spit on, beat, and crucify this man, you crucify the person.
God walked on this earth. God ate and drank. God wept and laughed. God died. (SCG IV.34)
A Dominican friar once wrote a letter to another Dominican friar asking for some advice. Knowing that Jesus the man, Jesus the baby, is God, he wanted to know if it was okay to say that the little hands of the baby Jesus created the stars. His brother Dominican, who happened to be Thomas Aquinas, answered his letter, saying that although you can definitely say that this little baby, who has cute little hands, created the stars, it might be stretching it to imply that he created the stars with his cute little hands. So it is just better to say that this cute little baby, who has cute little hands, is the very one who created the stars. (Aquinas, Letter to Brother Gerard of Besançon)
Jesus Christ is God. He acts in all things as God. And as God, he is always first. When someone approaches him, Jesus does not simply react, he acts first. He puts it in the heart of the one to approach him in the first place; he puts it in the heart to ask him; he moves them and gives them courage to approach and to ask. And when they have asked, he tests their faith. He pushes back on the request so that the person can grow, and with more courage, with more faith, ask again. Jesus always acts first to draw us to himself, and when we respond, he tests us so that we will draw even closer than we thought was possible in the first place.
This dynamic is exactly how God acted with his own Mother. Before she even existed he cleansed her. And then, when this sinless virgin was as close as a daughter of Eve had ever come to God, he drew her closer by asking her to believe that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. She said yes, and she was instantly raised from being the closest that a daughter of Eve had ever come to God, to being more than anyone dared imagine. She was drawn up from being the most precious daughter of God, to being the Mother of God.
1.2. Mary is the Mother of God
Mary is the Mother of God. Mary formed him in her womb, he looked like her. His DNA was from her. He spoke with her more than he spoke to anyone else. She taught him how to speak. She taught the Word how to speak. His accent was her accent.
But God is always first, and from the beginning she was made to look and act so that he would look and act like her, in his face, his actions, his manner of speaking. God had a blueprint for the human nature of his Son, Jesus, and to bring this blueprint to completion, he formed Mary, so that Mary would form Jesus to be exactly as God the Father wished.
In some wonderful way, Mary is both after God, and before. She is clearly after God, because God is always first. And yet a mother comes before a son, and a son is subject to a mother. The Gospel says, “He went down, and was subject to them.” (Luke 2:51)
Mary is not just the human person who formed the body of the man Jesus in her womb. She was not simply a kind of garden in which Jesus was grown. No doubt, she was also that, but not only that. Mary is not simply the mother of the human nature of Jesus. Mothers are mothers of persons, and the person of Jesus is the person of the Word. So Mary is the Mother of the second person of the Blessed Trinity: Mary is the Mother of God. (ST III.35.4)
To be a mother is to form a person in a nature. And Mary formed the person of the Word in his human nature. She formed his body in her own body; she formed his habits, mind, and speech when she lived with him and taught him. Mary was given a certain priority over Jesus, so much so, that Jesus let Mary pick the time of his public ministry, at the wedding feast of Cana. She said: “They have no wine.” And as is typical with Jesus, he pushed back on her request, to challenge her faith, to draw her closer. She responded with the best response: without any doubts or hesitation, she just said, “Do whatever he tells you.” And she went from being the Mother of God, to being the Mother of the evangelization, “and his disciples believed in him from that moment.”
At the foot of the cross, Jesus once again challenged his mother. A friend once told me that when you become a parent, you not only open yourself up to life, but also to death, and to everything between life and death. With her fiat, her yes, Mary opened herself up to the life and death of Jesus. At the foot of the cross, she said yes once again, and Jesus gave his mother to us, and she became the Mother of the Church.
So now we have had a glimpse of what is means to be God, what it means that Jesus is God, and what it means that Mary is the Mother of God.
It is time to see what Mary meant when she said, “I am the Queen of Heaven.”
1.3. Mary is the Queen of Heaven
Mary is the Mother of God. And when your son is God the King, you are the Queen mother.
How is Jesus King? Jesus is absolutely sovereign, he is absolute king. He is absolutely first. He holds the angels in being, this very moment. He did not create the universe like a clock-maker, letting it run on its own until it needs a little oil. He holds the universe in being at every moment. Right now, every atom, every human heart, every moment, he is intimately united to and holding everything in existence. Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ is King.
And Mary is the mother of this King. Mary is the Queen. And if he is King of every moment because he causes every moment, then she is Queen of every moment because her son causes every moment. If he is King of the Angels because he causes the angels, then she is Queen of the Angels because her son causes the angels. She is Queen of St. Michael, who says: Who is Like God? She is Queen of your guardian angel. She is Queen of the heavens and the earth and all the forces of nature. And she is Queen of your heart, whether you acknowledge it or not, because her Son holds your heart in being at this very moment.
And this is exciting because it means that we really can give ourselves to the Queen of Heaven and she really can take care of us at the deepest level. Her own power is magnified by the power of her son. And the power of her son is complete and absolute. Jesus Christ is King in a complete and absolute way. He is king of the very center of your heart, and has priority over even your own decisions. Mary is therefore Queen of even the very center of your heart, and can take care of you with the kind of priority that a mother has over a newborn infant. For an infant, the mother makes all the decisions.
But that is just one aspect of Mary’s Queenship, because that is just one aspect of Christ’s Kingship. There is another aspect of Christ’s Kingship. To be a king means to have a kingdom. The kingdom of God is the whole universe – every created thing. God is absolutely sovereign. In the Gospels, Jesus gives us another aspect of what his kingdom is, and how he reigns. What is the kingdom of God? Jesus is king in a particular way. In the universe, being first means being the first giver. He is the only one who gives without receiving. He is the only one who really, completely, and truly gives. The rest of us receive, and then give. He is the only one who has everything to give in the first place, and never needs to receive because he never lacks anything. His kingdom, therefore, looks like a kingdom of self-giving. If you look for the crown of this king in the gospels, you will find it in one place, in the center of the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary: in the crowning with thorns.
His kingdom is not of this world, that is, not of this world in which things are centered on themselves. This world is passing away. This world is dying, because things that are centered on themselves and cut off from the first giver run out of life and die. The kingdom of God, rather, is within you: in the center of your being when you turn from focusing on yourself, to focusing on another. This is his kingdom, and he reigns through self-giving.
Mary is the Queen of Heaven – the Queen of the Kingdom of Heaven. She reigns the same way: through giving herself. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum! Be it done to me according to your word. She gives herself to God. And because we are her children, she gives herself to us. That is how she reigns as Queen in the Kingdom of God.
So there are these two aspects of the kingship of Christ and of the Queenship of Mary, and both of them come from the fact that God is first – the first giver. God is the first cause, the omnipotent God who holds the universe in being at very moment, the source of all life and power. Nothing falls outside his providence, and nothing resists his will. God is first. And from this aspect of the kingship of Christ we can draw the conclusion that our Queen is effective in her prayers. She gets what she asks for, since nothing is outside the power of her Son to grant to her. Our Mother also knows us intimately. Since her Son knows all things, and she would not be uninformed about her children, she must know each one of us intimately – better than we know ourselves. The Queen of Heaven shares in the omnipotence and omniscience of her Son. She herself is not all-powerful and all-knowing, but because Jesus Christ is all-powerful and all-knowing, and because he loves her dearly, she can ask him to know and to do anything. So that is one aspect: God is the King who knows and does all, and his Mother is the Queen who participates in his knowing and doing all.
And this is the second aspect: In the fullness of time God sent his Son, so that all might be saved through him. Jesus revealed to us the inner life of God – the self-giving nature of God. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of pouring oneself out in love for another. This is the way that the kingship of God and the Queenship of Mary are exercised: through giving themselves – giving themselves to us!
2. Who prays for the conversion of sinners
The Lady said: “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.”
Why did she say “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners”? Because that is what the Queen of Heaven does. To be the Queen in this Kingdom of Heaven means to pour yourself out for your children. But why does she pour herself out specifically for the conversion of sinners? Why not pour herself out for the rest of us, by giving us lots of money and fancy food? One reason is that the primary job of parents is not simply to field requests for dinner. The primary job of parents is to take care of their children. And if the children are sinners, then a mother prays for them.
Who are sinners, and what does it mean to pray for their conversion? Sinners, believe it or not, are people who sin. What is sin? We can start with the ten commandments. Stealing, murder, adultery – all sins. So the sinners would be the thieves, the murderers, and the adulterers. Those who break the last seven commandments are sinners.
However, the worst sins are those committed against the first three commandments. And the worst sin is against the first commandment. The worst sin, in fact, is so deeply rooted in the center of the human heart that most of us Americans think of it as a virtue. We don’t worship stone idols, some of us worship money and fame, but all of us, because of the Fall, have a tendency to worship ourselves. That sin is pride. Pride is holding in reserve, somehow, somewhere, the prerogative of being first. But the one who is first is God: God is first, always, and everywhere. But we want to hold something in reserve – that little Pelagian inside each of us – wants to say that we are absolutely first at least in the realm of our own actions.
We want to say that we are sitting here today, at the feet of the Blessed Virgin, celebrating her feast day, because we did something. We, at least, answered her call. We want to say that at the crucial moment, our holiness is our own doing. And this is the worst sin – the very sin of Adam and Eve. This is the pride of the devil, the pride of our first parents, taking for ourselves the final choice in the matter of our own salvation. We are in charge! At the crucial moment, we decided to accept the grace of God!
All those other people out there, the ones who don’t go to church, the ones who drink and swear and sleep around – those are the sinners. We in here are the holy ones. Pray for them, dear Mother, those sinners out there who need our help! And from this little thought experiment we can see who the real sinners are. People who know they need help will ask for a doctor. People who do not know they need help are in greater danger of death, since they will not ask for help.
We don’t need your help, Mother, only those other people do. We have fallen and gotten up, and we are just fine now. Except… we are the Pharisees who stand at the front of the church praying for the sinners out in the world. Do not be deceived: The moment I think that I may not be the worst of all sinners, is the moment I raise my head in pride, thinking that I don’t need as much help as everyone else. That is the moment I am in the greatest danger.
So who does the Queen of Heaven pray for? For sinners. And who are the sinners?
Thank God we are sinners: otherwise she wouldn’t be praying for us! Confess and acknowledge that you are a sinner, so that she will pray for you. What does it mean that she prays for the conversion of sinners? What is the conversion of a sinner?
If the root sin is the love of self over the love of God, if the root sin is the pride that says I am first in my own little arena, if the root sin is deep selfishness, then the conversion of that sinner means turning his love and his gaze from himself, to God. We need to stop looking at ourselves, at our own holiness, and look at God, at his holiness. We need to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, and this is how our heavenly Father is perfect: he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. He gives to all, even to those who do not ask for or acknowledge his gifts.
We must be other-focused, not self-focused. This is what Our Mother prays for: for the turning of our hearts from ourselves, to others. Love God, love your neighbor. Turn your heart to God, turn your heart to your neighbor. Make your life about God, about others, not about yourself. This process of turning our hearts toward others is something we have to work on until the day we die. The Queen of Heaven does not simply pray for each of us once, and then stop. Her prayers for us are continuous, because our conversion must be continuous. We need to turn again and again away from ourselves and toward others. We need her prays continually in order to make many small victories in our daily lives.
Mary, help us turn away from ourselves and toward others. Pray for our conversion away from ourselves and toward your Son!
Mary prays for us, and her prayers are effective. Our Queen knows us intimately, and being the Queen, she has the power and knowledge of her son at her disposal. So she talks to her Son, and is effective in obtaining from Him what she asks for – for our conversion.
And she wishes us to do the same.
3. I wish you to do the same
Since our conversion is our turning away from ourselves and toward others, our Queen asks us to pray for the conversion of sinners precisely so that we ourselves will be converted.
The sinner you pray for may be yourself.
When we pray for someone else, we have turned our attention from ourselves to someone else. When we pray for someone else, we are converted, turned, from thinking about ourselves, to thinking about others.
This is brilliant! The Kingdom of Heaven is the kingdom in which each person is for the sake of another person. “See how they love one another,” St. Paul wanted people to be able to say about us. Here we are, we want to be holy, we want to be perfect, and our Queen orders the best remedy possible for us and for the world: you, who want to be holy, you, pray for the person next to you. Turn your heart from yourself to your neighbor.
If we follow her command, her prayer to her son for our conversion is answered. In asking us to take care of the person next to us, she is by that request taking care of us first. The moment you turn your heart away from yourself and to your family, to your spouse, to your children, in that moment, the Queen’s prayer to her son has been answered.
“I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.”
I am the Queen of Heaven – my son is God, his kingdom is of love and mercy;
I pray for the conversion of sinners – I pour myself out for my children;
and I wish you to do the same – to share in the kingdom of my son, to share in his royalty by pouring yourself out: pray for the conversion of sinners.
Pray for the conversion of sinners. Pray for the person next to you, pray for every person you meet. Pray for your family. And as you pray, know that you are praying because she is the Queen. In a way that shares in God’s own priority, the Queen of Heaven is before you. Just when you think that you have come to her to ask for her help, realize that it is she who obtained for you the very gift to think about talking to her. God is always first, and his Queen comes right after. She says, “I wish you to do the same.” She wishes us to not only be healed of our own deepest sin, but to be like her. She wants to raise us up to share in her royalty! If the Queen is your mother, you are a prince or princess in this kingdom.
So be bold! If you are a free child of God in his house, be bold and ask for everything. Never stop asking for everything for everyone. Lord, give us more faith to be bold enough – to be as bold as we ought to be – knowing fully who Jesus and Mary are and how they love us! Give us enough faith to understand how you love us, how you long for us to turn away from ourselves and to ask the Queen for everything for everyone around us at every moment!
Adele asked, “But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?”
Mary replied, “Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”
Queen of Heaven, Mother of our God, Our Lady of Good Help – pray for us!