I was ten years old and an older boy I knew, much bigger and stronger than I was, wanted to harm me.

I don’t know why he wanted to harm me, but the boy who was with him grabbed hold of me and began to march me toward him.

As he tried to force me to move toward the other boy I kicked, screamed, and cried. Suddenly I cried out, “Mary, Mary, please help me!”

I kept crying out, “Mary, Mary, please help me!” And as suddenly as he grabbed me, the boy holding me let me go.

The boy who wanted to harm me was angry with his friend, but the boy who had been holding me was visibly shaken and told me to go. Although more shaken than he was, I left as quickly as I could.

The older boy I knew never again tried to harm me, but years later I learned that he would badmouth me to others.

I thought about this incident many times after I had returned to the Church following years of foolish wandering.

Once I returned to the Church, I came to realize that calling on the Holy Mother of God at that moment had kept me from harm.

Years after I had returned to the Church, I wondered why in other moments of crisis I had not asked for the help of the Mother of God, the Mother of Perpetual Help.

I had enough sense at the age of ten to call on Mary when I knew I was in danger. I lost that wisdom as I grew older.

I was born into a Catholic family and raised Catholic. I attended Catholic schools through high school. I was once devout. I read Scripture. I prayed every day. I confessed my sins weekly. I went to Sunday Mass, which I truly loved.

Yet by the end of grade school, I was no longer devout. While I had been taught prayers and how to pray, I had stopped praying.

I still possess my child’s missal, which clearly explains the Mass and the Gospel readings for Sundays and feasts throughout the Church year. When I was ten, I received an adult’s daily missal for Christmas, and I used it for a time.

We can blame others and the times we live in for our failures, but ultimately we must blame ourselves. All the prayers I needed to build the foundation for a devout adult life are contained in my adult missal.

The tools to help me maintain a daily prayer life as an adult were close at hand, but I had let them gather dust.

Without prayer I had no defense against the ways of the world, and so I abandoned the path of the Lord’s holiness, made the desires of the world my own, and finally left the Church.

Years before I returned to the Church after I knew that one day I would return, I recalled how I had been saved from danger by calling on the Mother of God for help.

Hoping to reject my sinful ways yet fearful of returning to the Church, I began to pray the Hail Mary and the Lord’s Prayer while hiking alone.

I did not exactly pray a Rosary, but I prayed ten Hail Marys and then one Our Father, over and over, sometimes for nearly all of the three to four-hourar hikes I would take, slowly saying the words and letting them sink in —

Hail Mary, full of grace!
the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Our Father,
Who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

When I began to pray these prayers as I hiked, I understood enough about meditation to know that intentionally saying the words over and over would eventually clothe me in armor against the sirens of the world and help restore the grace I had so foolishly lost.

Later, I began to meditate on specific words of these prayers, turning over in my mind phrases such as “full of grace,” “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” “pray for us sinners,” “Thy will be done,” “lead us not into temptation,” and “deliver us from evil.”

And even later, once I had moved from the Roman Catholic to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, I found words that allow me to thank the Mother of God for her intercession, words I can meditate on each Wednesday and Friday as part of my prayer:

O PURE ONE, we have acquired Your protection and have been kept from harm through Your intercession, and surrounded at all times with the grace of Your Son’s Cross. Wherefore, we all exalt You with great devotion!” (Publican’s Prayer Book)

The fruits of these meditations I keep close at hand.