The summer months provide a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with Jesus and Mary, and one such way to honor the Blessed Mother took place Monday, Aug. 15 at SS. Simon and Jude Parish in West Chester through a “Living with a Marian Heart” retreat.

It included Mass, a presentation, small group discussions and devotions, all on the feast of the Assumption of Mary on that day.

“We wanted to give honor to Our Lady, encourage the faith of the people and restore the integrity of the unborn,” said Father Michael Gerlach, pastor of SS. Simon and Jude. “Life is beautiful from conception to natural death.”

Parishioners and residents of the surrounding Chester County community comprised the approximately 150 attendees. Because the holy day fell on a Monday this year, the obligation to attend Mass was lifted but it was still a day to honor Mary.

“People are seeking the Lord’s mercy and want to be enriched,” Father Gerlach said. “When we gather together, we enrich one another.”

The day started with Mass at 9 a.m., a suitable way to begin by praying together in word and song. Augustinian Father Robert J. Murray, assistant professor of education and counseling at Villanova University, presided over the liturgy with Father Gerlach concelebrating. After the assembly sang the gathering hymn “Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above,” Father Murray reminded the congregation of Mary responding “yes” to the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of Jesus and how that answer changed the world and all of our lives.

“Mary contains the presence of God,” said Father Murray. “It begins with you and me saying yes.”

Father Murray gave an inspiring homily focusing on Christians’ call to unite heaven and earth through discipleship.

“Mary calls you and me to reflect on and follow her discipleship,” he said. “Heaven is united with earth through her. As we gather to celebrate her uniting heaven and earth, how do you and I share Mary’s heart? That story continues in our discipleship.”

In concluding his homily, Father Murray reminded the faithful that it is the Word — Jesus — that became flesh.

Following Mass it was on to the presentation given by Sister Sheila Galligan, I.H.M., professor of theology at Immaculata University, who talked about the virtue of patience, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

“We should be more known as people of joy and peace,” said Sister Sheila. “Patience is about endurance. Mary is modeling with patience. Whenever we spend time with Mary, joy is present.”

Sister Sheila referred to Scripture in Exodus 34:6 which says that the Lord is “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Patience refers to forbearance in suffering and the willingness to bear wrongs patiently, she said in her reflection on the passage.

“Patience is intimately related to forgiveness because we have to suffer,” said Sister Sheila. “Mary is ready to forgive. We are here to honor Mary on our patient pilgrimage to heaven.”

In her talk, Sister Sheila also explained the term, “a Marian heart.” Although admiration and veneration are important dimensions of Marian devotion, another dimension is identification with Mary, also known as imitation of Mary.

Therefore, Christians may reflect on Mary by saying, “Here is a life and faith pattern which I can call my own,” Sister Sheila said. This is how one may manifest a “Marian heart.”

“A Marian heart is a Christ-like heart,” said Sister Sheila.

After the talk, those in attendance broke into individual groups where they shared how they spend time with the Blessed Virgin in their everyday lives.

People discussed the many different prayers that can be said to honor Mary including the Hail Mary, the mysteries of the rosary, the Magnificat, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Memorare among others.

Some people prefer praying the rosary with others in communal prayer.

“I look at the rosary as a public prayer,” said Fran Hay of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in West Chester. “It is hard to say it when I am alone.”

Others prefer to pray the rosary privately in adoration as that makes it easier to spend time with God alone.

“I have a hard time saying it publically,” said Donna Teti of St. Anastasia Parish in Newtown Square. “When I pray it privately, my heart is pouring out.”

Karen Galese, a member of SS. Simon and Jude, feels that when she prays the rosary as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet, it is a time to stop and think of others without distractions.

“The rosary and the divine mercy slow me down,” said Galese. “They make me think of others and God’s mercy.”

After the discussion period the group returned to SS. Simon and Jude Church for a Miraculous Medal devotion. Following a moment of silence, the day ended with benediction before the Blessed Sacrament.

“It was very moving,” said Mariann Baltrusaitis. “You must take the time to bring Mary in to your house. There are different ways to pray to Mary.”