>> Thursday, March 05, 2009
Some words for women to ponder this week...
Can a woman like me aspire to emulate such an amazing woman—the Virgin Mother of God, the first disciple, the matriarch of the Holy Family, and the Mother of the Church? Recalling instances in Mary’s life, we call to mind her gentleness, humility, holiness, perseverance, selflessness, and unwavering faith.
I ask myself this because I know I will never accomplish what our Blessed Mother has, or even come close to her holiness. Yet all women are called to holiness—whether in the sublime role of raising children, as a wife, as a single woman, or as a woman religious. And Mary demonstrates attributes and virtues that all women can emulate, whatever their vocation.
Mary’s deep faith was the foundation of her great holiness. Even though Mary was the Mother of God, we should remember that Mary was human like us and prayed to be unwavering in her faith, just as we also are called to do. Mary’s faith is the same gift available to us. We can ask Mary to be a mother to us and guide us closer to her Son, Jesus.
Wanting to imitate Mary’s virtues, we may try to figure out what made her tick. Images from our Catholic tradition and Scripture may come to mind. We may be reminded of Mary as a faithful Jewish girl praying with her people in Palestine for the coming of the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s promises. Mary was familiar with Isaiah’s words that a virgin would conceive and bear a child called Immanuel—“God with us”—but never imagined that she would be that virgin.
At times, we find ourselves in situations requiring faith in God, but our humanness causes us to feel inadequate or to fear that we are not faithful enough. When I hemorrhaged at 10 weeks pregnant with my fifth child, I was required to have faith that God’s holy will would be fulfilled, whatever it would be.
My doctor told me that I was miscarrying and conducted an ultrasound to check on the baby. When the ultrasound revealed a tiny baby with a beating heart, I was ordered to stay on complete bed rest and just wait. The doctor added that he wished the miscarriage would hurry up, saving me from further anguish.
I shuddered at his words and chose to hope instead. I rested and waited and never stopped praying. My four children bustled around me as I did my best to stay still and have faith in whatever it was that God had planned for us. I knew Bl. Teresa of Calcutta at the time, and she instructed me to call upon the Blessed Mother and to wear a Miraculous Medal that she had given me. She reminded me to trust in Our Lord, stay close to Mary, and pray, “Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a mother to me now.”
Our prayers were heard, and after a long nine months Mary-Catherine was born! In retrospect, I can understand why Our Lord may have given me another reason to pause during that pregnancy: While I was kept still, I was inspired to write about motherhood. These reflections have since been published. As a busy mother with four children and another on the way, I might never have had a spare moment to sit down to write! Our Lord knew what He was doing.
We know that when the angel Gabriel visited Mary with the announcement that she would become Jesus’ mother (Lk. 1:26–39), the humble teenager found it difficult to believe that it was she, a simple girl, who was chosen by God. Taking the blessing to heart, Mary responded with her courageous “yes” to God.
Shortly afterward, her generous heart sent her on a journey into the hill country, pregnant and “in haste,” to help her cousin Elizabeth, who was much older and also expecting a child (Lk. 1:39). Mary surely prayed and reflected throughout her journey, while the blessedness of Jesus dwelled within her. After Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb upon Mary’s arrival, the two women embraced. Elizabeth praised Mary for her great faith, and Mary humbly responded with the words of the Magnificat, glorifying God’s holiness, justice, and mercy, and foretelling that all generations would call her blessed because of the great things the Lord had done in her (Lk. 1:46–55).
When we question our own ability to courageously answer God with our “yes” when He bids us to follow Him, we must remember that, as women, we are also blessed with generous and courageous hearts like Mary’s. Graces are available to us to be courageous and to respond with love in all situations within our vocations. Throughout our daily lives, we are presented with many opportunities to put our own needs aside and go “in haste” to help—to help our children, our spouses, our parents, our neighbors, our coworkers, or whomever God has put into our lives.
Mary was led on a donkey by her beloved husband, Joseph, in search of a place to give birth and faced only rejection by the innkeepers. Soon afterward, Jesus’ infant cries were comforted at His mother’s breast in a stable. Our King and Savior was born into poverty, resting in a wooden manger of hay—hardly what is expected for a King’s birth! Angels sent simple shepherds to Mary and Joseph to see their holy baby. Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19).
When we women face rejection in one form or another, we can pray for the graces we need to continue on, just as Mary did at the inns and later, when she felt the sting of the rejection of her Son by the very people He helped.
We can imagine Mary throughout the hidden years, teaching Jesus on her knee in the warmth of their humble home. As Jesus grew, Mary surely encouraged her Son to help Joseph in his carpentry. Mary’s faith deepened in the cenacle of prayer that she fostered in the heart of her home.
Mothers, too, live through hidden years, raising their families and trying to remain simple. Especially when children are young, mothers may find themselves housebound with the care of the family, children’s illness, or infants too small to go out. Mothers can make their home a “domestic Church,” as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have spoken of, by praying within the home, teaching the children, and thanking God for the blessedness of their families and the opportunities to care for them.
At the start of Jesus’ public ministry, sympathetic that a bride and groom were without wine, Jesus’ mother told Him, “They have no wine.” While Jesus appeared reluctant to perform His first miracle, saying that His hour had not yet come, Mary confidently told the wine stewards to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:2–11). Mary’s initiative, intercession, and obedience ultimately nudged on her Son. Thus, the power of a mother’s love brought about Jesus’ first public miracle.
Women, as mothers, have within reach the tremendous power of prayer. A mother has the ability to influence her children for better or for worse. A faithful mother’s prayers will always be heard by God. In their intercessory role, faithful mothers are forever praying for the welfare of their children, both for those living at home and for those who are grown and may have strayed away from the Church. A mother’s prayers can be just as efficacious as those of our Blessed Mother and have the power to work miracles in human hearts.
Women can learn from Mary as one who listened to God and allowed the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide her. She gave herself completely to the will of the Father. We learn from Mary that a mother’s prayer is powerful. When we are asked to endure suffering or pain within our vocation, we can turn our thoughts to Mother Mary, who was no stranger to suffering, and ask her assistance and intercession.
When it is difficult to trust in God, we women can meditate on Mary’s faithful trust in Our Lord, drawing strength from her as we pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit. When those of us who are mothers experience the deep joy within our role, we can feel an affinity with someone who has also experienced this deep joy in mothering Jesus.
Mary’s marvelous “yes” to God changed the entire world for all eternity. May all faithful women also courageously answer Our Lord, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” as they strive to live holy lives and raise their families in a cenacle of prayer fostered in their homes, pondering it all deep within their own hearts and setting an example for all women.
(This article appeared in Lay Witness magazine and is used with permission from the author)
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, mother of five and a Lay Missionary of Charity, is the author of the best-selling book, Catholic Prayer Book for Mothers (OSV, 2005), The Heart of Motherhood: Finding Holiness in the Catholic Home (Crossroad, 2006), and Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena For Expectant Mothers (Crossroad, 2007). All were endorsed by Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and blessed by Pope John Paul II. Her newest books are Catholic Saints Prayer Book (OSV, 2008), Grace Cafe: Serving up Recipes for Faithful Living (Circle Press, 2008), and The Domestic Church: Room by Room: A Mother's Study Guide (Circle Press, 2008) They are available through her website: www.donnacooperoboyle.com. Her work can also be seen in several magazines and Catholic websites.