The Word Among Us

Easter 2012 Issue

Getting to Know My Mother

Mary's work is sometimes hidden, but she's no absentee parent.

Getting to Know My Mother: Mary's work is sometimes hidden, but she's no absentee parent.

A loving mother nurtures and cares for her children in countless ways, many of them hidden and unnoticed. And sometimes, it’s not until those children reach maturity that they begin to appreciate her and understand what she has done for them. In my relationship with Mary, I was one of those late bloomers.

I grew up in a Catholic family and attended a Catholic grade school, but for much of my life, I didn’t know Jesus’ mother very well. Of course, I learned about her and was taught to esteem her and pray to her. My best friend and I used to hold our own private May crownings—even when it wasn’t May! We would make a cir­cle of flowers and place it on a small statue of Mary. Then, after process­ing through the house, we reverently placed the statue on an altar we had built in my friend’s bedroom closet.

By the time I was ten or eleven, though, any confidence I felt in praying to Mary had given way to an unhealthy fear of the Lord. Thinking about all the things I did wrong, I became scared of God and worried that I might not get into heaven. I did not understand who Jesus was, except from Christmas carols, and the Holy Ghost was just a name recited in prayers.

In my teen years, Vatican II was taking place, but I do not remember much discussion about it or what it meant for me personally. My focus was school, dating, and being with friends. My spiritual life consisted of going to Mass and Confession, as I had been instructed. I was content with that.

Are You Listening? When I was twenty, I married my high school sweetheart. We came from very different backgrounds—I from a close-knit family, and he from a loosely connected, bickering one. His parents, divorced since he was very young, lived far apart and paid him little attention. There were danger signals, but I was head over heels in love. This man was every­thing to me. He loved me, too, especially since I gave him the attention and time he did not get growing up.

After I became pregnant, though, I saw a different side of my husband: He was jealous. He couldn’t share me—not even with our child. He needed constant attention. When he didn’t get it, he became verbally abusive. Over the next few years, our marriage slowly fell apart.

I believe my husband became unfaithful long before I was aware of it. When I finally realized there was another woman, I was devas­tated. Despite our difficulties, I had depended on his strength and his love—and I loved him still! Now what would I do?

I needed help. But with my fam­ily a thousand miles away, I turned to the mother I had prayed to as a girl. Using the rosary, which was the only kind of prayer I really knew, I begged Mary to help me. I prayed two or three rosaries a day, but the more I pleaded, the more my marriage fell apart. It seemed that Mary was not listening.

Mad at Mary. Then one day, my daughter’s first grade teacher called, concerned because my little girl was crying every day in class. I was shocked. At home, I was the one who was upset and cried all the time. My daughter always responded so lov­ingly that I had no idea her little heart was breaking, too.

Something changed in me at that point. I stopped crying. I put aside my grief and started becoming a strong mother. I also stopped praying to Mary. A cold spot filled the place in my heart where she had been. I could not forgive her for not hearing my cries and putting my marriage back together.

I did consult our parish priest, who told me to accept that the marriage was over and to move on. So I did. I was a changed person. I got a job, saved money, and moved near my family to begin a new life. I became more involved at church and volun­teered to teach CCD. Through this, I began to understand that God the Father was not the scary figure I had thought. In fact, he loved me and was helping me to start over! But I was still angry at Mary.

Over the next decade, I thrived. My first marriage was annulled, and I remarried. I went back to school, became more active at church, vol­unteered with the Girl Scouts, and advanced in my job. My creative gifts blossomed, and I began painting and drawing. But despite this personal and professional growth, I still had a spiritual emptiness that I did not understand. And that old cold spot for Mary still remained.

My Spirit Rejoices! God knew my spiritual longings, and he guided me to the charismatic prayer group that formed in my parish in 1990. It was here that I began to understand who Jesus really is and to acknowledge him as my Lord and Savior. I learned how the Holy Spirit works in our lives and was baptized in the Spirit. In the pro­cess, I let go of all the pain from my first marriage and learned how blessed it is to forgive.

I had changed again! And this time, I felt truly alive—on fire for the Lord!

Something else happened as I met Jesus: My anger toward his mother vanished. I found Mary again and felt her especially close, especially as I prayed her Magnificat. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my sav­ior” (Luke 1:46-47)—Mary’s words described the stirrings I was feeling. Even today, they renew my spirit and evoke my wonder at all that God has done for me.

With greater maturity, I realized, too, that Mary had not abandoned me in my time of need. She had been interceding for me in that background way that mothers sometimes have—as at Cana, when she entrusted the new­lyweds’ need to Jesus by telling the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Mary, knowing what I needed, had helped me find my way out of the darkness of a bad marriage into the light of her Son.

Today, Mary is my role model, my inspiration on how to live as a woman of faith. I marvel as I consider her steadfast trust and openness to God in the face of constant challenges and testing. Would Joseph reject her? Where could she safely have her baby? What did it mean that her heart would be pierced (Luke 2:35)? What about losing Jesus in Jerusalem? What about seeing him threatened after he began his earthly ministry? And Calvary—what agony to see her Son crucified!

In her sorrows, as in her joys, even when she could not see the light, Mary never wavered from the stance she declared at the Annunciation: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

I want to be like this woman of faith, my mother. How blessed I am to have discovered her with me—loving, guiding, interceding, and magnifying the Lord for all he has done and will do for his people!

The author has asked to remain anonymous.

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