The Call of Imitation
I am a youth and campus minister for a Catholic Church and school, so celebrating Mary has been a beautiful occasion to share with my students. One of the things we’ve been doing particular to this month is rotating various images of Mary. Some are of apparitions, some are the names of which we call upon her. It’s so fun to see the little ones get excited every time I come into the classroom to explain just a tiny bit about the picture they get to house for that week. We’ve talked about Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Our Lady Undoer of Knots… the list goes on.
But the very first week of May I walked into a class, I asked them who Mary is, and the immediate response from these children was to scream out, “Our Mother!”
Without hesitation, these little kids knew that above all, Mary is our mom.
This made me pause and really think about the call of Our Lady. And in turn my own call as a follower of Christ, a woman, a youth minister, a friend. A call to spiritual motherhood.
But who am I, how can I say that? I’m not a mom. I’m not a wife. I don’t know all the daily ins and outs of having my own family. And yet, I too am called to be like Mary.
Now, by no means am I as obedient, loving, or sinless as Mary. So how can I be like her?
And the only real answer I can come up with is: To imitate her yes. That fiat.
Because what is spiritual motherhood, but receiving God’s goodness and passing it on to those who need spiritual and emotional nurturing in their lives. Of course, not the same calling as being a physical mother, but a role that is still so essential, yet forgotten, in our culture. Especially as a single woman, it can be easy to treat spiritual motherhood as if it’s not important, like it’s just a back-burner calling, maybe even just a placeholder. But something I’ve learned during my years of ministry is that each moment of my life, though imperfect, is important. Each moment of my life is an opportunity to know Christ deeper than the moment before. And each moment I am called to give of my heart as Mary - from the time she said yes to receiving Jesus, to when her heart was pierced as He took on the sins of the world.
A task that feels utterly impossible, and yet, I am called.
We are called.
No matter where you are… if you’re a mom, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend - you are called to love and be loved as Our Lady.
So, dearest Sisters in Christ, I pray that we can open our hearts to the surrender of Mary, and let her yes be an inspiration of motherhood in our own lives.
Mary, Mother of All, who guides always to the truth of the Living Christ, pray for us.
Image citation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Annunciation_%28Tanner%29#/media/File:Henry_Ossawa_Tanner,_American_(active_France)_-_The_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg. Public domain.
The Passion of Mary
“O thou Mother, fount of Love! Touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord: make me feel as thou has felt; make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ my Lord.” -Stabat Mater
Each station of the cross ends with a stanza of the hymn, Stabat Mater, a Medieval hymn often attributed to the great Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure. Have you ever invited Mary to lead you along the way of the Cross? Have you ever opened your heart to share in her motherly love for her dying son? Have you prayed for all your senses to experience what she felt in that terrible moment she never thought she’d see: the loss of her son whom she knew to be the Savior of the World, God incarnate, who in His innocence had done nothing wrong? All He did was invite each one of us to be with His Father in Heaven (John 14:2).
There is a tradition in the Church that this moment of Mary’s “pain untold” as the hymn says, was Mary’s Passion as well as Christ’s. That she alone of any present that day was completely open to the pain Jesus experienced on the Cross. That only His Mother was perfectly one with Him in His agony, just as she had been one with Him all along.
In fact, tradition says that Mary experienced no pain at the birth of Jesus, but experienced all the pain of birth at His death. The blood and water that gush forth from Christ’s side on the Cross, symbolic of His outpouring of mercy for us, are the blood and water that gush forth from a Mother as she brings new life into the world. Mary alone is completely one with her son in this tender, motherly moment of new birth. Years before she had given her fiat to bear the Lord into the world; this is Christ’s own self-sacrifice that bears us all into eternal life with His Father in Heaven.
It wasn’t until I stood with Mary at the foot of the Cross in this moment of terrible love and agony that I welcomed new life into my fraught relationship with my mother. Praying through the Way of the Cross with Mary, who is all of our Mother, allowed my heart to forgive and surrender the pain of our relationship. Only then could I enter into the Easter of a new relationship with my mother.
If you’ve experienced pain in your relationship with your mother or as a mother, Mary, Mother of us all, understands your grief. She weeps with you. She beholds you as the beloved disciple of her Son. He has given her to you as your adoptive Mother: “‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). Do not be afraid to follow Jesus’ command and take her into your heart at the foot of your own Cross. Then let her hold you along the way towards the joy, forgiveness, and peace of the Resurrection.
Image citation:https://archbishopetienne.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Our-Lady-of-Sorrows.jpg. Public domain.
Honoring Our Mothers
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Maybe you get her a card and some flowers (or chocolate if she’s got a sweet tooth) and spend the day with her if you can. Maybe you visit her grave to spend a few moments remembering her and offering a prayer for her soul. Maybe you keep yourself distracted, trying not to dwell on the ways she never quite filled the role of mother the way you most needed.
We all have different stories and that’s nothing to be dismissed. But the truth is, we have all had multiple mothers in our lives; biological, adoptive, spiritual, and even saintly and they have shown us that there is good to be found in the vocation of motherhood. Maybe we don’t always recognize these women in our lives if they don’t bear the official title of “mother” or perhaps we’ve gotten comfortable holding a surface level view of how they mother us. Today, I’m going to challenge you to honor your mother(s) in a new way- to add some freshness, depth, and joy to the love you desire to return to them!
Below are 4 different ways we can honor our mothers- regardless of whether they are alive, deceased, spiritual, or a Saint.
Let me expand a little on why I find these suggestions to be meaningful ways to honor our mothers...
However you spend your Mother’s Day, whatever your relationships with mothers look like, take to heart these words of St. John Paul II on the importance of honoring mothers: “Motherhood is a woman’s vocation. It is an eternal vocation, and it is also a contemporary vocation… We must do everything in order that woman may merit love and veneration. We must do everything in order that children, the family and society may see in her that dignity that Christ saw.”
And in the words of Pope Francis, “A society without mothers would be a dehumanized society, for mothers are always, even in the worst moments, witnesses of tenderness, dedication and moral strength….Dearest mothers, thank you, thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world.”
Let us honor and thank all of our mother figures this Mother’s Day with a renewed love and awe for their gifts to us and to the world!
Image citation: https://www.wikiart.org/en/angelica-kauffman/virgin-mary-with-the-christ-child-and-st-john-the-baptist. Public domain.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I discovered shortly after the birth of my firstborn that a mom needs a village too. In college, I was advised to find a mentor teacher, as I studied to become a teacher. Later, when I was discerning my vocation, I was advised to find a spiritual director. Therefore, it makes sense to me that I need mentors and role models, to help me on the path of motherhood. Fortunately, I found three wonderful role models. I invite you to follow them along with me. They have lessons to teach us and they make good company.
St Monica, the Persevering and Patient Mom: Every other week, a few of my friends and I gather and we pray for our children. One of the prayers we chose for our meetings is dedicated to St Monica. St Monica prayed and fasted for years for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine. I can imagine her tears throughout those years leading to St Augustine's conversion. I am also convinced she was at times tempted to feel despair and abandonment. Thankfully she persevered. Her faith bore fruits. And thanks to her perseverance, now we have an amazing Doctor of the Church and an awesome Saint in St Augustine. St Monica reminds us to pray for our children. She reminds us to be patient. She reminds us to persevere. She reminds us to have hope.
St Gianna Beretta Molla, the Devoted Mom: I cannot remember the name of the Priest nor where I heard this homily, but the following words stayed with me: "I put myself third." St Gianna definitely put herself third. She put God and her family ahead of herself. When doctors had to decide between saving her life and the life of her baby, she insisted that her baby be saved. St Gianna shows us how to love with a sacrificial love. She demonstrates what it means to be a devoted mom; so dedicated to her child that she was willing to put her baby's life ahead of her own. We are often called to put our family, our children, and others ahead of us.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Mother: Last but not least, we have our Blessed Mother. Our Lady is the ultimate role model for moms. First of all, our Lady knew how to be an asset to Her village. For instance, She visited St Elizabeth, knowing that Her cousin needed support. In addition, our Lady knew how to observe and she pondered in Her Heart all the events that She and our Lord experienced. The biggest lesson I have learned from our Lady is that She did not get in the way of the Cross. Our Lady did not dissuade our Lord from accomplishing His mission. Instead, She was by His side from birth to death. Many times I am tempted to think I shield my children from suffering. I am learning that not only can't I prevent suffering from entering the lives of my children, but I am also learning that if I step between my children and their Cross, I am most likely preventing them from achieving their mission. Just like our Lady, I will pray, I will ponder/meditate and I will do my best, I will get out of their way and then say to God "Thy Will be done."
Seven years ago, I became a mom and my life forever changed. I have been striving to be a good mom and trying my best to meet my children's needs. Although it has been 7 years, I still ask myself this pertinent question: Am I a Good Mom? Someday I hope my children will answer yes to that question. In the meantime, I am grateful for the role models we have and for my village. Above all, I thank God for the grace to keep striving.
About the Author
Image citation: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica.jpg. Public domain.
The Glory of the Upper Room
The third glorious mystery of the Rosary, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, has become one of my favorites over the last three years. Meditating on this time of deep, focused prayer has revealed a power that is available to us but that many of us, to an extent, dismiss. Instead, we, just like the disciples, are prone to turn to ourselves- our abilities, our efforts, essentially our will power. But what we see happen in this room is the disciples offering a complete openness to the Holy Spirit, which invites the Holy Spirit to provide them with even greater access to His gifts and His power. What’s the result?
The disciples are changed.
This mystery is an invitation to us as well. An invitation to be changed and to create change.
At the beginning of this year, I followed a prompting of the Holy Spirit to start a small prayer group at my apartment. I named them Upper Room Meetings. The idea: gather in my apartment twice a month, darken the room and light one beeswax candle in the center, then let the Holy Spirit lead the next hour of prayer. While I felt very vulnerable creating this space, “giving up control” by letting the Holy Spirit lead, and having no idea what it would look like or how people would react, I took the chance anyway. What has the result been? Peace. Silence. A safe place to share. A place to listen to others’ stories. A freedom from expectations. A time to intercede for each other and those not present.
Even amidst our busy schedules and other faith-based commitments, people keep coming back. There’s something about literally entering into the mystery of the descent of the Holy Spirit that draws you in.
But as we all know, the disciples didn’t stay in the Upper Room either. After receiving His power in greater fullness, they left and preached truth, prayed with others, and followed wherever the Spirit led them. So we too are called to do that.
I was blessed recently with an opportunity to live this out. I was asked to run a Confirmation retreat for high school students. I themed it all around the Holy Spirit and had one requirement that I must include in the short retreat: one on one prayer with the students. Thanks to the help of two of my best friends, who willingly joined in running the retreat, we were able to pull this off. The last half hour or so of the day was spent up in the Church with students spread out having their own space to pray. Then the three of us split up and went around one by one to individual students, asked for any intentions they had, and then prayed over them by the power of the Holy Spirit.
What was the response? They said they especially appreciated praying with the help of someone. They found the time in the Church to be motivating for their faith. They learned how meaningful and important it is to connect with the Holy Spirit. Some were left in tears, others with smiles, and others with a better understanding of how to pray for themselves and others.
Have you ever been prayed over? If you have, then chances are you know the impact it can leave. You truly feel seen, heard, and loved. That was my goal with each student I prayed over. That they may feel seen, heard, and loved by not only me but particularly by the Holy Spirit. He is the one who left with them that day and who will be with them every day of their lives. He is the one whose gifts will be strengthened in them come Confirmation day. And He is the one who will change them just like He changed the disciples in the Upper Room all those years ago.
How has He changed you? How does He want to work more deeply through you? Perhaps it’s more confidence, peace, surrender, clarity, holy boldness, joy- the list goes on and on because the Holy Spirit’s relationship with each of us is unique from person to person and from season to season.
The glory of God isn’t just waiting for us in the next life. It is offered to us right here and right now. All you have to do is allow your heart to become the Upper Room- open to and trusting however His “strong driving wind” blows! (Acts 2:2)
Image citation:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El_Greco_006.jpg , public domain.
When We Find the Empty Tomb
It’s strange to think of a world without the Risen Jesus.
After all, JPII says, “We are an Easter People”, so we were created to know and live in the light of the Resurrection. But what does that really mean?
I can sometimes live as if the Risen Lord doesn’t exist. Like His body still rests in the tomb, like His promises have not yet been fulfilled, and at times I can even live as if He has no intention of keeping those promises. Honestly, I’ve written, prayed, and discussed this many times before, and I still struggle to live in the reality of our Living God.
But then I remember Mary Magdelene.
What is Mercy?
Mercy is a tired mother getting up for the third time to tend to her crying infant, without complaint. Mercy is a priestly shepherd who sits at the bedside of the dying to anoint and give absolution as soon as he is called. Mercy is a friend who listens with a loving ear when all he really wants to do is shout from the rooftops in frustration. Mercy is a teacher who builds up a student through patience, kindness and attention to help him fully understand the answer, even though it has already been explained a hundred times. Mercy is the innocent Jesus, hanging from the Cross of our sins… Who never cries out in accusation to the ones - you and me - who put Him there.