Mother's Devotion to Mary
I have two good friends whom I talk to nearly every day. One friend lives nearby. We help each other with housework and child care, and we laugh at each other's jokes. We ask each other for advice, and we give the best advice we can.
My other friend is not as easy to reach, but I know that she is always thinking of me and praying for me. She assists me with housework and child care too, and helps me to see the humorous side of yeast and orange juice spilled together in the refrigerator. When I ask her for advice, I know I can have absolute trust in whatever she tells me.
I also call two women Mother. I love them both, and I know they love me. One mother lives in a city not far away. She calls me at least once a week, and we talk about our lives. I help my Mom with her problems, and tell her about mine. Sometimes her judgment isn't very reliable, and she finds it difficult to get along with my husband and children.
The other woman I call Mother doesn't live very far away either. I talk to her often. This mother doesn't have many problems, but I help her as much as I can. She listens to me and helps me with my difficulties. Her judgment is always perfect and she loves my husband and children even better than I do.
This friend and mother are the same person; the Virgin Mary. I've come to know her as many things over the years; Mother of God, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Queen of Heaven, but I love her best as my friend and mother.
She keeps me company on my long days at home with the children, pointing out the humour and beauty of everyday life. She loves me on those discouraged days when I don't love myself. She gives me an example of perfect motherhood, and gently reminds me how quickly the children will grow when they've tracked mud though the house again. Best of all, she always knows when I need special help and will appeal to her Son for me.
By living with Mary, adopting her as a friend and mother, I have learned about her life. I have come to see the similarities between our lives, and understand how her example and prayers can help me. Mary has personal experience with every trial that I may encounter, either in her own life or through communion with every mother in the world throughout history. Our pain is her pain.
A Woman of Her Time
I'm quite sure that Mary thought she was a normal young woman, living with her parents, looking forward to marrying Joseph. She was a good daughter, a pleasant helpful member of her village. Suddenly, her life changed completely. Through what she knew to be a "good" act; belief and obedience to God, what we know of as "bad" things started to happen to her. She became a mother under dubious circumstances, with a completely unbelievable story for an explanation.
The Gospels of both Matthew and Luke state that Mary was "betrothed" to Joseph, a state that is similar but far more serious and binding than an engagement of today. Though Mary and Joseph had not formally completed the process of marriage at the time of the Annunciation, and were not living together, it was possible and permitted in Jewish society of the time for them to have had sexual relations. In a way, this made Mary's situation even more grave. Since Joseph knew that they had not been intimate, his only possible conclusion was that she had been unfaithful to him, and since they were betrothed, that she had committed adultery, a crime punishable by stoning. For more information about Jewish tradition and laws of marriage visit: Judaism 101. A great site for all kinds of questions!
(Still, how would you react if your teenage daughter - even if she were engaged - came to you and said; "Mom, I've been impregnated by the Spirit of God."?)
Travelling to the census, she and Joseph found themselves homeless; Mary had her baby in a shed, without the comfort and support of her extended family. Then they were refugees, fleeing from Herod's soldiers. She must have wondered to herself, "What happened to the life I was going to have? What happened to my plans? Why is God doing this?"
(Remember those bleak winter mornings, when money problems, household chores and sick kids seem a never-ending burden?)
Yet she remained obedient and faithful to God, aware that she was chosen by God; entrusted with God-made-man, the baby Jesus.
Mother Teresa has said that she loves Christ by working with the poor and she loves the poor by seeing Christ in each of them. It's such a simple thing, yet it gives her the strength and the wisdom to do what many others cannot. She does for the world's poor what every mother does for her children; loves them, cares for them and prays for them. Perhaps this is what has earned her the title "Mother".
Every mother can love her children the way Mother Teresa loves the world's poor. We can see Christ in our children and love Him by caring for our children. Mothers are God's way of bringing life to his Creation. He entrusts His children to us, to love and care for them. In this way, each mother is Mary, blessed and entrusted.
As mothers Mary and I have much in common, and I see Christ in my children by putting myself in Mary's shoes, or sandals. She really had Christ in her child. She also had trials and heartbreak, household chores and happy moments like every other mother in the world.
(Just imagine peeking into a bedroom first thing in the morning and seeing the Infant Jesus asleep!)
She rocked her Jesus, cleaned behind his ears and undoubtedly to picked up after him, too. I often wonder, being perfectly human, did Jesus ever bounce off the walls like my wild and normal boys do?
Saint Bernadette at Lourdes, the children of Fatima, and Juan Diego of Guadeloupe all described Our Lady as a beautiful woman, too beautiful to describe, almost too beautiful to look at. Our husbands assure us that we are beautiful, so beautiful that we sometimes leave them breathless. Husbands as the head of the family protect and care for their wives and children, providing shelter and food, keeping away danger and bad influence. In this way, each husband and father is Saint Joseph, and again, each wife and mother is Mary.
We bear our children and care for them, but eventually they grow up and leave home. As soon as they toddle away from the protective circle of our arms, we begin to live with the fear that sickness, accident or foul play may take them away from us. We pray that we might never have to bury a child, but many of us do. Like Mary, we ponder these things in our heart, and suffer as our children carry their crosses.
(How many times did Mary keep herself from speaking out on her Son's behalf? How often did she have to remind herself that while still her child, his life was in the hands of God?)
In so many ways, we are all living Mary's life. It seems to me that if every wife and mother is like Mary, then we are entitled to the same grace and peace of God that Mary called upon. Guided by that grace, we can try to love our children the way Mary loved hers, put aside our ideas of what our life should be and trust God to direct our life according to his will.
A Woman of My Time
This is pretty extreme stuff for a used-to-be-Presbyterian. It's taken a long time to welcome Mary into my life and to accept her as my friend and mother. It's taken a still longer time to realise that my friendship with Mary is vital to my ability to live out my vocation as mother.
It began with a picture. About ten years ago my husband and I found a beautiful picture in a second hand store, a piece of silk tapestry with a picture of a woman holding a child. The colours had faded, it was in a cheap cardboard frame but it was the most extraordinary thing Peter and I had ever seen. There were angels holding tools flying over the woman's head, the child had a halo and the woman a crown, both wore flowing gowns and the infant had one slipper hanging from his foot.
We could tell it was a picture of Mary but, (embarrassing now) we had no idea which of her titles it showed. We hung it in our living room because we thought it was beautiful.
We solved our mystery a few years later when we attended Mass in a nearby rural town. There in a side altar was a large ceramic version of "our" picture with an important difference. Under the picture were the words "Our Lady of Perpetual Help". "How perfect," I thought; "Perpetual Help is what I need right now."
It was a difficult year for our family. I was feeling completely overwhelmed by family life. We had moved to a smaller house, I was reluctantly pregnant with our fourth child (it wasn't the pregnancy I minded, it was the timing), my father was dying, my husband was on the point of losing his job, our eldest son was hyperactive and at five years old still did not sleep through the night, two of our three children were frequent bed-wetters and the dog had just died.
I loved my family, I loved God, but I was beginning to feel like a failure because I couldn't handle so much happening all at once. It was difficult to admit that I could not rely on only myself. I needed help, but I didn't know where or how to look for it.
This reluctance had a lot to do with my early training. I grew up in a tradition which discouraged honouring Mary and the saints as a potential distraction from the interior knowledge of God. My family situation had taught me to make myself personally responsible for the welfare and happiness of those around me, to be in control of every situation.
For a long time just the words "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" were enough. I clung to them and repeated them to myself when things got too difficult. I was reluctant to develop any affection for Mary though. I thought it might be a weakness, an old-fashioned outmoded habit. It contradicted what I thought was my responsibility not to depend on others. As if to confirm this, the Catholic Church was modernising, apparently leaving formal devotion to Mary behind.
A wise compassionate priest showed me the way out of my difficulty when he introduced me to Mary as a perfect friend and perfect mother: He said, "You know, if you're ever worried about approaching Jesus with your prayers, you can always go to His Mother. Her petitions are very powerful, Jesus could never resist his mother." (He also said; "Where is it written in the Bible that Cathy Fournier can't be happy?")
This is what "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" has come to mean to me, that Christ's mother is my mother too. As one of the faithful of the Church, I am part of the mystical body of Christ, and can claim Mary as my mother. The faithful of the Church also participate in the communion of saints, so I can also claim Mary as my patron and friend.
Like an earthly mother or friend, she is a sympathetic listener, and will offer a comforting hug. It takes a careful ear and a peaceful heart to hear her gentle voice, but she is eternally patient, and will repeat her words as many times as is necessary. She always has a loving suggestion, and just as I sometimes intercede for my children when they need a little extra help, she will also intercede for me to her Son.
Our fourth child was born healthy and strong (11 lbs!), my husband found a new and more secure job, we moved to a bigger house, I made peace with my father before he died and I have slowly learned not to carry the world on my shoulders. Mary's place in my heart (she moved into a space that had been waiting for her) has grown a little bigger and a lot deeper. There have been no miracles, no wonderful coincidences, or any direct answers to prayers. Instead there has been a growing understanding that a devotion to Mary is an expression of trust in God, who crowned her Queen of Heaven. Mary will always lead us to her Son, she will always be in communion with us, and she will always love us.
A Woman of All Time
Since we found and identified the picture of "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" I've collected more pictures of Mary and the infant Jesus. There are now prayer cards and pictures all over the house. I've framed some, o just stuck others under the edge of a light switch plate. Not only do they bring her serene presence into every room of our home, they illustrate centuries of devotion to Mary. I find it inspiring: Mary has been Mother to every mother throughout history. I am in communion with history as well as with Mary.
I am aware of Mary's presence in our home all day, she is like someone in the next room. Some days I carry on a continuous mental conversation with Mary. Thanks to her calm presence I can see even the most infuriating household disaster as a normal part of my vocation, rather than something especially designed to drive me crazy.
(Though I will admit the time the boys rolled in fresh wet topsoil then came into the house to slide on the new living room carpet, it took several moments before I trusted myself to speak, and even longer to see anything normal about it.)
Our Lady of Perpetual Help (in a new gold frame) hangs in our dining room and below her is our family altar, with a statue of Mary. I keep fresh or dried flowers beside the statue, and a votive candle in front of the statue ready to light. If I worry about someone, or don't feel my best, or hear something sad on the radio, I light the candle, offer a prayer, and ask Mary to take care of it for me. It is my expression of the Memorare; "never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided."
I know that my friendship with Mary has helped me in many ways. I am more patient, more concerned with loving and raising my children than with cleaning the house, and more relaxed about personalities or unforeseen complications interfering with my plans. I've learned how to ask for help. I've learned the limits of my endurance and now I can relax, knowing that I won't have to carry on past my strength. I can have fun, knowing that the fun and happiness of others are not solely my responsibility. I can enjoy the demands that are made of me, because they are part of my vocation, and as my children grow the demands will slowly change and perhaps even lessen.
Mary as the woman for all times, is showing me the best way to be a woman for my times.
Return to Stories Page.