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It began as an assignment but ended up making her into a real person.
I wasn’t raised with much of an awareness of Holy Days of Obligation, so when I first learned that Catholics are obligated to go to Mass on New Year’s Day, I was suspicious. Skeptical atheist that I was, I assumed that the Church had instituted the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, in order to ruin people’s New Year’s Eve parties.
It was some years before I realized that the pope hadn’t convened the world’s bishops to scheme about how to put a damper on champagne toasts. The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, was fixed on New Year’s Day to focus our hearts on the Blessed Mother from the first day of the year so that she can continue drawing our hearts to Jesus all the year long.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do this year. Mary wasn’t part of my family’s devotional life when I was growing up, so I’ve spent the last 20 years playing catch up. I began praying the Rosary in high school, very much against my inclinations, but never understood how a prayer that was so numerically imbalanced (53 Hail Marys to 5 Our Fathers) could possibly bring more glory to God than to Mary. But I trusted the wisdom of the Church, so I prayed dry Rosary after dry Rosary in the hopes that one day I would learn to love the Mother of God.
Over the years, I read about Mary. I prayed for a deeper love of her. I made the consecration to Jesus through Mary. I listened to talks. I gave talks. And always, always the Rosary.
Gradually, my love for Mary grew. The Lord gave me some graces and moments of clarity that I would cling to, but still it felt labored. Many of my friends loved the Blessed Mother so naturally, so effusively. I was just trying to love her at all.
In one sense, there’s nothing wrong with that. Love is a choice, after all, not a feeling. And if the Lord chooses to withhold every consolation from me, I will try to praise him. I will try not to demand feelings of love and longing and delight. I will try to be faithful.
That’s where I was this past January. But the Lord seemed to be asking me to spend the year with his Mother, reading Scripture as she did, imagining how she felt at different moments in her life, trying to love Jesus as she did.
I tried to see how she might console survivors of abuse, how she might speak to post-abortive women, how she might comfort those who feel unworthy of her love.
I studied different apparitions and Marian devotions, read Marian songs, and researched Marian books.
And here I stand, 52 weeks later, feeling quite sure that something has changed, though I don’t know that I can put it into words. There’s a fondness there that wasn’t there before, a smile that passes over my lips when I think of the Blessed Mother. Perhaps it’s that I spent 20 years trying to know her purely as my mother and only this year began to know her as she really is: the Mother of God and Mother of all people.
It began, perhaps, as an assignment, a theme for this column that I thought I could stretch to fill the year. But as the weeks went by, I began to see her through so many sets of eyes—and to see so many people through her eyes. And all the details of her sorrow and fear and compassion and joy began to add details to the vague outline of motherhood I’d been trying to love and to make her a real person instead of a mere archetype.
I guess I just didn’t know her. In spite of the books I’d read and the talks I’d given, in spite of knowing so much about her and having tried so hard to spend time with her, I’d never let her be real. This year, she’s been just that: real Mother, real friend.
And I wasn’t wrong, all those years that I insisted that loving Mary well can only make you love Jesus more. This newfound fondness for his Mother pulls me deeper into love of him. The moments of unsought affection for her turn my heart ever more toward him.
I may never be able to stand with the great Marian saints and insist that I’ve done everything for Mary, but this year my love for her has become less of a dispassionate choice and more of a real relationship. If you’re struggling as I’ve struggled (and will likely still struggle), may I invite you to try to same for 2019? Spend the year seeking to love Mary as her Son loved her, so that she might teach you to love him with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.