Devotions

A Letter to Mary, Queen of Heaven

Dear Mary,

I have so many questions. I must admit that, for as long as I can remember, I’ve seen you as an amazing but also baffling woman. In many ways, your story is like a fairytale—and your unrelenting faith is like a superpower. How could I ever begin to understand you, let alone emulate you, in my own life?

As a young girl on the cusp of a new marriage—challenges all their own—you faced one of the most profound trials ever presented to mankind: you were asked to carry, bear, and raise the Son of God. You, Mary, were visited by an angel and told that this heaviest of burdens—and greatest of privileges—would be placed squarely on your shoulders. And you said yes. You pronounced your fiat and said “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Then the angel departed from you abruptly; what went through your mind? Did you wonder if it had all been a dream until your body started changing and there was no denying the Truth? Did you fret over what your new husband would think? Did you quake in anticipation of the judgment you might receive from others? Did you struggle to picture yourself, a first-time mother, as the caretaker of the most important child ever to enter this world?

Now that I am a mother myself, and have felt the joy and anxiety of very conventional pregnancies, I can only wonder at what you must’ve felt in your position—to be so truly gifted with this immense role in Salvation History, and yet struck by what an unthinkable responsibility it must be.

When you visited your relative, Elizabeth, and she sang your praises and greeted you with joy as the child in her womb leaped at the closeness of the child in yours, did it feel real? You were perhaps too early in your pregnancy to feel your child moving within you. So, when Elizabeth reacted so vividly to your new identity as the Mother of God, how did it strike you? What knowledge did it place in your heart about the fruit of your womb?

With both of my babies, things didn’t seem real to me that early on. Even after I could feel their kicks and rolls, I couldn’t help but wonder at the individuality and separateness of those babies who lived and grew in my body. How on earth could such a miracle be real?

Is that how you felt, too?

As your husband contemplated quietly sending you away upon discovering your pregnancy, were you anxious? Did you wonder, even for a moment, what would become of you and your child? Did you doubt the path that you had accepted? And when Joseph had his own encounter with an angel and trusted in God’s instructions to start a life with you as planned, what did your smile look like? Did you know that this gentle and selfless man would be on your side all along?

My husband is my greatest partner, friend, confidant, and supporter in life. The briefest thought of losing him makes me shiver. I hope that you felt warmed by God’s reassurances all along during what must have been a very stressful time.

During your ninth month, large with child and fleeing to safety with your husband through an ancient landscape, were you frustrated when you were told all of the inns were full? Did you feel the gradual rise and fall of labor pains even then, as you trekked with Joseph from place to place and found nowhere to rest your weary, swollen body? Did the pain frighten you? And when you found shelter in the company of livestock and hay and a lowly manger, did you wonder at the irony of your position?

What joy and relief did you experience when that miraculous child made His way into the world, and you were finally able to hold Him in your arms? The two of you were the perfect pair—spotless and selfless. I have long thought that, if I could go back in time to any one moment, it would be to the Nativity. I imagine the mere sight of the delight on the face of each member of your Holy Family must’ve been enough to erase many years of pain and suffering.

In the following years, watching your son grow from a helpless newborn to an energetic child and, finally, to a serene and hardworking young adult, how often did you wonder at His godliness?

Was the Trinity any easier for you to comprehend than it is for me? In some ways, I imagine your proximity made it harder, for how could a child who refused your meals and laughed at your jokes and wept in your arms with the pain of a bump on the head be both human and God? And yet you knew of His two natures, and you trusted in that transcendent reality and the path God had laid out for your family.

Jesus as a boy sat in your lap—a true Throne of Wisdom—and learned from you. In those days, a mother took responsibility for the care of her young children—she was their teacher, leader, friend, and caretaker as they grew and learned to live in this world. Though He was always God, Jesus was also always human, and needed His mother just like any of us would—needed her guidance, her soothing voice, her discipline, her compassion.

At some point during Jesus’s childhood, you lost your husband. How painful it must have been to mourn him while a child—this child—depended on you constantly. How scary it must have been to be alone in the raising of your son for the rest of His life.

Despite all of this, you and Jesus emerged from His youth just as the Father intended: perfect, without stain, unfailingly loyal to the ultimate destiny of this most precious Lamb of God.

Both guests at the wedding at Cana, you and Jesus must’ve made an inspiring duo. You, the greatest mother, proudly encouraged your grown son, who, in His humility, hesitated to perform the miracle you knew He could enact. And He, the greatest man, complied—though not without a bit of protest (was it playful?)—and made someone else’s wedding day quite memorable, to say the least.

What does perfect motherly pride feel like? To know that your child is quite literally wonderful in every way, to be happy for your part in that wonder, and yet to retain the wisdom that these facts can only be a gift from God?

And then there’s the question I’m most afraid to ask: what did it feel like to see this precious child, grown into a man, rejected, humiliated, and crucified by people He could only ever love? Selfishly, as a mother myself, I hesitate to know the answer. I can only hope the glory of His resurrection overshadowed immediately that pain for you. And, of course, I can thank you for your part in His sacrifice—the role of a mother who must let her only child die for the sake of so many children she doesn’t even know.

I can’t wait to ask you all of this when, hopefully, someday, I am blessed to meet you. In the meantime, I pray that your example makes me a stronger woman, a more patient and selfless mother, a more loyal daughter, and a more faithful child of God. Truly, thank you.

With love,

Your daughter

Lent 2014: Giving up, Taking up, Lifting Up

I guess it’s ironic to say “Happy Lent!” when it’s meant to be a season of solemn reflection, but I hope you understand my sentiment.

For Catholics, this is an important liturgical season that invites us to better ourselves and recognize our blessings. In the forty days before Easter, we prepare to receive Christ’s most profound gift to us in three ways: prayers, fasting, and almsgiving. Through these habits, we seek to become more Christ-like, which makes us more ready to accept and appreciate God’s unending mercy and forgiveness, as well as Christ’s death and resurrection.

In asking us to consciously alter our behavior in these ways, the Church calls for us to both identify with and emulate Christ. Though our sacrifices of candy and caffeine are microscopic compared to his suffering, we have the opportunity to deny ourselves those small pleasures and understand what it means to give something up for an unselfish purpose. Additionally, if we choose a vice to give up for the full stretch of Lent, we often find ourselves breaking bad habits and bettering ourselves for the change. None of us is perfect, but purposefully disrupting a habitual cycle of negative behavior—for example, excessive shopping followed by buyer’s remorse—makes us stronger, healthier, and that much more Christ-like in our actions. We are the body of Christ, after all, so taking better care of ourselves means taking better care of our faith and each other.

Acts of charity, of course, also make us more Christ-like in our behavior. For example, I have a tendency to hoard spare change for no real reason (e.g., “Maybe I’ll take it to the bank for cashing eventually, even though it sits on my dresser untouched for months at a time…?”). For me, the simple act of acknowledging that excess and placing it in an Operation Rice Bowl or other charitable vehicle is a moment of reflection and personal improvement. Almsgiving also means sharing food and other necessities with our neighbors in need, so donating to a food pantry or picking up a couple of gift cards for the homeless people you walk by on your commute are easy ways to answer that call, too.

Simple as these things it may be, they’re something—and something always beats nothing.

Prayer, of course, is the way we internalize those changes in behavior and what they can really mean. By following through on those commitments and speaking openly and often about them with God, we are able to reflect on His presence in our life, our mission to serve Him, and the influence that love and faith have on our day-to-day behavior.

If you’re looking for some appropriate Bible study to support that Lenten reflection, I’d suggest starting with Psalm 103. It’s a beautiful psalm focused on the love and forgiveness of God, and how His care for us is vast and without question. Check it out for a kickstarter to your Lenten reflection, if you’re interested.

I’d also encourage you to check out Pope Francis’s Lenten message for this year, which you can find here. You can also see a devotional calendar based on his message here.

The funny thing is that we are called to engage in all three of those practices all year long. But, because we are human and imperfect and we know it (and because the time before Easter is the most critical time for us to understand all that we’ve been given), Lent is a period of accountability and renewed commitment. Think of it in the same spirit as setting deadlines for yourself to accomplish personal goals—though you aim to get it done regardless of the timing, you know you may not follow through if you don’t have something holding you to it.

The short of it is that Lent is a period of purposeful, spiritual reflection and engagement with the Church. We use these forty days to recognize our shortcomings and try to fix them; to better understand and share in Christ’s selfless love for us; and help each other in any way we can. It is an opportunity for us all to act in true Christian form so we may both give and receive all the forgiveness that love has to offer.

And when it’s over, we reach a few pretty awesome perks: loads of sweets, time with family, the ultimate love of Christ, and, hopefully, an improved way of living our lives.

At least until next year, when we’re blessed with a chance to try again.

Lenten Message