Faith

A mother's presence is full of lessons

Frogs on love seatAs we continue the work of restoring our home in Ortley Beach, so heavily damaged from Sandy, it’s interesting to note what survived the storm that took whole houses from their foundations.  A sentimental survival from our yard was a small cement statue of two frogs sitting on a love seat. My father, who gave the statue to my mom on the occasion of their 25th anniversary, had the umbrella under which the frogs sat painted with the anniversary dates of their wedding.

The statue is beat up, but the cracks and chips only serve to remind me of what life, and marriage, is all about. It also is a reminder, for me, of the two different people who were my parents. Two people who taught me many things, but each in their own way.

While my father taught me much with words, written and spoken, my mother taught me by her presence. Her gracious hospitality, her devotion to her family, her integrity, generosity and willingness to sacrifice for those she loved are all lessons I learned just from being in her presence.

A look at Scripture reveals the same for Mary. There are only four times in the Bible when we “hear” Mary’s words – when she speaks with the angel during the Annunciation, when she meets Elizabeth and she speaks the words of her Magnificat, when she finds Jesus in the temple  and when she intervenes at the wedding in Cana.

Throughout the rest of the New Testament we come to know Mary simply through her devoted presence with Jesus throughout his ministry.  We do not hear her speak, but we know she was there, in all the moments of his life, in the joy, in the disappointment, in the pain, in the grief.

As a mother, I have turned to Mary often as I travel those moments with my sons, and now their families, as well, continuing to draw strength and wisdom from Mary’s example.

When I consider the last words of Mary recorded in Scripture, I think that perhaps there was no reason to record any more, for her few last words reflect the most profound wisdom ever offered: Do whatever he tells you. 

What else is there to say?


In any storm, a mother's love never gives up

SnowsuitWith the newest snow storm upon us, I am reminded of winters in upstate NY and a mother who dressed me reminiscent of the younger son in The Christmas Story – stuffed into a snowsuit like sausage into a casing and double wrapped with scarves and gloves, and mittens on top. My dad wasn’t so tough a clothing task master. With him, there was more chance of bending a joint, and
getting frostbite.  I think it had something to do with a mother’s love.

To be sure, one of the constants in my life growing up was my mother. I never doubted for a moment that she could move mountains for me if I needed them moved. Yes, she had the “snowsuit” tendency to be overprotective, but in the important times she allowed me to fly, in spite of the pain it caused her. And in all things, she was always there for me when I needed her, perhaps not happy with my choices, but always offering her love, none-the-less.

Lately, when the local Christian radio show plays a song by Passion, “One Thing Remains,” I find myself thinking of her, and of Mary, especially as Mary followed Jesus during his years of ministry, right up to his death on the cross where she stood at his feet, held fast to him, in his agony and hers, by a mother’s love. His thoughts could have been similar to the words of the song:

 “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me … And it’s higher than the mountains that I face and it’s stronger than the power of the grave and constant in the trial and the change, this one thing remains. … your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me…”

May the love of Jesus and Mary be ours to give.


Image from manicexpresssive.blogspot.com

True strength comes from surrender to the Word of God

Annuncia-thumbDifficult times in life often encourage us to wonder how other people do it. How do they navigate the losses, the pain, the simple day-to-day struggles that life brings with it?

 

Mary is one of those people. We look to her with wonder, considering the challenges of her life as Jesus' mother and the profound losses she incurred. I often wish that Scripture had recorded more of her words and her actions, but even without them, we may find a key to her strength in one sentence of her Magnificat: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” No pre-requisites, no codicils, just surrender.

 

In a homily for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Benedict XVI taught a lesson on Mary and God’s word that is worth reflection whenever we need to be reminded of the source of our wisdom and strength. He said, in part, “Thus, we see that Mary was, so to speak, ‘at home’ with God's word, she lived on God's word, she was penetrated by God's word. To the extent that she spoke with God's words, she thought with God's words, her thoughts were God's thoughts, her words, God's words. She was penetrated by divine light and this is why she was so resplendent, so good, so radiant with love and goodness.

 

“Mary lived on the Word of God, she was imbued with the Word of God. And the fact that she was immersed in the Word of God and was totally familiar with the Word also endowed her later with the inner enlightenment of wisdom.

 

“Whoever thinks with God thinks well, and whoever speaks to God speaks well. They have valid criteria to judge all the things of the world. They become prudent, wise, and at the same time good; they also become strong and courageous with the strength of God, who resists evil and fosters good in the world.

 

“Thus, Mary speaks with us, speaks to us, invites us to know the Word of God, to love the Word of God, to live with the Word of God, to think with the Word of God. And we can do so in many different ways: by reading sacred Scripture, by participating especially in the liturgy, in which Holy Church throughout the year opens the entire book of sacred Scripture to us. She opens it to our lives and makes it present in our lives” (2005).


Broken hands are a sure path to God

MarybrokenhandAfter my parents died and it came time to pack up all of their possessions, I found a small statue of Mary tucked away in the dark corner of a bedroom shelf – a memory from my youth. I had named her Our Lady of the Broken Hands.

She had not come through the years unscathed. Her hands, pressed together in prayer, were missing the fingers, and her torso, once broken completely in half, had been glued together by my dad at my mother’s insistence. She would never entertain the idea of throwing away her beautiful statue just because of a little thing like being broken in a few places.

For many years, Our Lady of the Broken Hands sat on my desk at work next to a second statue of Mary with a similar affliction. She has no hands. This small, delicately carved wooden statue was damaged in a move from one office to another. When I unwrapped her and saw that her hands were missing I could not help but stop to reflect on the two statues that now stood side by side in their imperfection.

They became, for me, a constant reminder of a painful and wonderful lesson – we, like they, are beautiful in our brokenness.

And broken we are, whether or not we are willing to admit it.

My broken statues of Mary remind me that my own imperfections are the vehicles for God’s work in me, and that with faith, patience, courage and passion we can each move beyond the limitations of our imperfections to fulfill all our God-given potential.

We are God’s creation, after all, as the very imperfect king, David, reminds us in his song to God: “Lord, you have searched me, you know me; you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar, my travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar . . .You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.”

There is a reason for our imperfection. It keeps us close to God and allows God room to work in us.

But since I am always in need of reminding, I will be happy to make room next to Our Lady of the Broken Hands for any less-than-perfect statue that needs a home.

 “God expects but one thing of you, and that is that you should come out of yourself in so far as you are a created being and let God be God in you.”  Meister Eckhart

 

Google image from ngm.nationalgeographic.com