All About Mary

Traditionally, the Catholic Church has called May “Mary’s month.” Many parishes have May processions and May crownings in which freshly picked flowers from spring gardens are placed at st100_0107(rev 0)atues of the Blessed Mother, and she is crowned with a wreath of flowers. Some people plant a “Mary garden” which features plants that are mentioned in the bible. The most obvious association of the month of May and Mary is, of course, the celebration of Mother’s Day. On this day as we honor all mothers, we honor also Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.

Christ Bearers

This month, because of where we find ourselves in the 50 day celebration of the Easter season, we have one more way to celebrate the Marian character of our faith. As the church moves toward the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, our readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel are full of the first accounts of the Apostles telling the amazing story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The apostles are stepping up and giving shape to the small community of believers that will become the church. Here, we find Mary as well. When she could have so easily returned to Nazareth to live quietly after Jesus’ return to his Father, Mary stays with the Apostles. We see her practice a spiritual motherhood – comforting, nurturing and praying for the mission Jesus has entrusted to his followers. Just as she fulfilled the mission God entrusted to her, bearing his Son to the world, she nurtures the apostles and followers of Jesus’ mission to bear the Risen Christ to the world. The mission of the apostles becomes our mission. As Pope Francis likes to say, all the baptized are missionary disciples.

Missionary Disciples

We are most like Mary in that we, too, are called to bear Christ to the world. How? In the same way we see the Apostles doing it in this month’s Gospel readings. We have opportunities to share our love for Our Lord. If faith makes all the difference in our lives, how do we share that? Could our story be a source of good news for a friend or family member or colleague? The missionary impulse that comes alive in Jesus’ followers is one of hospitality. Like Mary, who after receiving her mission from God, went immediately to help her cousin Elizabeth, the Apostles immediately began inviting others into the life of the community, to be of service, to welcome all who were searching for an experience of God, of love and of fellowship.

Mary with ApostlesFor us followers of Jesus, in the very noisy world of the 21st century, trying to make sense of a complicated world and complicated lives, perhaps the most inviting aspect of Jesus’ life and of the practice of Mary and the apostles is that of prayer. When we read that Mary “pondered all these things in her heart”, and that Mary and the apostles gathering in the upper room to “wait” for the coming of the Spirit, they were, in reality, praying and contemplating the meaning Jesus’ life for them and their lives.


Contemplative Missionaries

Mary and the apostles knew the need for silence, for thinking deeply, for learning to trust in God’s plan. What we followers learn is that God’s plan unfolds in our lives and in the life of the church. God’s plan for our lives does not arrive in a text message or in 140 characters. Like the Mary garden, it grows, at first hidden, then fledgling, but with God’s gift of sun and rain and gardeners plants, grows deep roots and gorgeous bright flowers and fruits! Cultivating faith is like cultivating a garden. Faith needs prayer, sacraments, community, and wise teachers to grow deep roots and flower.

This month, cultivate the garden you’ve been given to plant seeds of faith and bear Christ to the world.

Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Happy Mother’s Day

Ah, Mother’s Day. When a mom is woken up early with breakfast in bed (“Look, we brought you toast and milk! Benedict burned the toast, but I scraped the black stuff off!”), when all one really wants is the gift of sleeping in, which is like a sweet, distant memory … did one really used to do that sort of thing?

Sleep inBut the sweetness of the slobbering kisses and the “Mommy!” hugs somehow makes up for the crumbs in the bed and the sleep deprivation.

A gal thinks she is ready for motherhood. Good German academic that I am, I prepared for motherhood by thorough study. I could have answered any question you had about parenting … before I was a parent. The relative merits of breast- versus bottle-feeding? Check. How to get a crying child to sleep? Allow me to expound. And then I actually gave birth.

My first child is a quirky, self-confident, and highly entertaining young adolescent. (“Mom, can I see what ants taste like?” Um, I guess that wouldn’t kill you, but … must you?) That describes the present moment. Nearly thirteen years ago, she came out of the womb screaming, and she didn’t stop for approximately four months. I went from a parenting know-it-all to a desperate wreck, praying, “Dear God, get me through the next fifteen minutes.” Motherhood does that.

You see, we have an illusion of being in control of our circumstances. We think that, if we aren’t all pulled together at the present moment, it is only a matter of time before we will be, when all the stars will magically align through our judicious management of all the variables. How many times have I thought, “If only _____ is different, I can be happy”? And I spent a lot of time and mental energy trying to fix whatever is in the blank at the moment. My job! My housing situation! My family! They’re the problem!

Parenting, however, brings one smack up against a dual reality: I am selfish–that’s the real problem–and other people are not controllable. Marriage can reveal this too, of course, but two adults can live with each other like congenial roommates, who happen to be having sex. One need not confront oneself or one’s spouse with messy realities. One can walk away. But not children–they have needs that only you can meet, and they make sure you know about it. You cannot just pretend that that the baby is not hungry. He will let you know, persistently, and there will be no peace you get out of the easy chair and feed him already.

Diaper changes you

The dual misperception that the world revolves around me and that my job is to make everyone do his part in my little drama–this requires people to play their roles with docility. How many of us live out our dreams through our kids? The dream of the athletic star, the Ivy-League-bound leader, or the attractive queen bee? Or maybe we want our kids to be our accessories, to play the role of perfect obedient children to show off what fabulous parents we are.

But if I allow my children to be more than the extension of my ego, what might I learn? That every one of them is destined by our loving Father to be a saint, each in his or her own irreplaceable way. Who knows, perhaps God really needs a patron-saint of ant-eaters?

Regardless, I do know that helping my children grow in their relationship with God means mostly being the example of that myself and then providing the environment in which that relationship can blossom. The only really important goal for motherhood is helping my children to heaven. That is the new evangelization, spreading God’s love among the people He puts in our lives.

siblingsSo this Mother’s Day will find me woken up a tad earlier than I would like, but filled with gratitude for the six wonderful gifts that are my children. They have taught me so much–that I’m not the center of the world, that life is under God’s management and not mine, and that burnt toast with the black stuff scraped off actually is pretty good.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Angela Franks teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.