By: Kathleen Yacharn
As a child, Mary was a mysterious, intimidating figure for me. Her perfection, her holiness, and her requests seemed beyond my natural abilities. To me she appeared impossible to please, asking for constant prayer and rejection of sin and, later as I read of warnings in her apparitions, even unreasonable. I wasn’t even a particularly wayward child, but much like everyone else, often fell short in my daily life. I was something of a scaredy-cat then and am still prey to occasional thoughts of worry or anxiety today.
I would think, “It is so easy for Mary to be good, she had no original sin, she was the only person in the world who could follow God’s will so completely.” Horrible, right? But as a young adult and teen going to school in an increasingly bizarre and changing environment, it seemed that sin was around every corner and that humans just weren’t strong enough to fight it.
Over time, and especially after becoming a mother, I see that though Mary appeared so stern and removed from me then, looking at her through the lens of her motherhood and her actions, not only through the lens of her queenship and freedom from sin, gives a much more accurate and hopeful picture. Looking at Mary as normal woman and mother, her actions show her true beautiful spirit and belie her constancy of love and charity. If Mary, our mother, can do it, why can’t I?
Mary is considerate, as we see in the Wedding Feast at Cana. She thoughtfully asked Jesus for help, hoping to spare their hosts embarrassment. She visited Elizabeth to help her through the end of her pregnancy, despite being pregnant with Jesus herself! When I was pregnant with my children, it really didn’t occur to me to do anything charitable for others. Mary’s acts of charity throughout the Gospel speak to her selflessness and love for those in her life.
She clearly was faced with sin and temptation throughout her life. She may have experienced fear and anxiety when she conceived Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, or again on an arduous trip to Bethlehem, or again on the flight with her newborn into Egypt, or again when she and Joseph lost track of Jesus. Yet despite these frightening events, she never sinned. After she found Him in the temple, Jesus asked her, “why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Mary reflected on these things and brought Jesus home. Let me tell you, my son would’ve gotten a very different response!
Lastly, consider how Mary watched her son’s crucifixion and death, but did not despair or lose hope. This last reflection may be the most difficult of all, as every mother’s deepest fears involve losing her children to suffering, sickness, or death. Having lost her spouse, St. Joseph, and then her holy and divine son, Jesus, she followed her son’s command to be a mother to John, and in Acts we see her in the company of the Disciples for prayer (Acts 1:14). We only know for certain after this that she was assumed into heaven. Despite her suffering and outliving her husband and son, Mary continued to live in perfect harmony with God until He brought her to be with Him in heaven.
Considering the messages in her apparitions and the warnings attributed to her, I only have to look at myself in my role as a mother. How many times have I told my son what he should or shouldn’t do? And how many times is he told that he has to do something because it’s for his own good? Mary, in all of her grace and freedom from sin, is not divine but purely human. As difficult as it may seem to me, she simply followed God’s will for her, and lived a pure and holy life. Seeing us, her children, wander towards sin and away from God can only bring her pain. She is only stern and grave concerning sin because sin is not a small matter, but an eternal one.
Though she was preserved from original sin, Mary was inherently no different from you and me. In her earthly life, she showed strength of character that allowed her to perfectly follow and trust in the will of God. The image above, Madonna of Roses by Bouguereau, is my favorite because it shows her holding Jesus as a toddler with complete serenity and strength. Anyone who has held a child like this knows how uncomfortable it is to hold them in this awkward position. In the picture we see her face completely at ease, and only her fingers show the strength she is using to hold her son. Mary shows us that we can be afraid, we can be anxious, we can experience great sorrow, all while trusting in the complete goodness of God and His plan for us. Following God’s will means trying every day, little by little, to love others more, to reject sin every time, and to be completely open to His love for us. If Mary can do it, why can’t we?