Today’s Feast of the Visitation is a day close to my heart, because out of all the St. Elizabeths, the very first St. Elizabeth is the one I most identify with. I’ve always loved that, other than Mary and Joseph, she was the very first person to recognize the Baby Jesus. But, unlike Elizabeth, devotion to that baby’s mother has not come naturally me. I always thought of Mary as an incredible role model and the heroine of the most beautiful story ever told. But I didn’t feel like Mary was my mother. I already have a wonderful mother. I didn’t feel I needed another one. Besides, I thought, isn’t Jesus enough?
When I heard people talk of their strong relationships with Mary I noticed a common thread. Mary seemed to fill a void. Perhaps Mary was their mother when they lacked a present, earthly mother or perhaps Mary was the balm that softened a hardened heart to everything else about Catholicism. Perhaps I wouldn’t really understand Mary until I felt a need for her.
And then, I became a mother. As a pretty sensitive person prone to anxiety, I cannot express the amount of anxiety that motherhood provokes. Joy too, certainly. And yet the question, How can I be sure, SURE, my children end up happy?? How?? continually weighs on my heart. And it would be maddening, if not for Mary.
At night before I go to sleep, I draw a cross on my sleeping children’s heads, blessing them, entrusting them to God. But I also entrust them to Mary. And that entrustment provides a specific kind of comfort and assurance. I now understand, I do need Mary. Not because Jesus is not enough, but because, for whatever reason, God has chosen to let me need her. God has chosen to let everyone need her. God chose to need her, himself. Of course, I know that God loves my children more than I love them. But somehow I have such a difficult time comprehending that and actively trusting that fact. I look at Mary and I can know assuredly: You get it. You get what this feels like. Take these sweet babies and wrap them up in your motherhood, wrap them up and keep them safe because I’m afraid that I can’t.
I don’t understand all the ins and outs of saintly intercession. I don’t understand the Immaculate Conception. I have a very difficult time with the idea of free will and hell and the existence of evil. But I know that Mary protects my children. And in the process of protecting my children, she also protects me by relieving the burden on my heart of knowing I can’t do it alone.
Back when I didn’t feel a “need” for Mary I did notice a curious habit of mine- I always instinctively said Hail Mary’s every time I was in a scary or desperate situation (like each time I have given birth to a child). And it brought me great consolation. I find it interesting that so many other Catholics I know do the very same thing, with or without a great devotion to Mary.
And I don’t think that’s because Mary has something God doesn’t have. I think it’s because God has allowed Mary to give us a piece of himself. Indeed, thats exactly what happened. Mary is the vessel for Jesus. I’ve always heard it said “You can’t get too close to Mary; she will only draw you closer to God.” I now know, its the kind of thing you only understand when you experience it. Just like sitting in the chapel or listening to pretty music or holding the hand of my husband draws me closer to God, so does Mary. I may never know why God chose Mary, but I do know she’s good at what she does.
So, if you’re like I was, a Catholic who didn’t quite feel the “Mary thing”— rest assured. It will come. Don’t feel guilty or scrupulous. Don’t force the feelings. Don’t worry. Mothers are patient. Mothers will wait until you call, and when you do call, they come running.