So, here's the thing. I wasn't sure how this whole retreat on Mary was going to play out last weekend. I really, really wanted to go on the retreat, but when I heard the theme was Mary, I was kind of disappointed. Does that make me a bad Catholic? To be honest, I don't have a close relationship with the Blessed Mother. I love her and look up to her, but I cannot seem to find my way with devotion to Mary or attachment to her.
I can remember a time that I asked God to help me get to know His mother and did receive some sort of an answer in prayer. An image came to mind of Mary, holding me by the elbow, as one might lead a blind person, standing next to me, but clearly guiding me towards Jesus, not pushing or pulling, just steering. That picture helped me to understand Mary's role in my life, but it didn't necessarily inspire a deeper fondness for her or relationship with her. Since then I have tried to ask for her prayers and remember her more, but I couldn't figure out why it was such a struggle for me.
Then, this weekend, one of the sisters was speaking about Mary, of course, and pointed out how bold Our Blessed Mother was to ask the angel a question at the Annunciation. Here is Gabriel, coming to her directly from God Almighty to bring her amazing news, and she asks, "How can this be?" Sister explained that Mary was really asking if her acceptance of God's will meant she had to give up her vow of virginity, but she focused on how strong Mary must have been to overcome all fear and speak up in the presence off one of God's angels to get clarification on this detail.
As soon as I heard Sister describe Mary as bold, I reacted internally. But, Mary was docile, submissive, gentle, obedient, how could she be bold? Her entire life was spent in service of Christ. She was not in charge of anything, right? I had never thought of Mary in this way, and my furrowed brow quickly relaxed into quiet amazement.
But, of course, she was a strong woman. For who could know the end of Christ's story and live with Him day by day without incredible strength? Who could walk Calvary alongside Jesus and never turn her gaze away from his bloodied, pain-stricken face? I could agree that Mary was strong, but isn't she strong in a quiet way?
My internal dialogue revealed my long-standing, faulty presumptions. Mary could be both submissive and bold, both docile and strong. Why not? Most of God's story is a paradox. Much of my journey in faith has been to find the balance of two extremes. Yet, for many years, for some reason, I could only picture Mary as calm and quiet, and nothing like me.
There it is. Even though I am a wife and mother just like Our Blessed Mother, and I believe in her holiness and am drawn to the stories of her apparitions, I simply could not see that we have much in common. But when Sister described Mary as bold, I had to admit both that she is right and that I am like Mary in more ways than I would admit. In order to be submissive and docile, I do not have to abandon my strength. (I probably need to cut out the yelling, of course!) In fact, I need to learn the peaceful power of the Mother of God.
Once again, God proves to me that He is a both-and God, not an either-or God. He invites us to balance all things in our lives, seeking the good and preserving the dichotomy that He is. After all the Old Testament God appears so differently than the New Testament God, but He is the one God. Mary is both bold in her question and strong in her convictions, but at the same time, she submits to God's will without fail. Her bold question to Gabriel even proves that she chooses to follow the Lord to the very last detail, putting herself entirely in His hands, without ever giving up her power.
Lord, thank you for revealing to me how to identify more closely with Our Blessed Mother. I pray that I will grow in submissiveness and docility at the same time as I direct my boldness towards your service.
What qualities of Mary do you see in yourself? What characteristics do you seek?