parenting in advent: third sunday

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners. (Isaiah 61:1)

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53)

I never really loved Mary.

I know that’s a horrible thing to admit, especially growing up Catholic. And I liked Mary just fine: she seemed like a nice mother and an awfully brave girl to have done the things she did.

But I never loved her.

To me, Mary was unattainable perfection. Virgin yet mother, sinless yet human – it didn’t make much sense to me. Mary popped up a few times a year – the Christmas crèche, the May crowning – but most of the time she didn’t cross my mind.

Until a wise woman I met in grad school told me that during the darkest moments in her life, the times when she could barely pray at all, she could always pray the Magnificat. Because Mary’s hymn of praise to God was a prayer of a strong and brave woman: a mother of faith and a prophet of God’s justice.

I never read the Magnificat the same way again. And I came to see Mary in a whole new light. She became a woman of justice. She became a champion of the poor. She became the kind of strong, passionate mother I hoped I’d be.

Mary’s words that echo Isaiah’s truths remind me that she must have been the first to teach Jesus about God’s justice. That God raised up the lowly and cast down the powerful. That God fed the hungry and sent away the wealthy. That God would turn the world’s order upside down to care for the poorest and weakest.

Mary’s mothering in the light of justice reminds me that I have to teach my children what it means to love a God who loves the poor. What it means to feed the hungry. What it means to heal the brokenhearted in a broken world.

Her strength and faith remind me that from the humblest of circumstances and quietest of voices can come the conviction that changes the course of human history.

And in an Advent pregnant with God’s promise, in a world crying out for justice, in a home with two boys who need strong models of faith, I love Mary for that.

7 thoughts on “parenting in advent: third sunday

  1. Great post, especially for a Mary nerd like me. 🙂 And please don’t be ashamed to admit your feelings about Mary. In writing my book a few years back, I talked to many women who felt the same way. Nearly all of them eventually found some way to connect with her, which is the beauty of the BVM … her life resonates with ours in so many ways, some big, some very subtle. The classic downcast-eyes Mary in the statues simply doesn’t work for a lot of women, but there is so much more to her than that. As you’ve said, you only have to look at the “Magnificat” to see that our God is a God of surprises, and that Mary herself can lead us to God in ways that we would never have expected.

    1. So true, Ginny! I never could relate to that downcast-eyes Mary, which is why it helped me so much to see the Magnificat transformed into a prayer of strength and justice. At a parish I did a presentation at last year, they had an incredible statue of Mary in the moment of the Annunciation: she is kneeling down, sitting on her (bare!) feet, staring straight ahead, eyes wide open in amazement. She doesn’t look afraid or meek, just bravely taking in all that she is imagining unfold before her. And they’ve placed the statue in the church so that her eyes are looking across the sanctuary to her son on the cross. It gave me goosebumps when I first saw it.

  2. I’ve always had an appreciation for Mary, but it wasn’t until I became a mother that I began to love her. At first, I was like you, though. How could I ever model myself after her? It felt unattainable. But I’ve grown to see her as someone who loves me very much and she encourages me to follow in her footsteps. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    1. “She encourages me to follow in her footsteps.” – Beautiful, Leanne. It is taking me a long time to see Mary as someone that I can have a real, dynamic relationship with. But this kind of testimonial is encouraging. Thanks!

  3. Ah, yes. I too have struggled with Mary. I realized recently that I have a high Christology and a low Mariology. I want the Jesus of John’s gospel, but the Mary who wondered how all of this could be. I want the certain Jesus and the questioning Mary.

    Like you, it was not until I started praying the Magnificat that I came to appreciate Mary…and perhaps even love her (a phrase that still doesn’t really come easily to me). I encountered the Magnificat at Evening Prayer with the good sisters in A-town and praying those hopeful words with them was transformative. How could I not rejoice in such a God? How could I not add my voice to Mary’s? How could I see Mary as anything but human, a role model, an inspiration?

    What really tipped the scales for me to love Mary, though, was grief. This isn’t something I’ve “put words around” exactly, so bear with me. The cathedral in St. Paul (or it might have been the basilica…I get the two confused) has a replica of the Pieta. About three months after my uncle’s suicide in 2010, I went to the cathedral for Mass with friends. After Mass we went to see the replica and I stood and cried and experienced a little bit of healing. All I could think of was that this Mary knew what it was to weep, to grieve, to suffer, to doubt, to be in pain. She got what my family was going through. I saw my grandmother in her…my grandmother who has buried two of her children, has maintained her faith through it, has somehow kept a sense of humor, has shown her family what it is to grieve and to heal.

    I do not get the Mary who is Queen of Heaven, sinless, virginal, shrouded in piety.

    I do, however, get–and yes, even love–the Mary who knew the joy of being with child, who knew the grief of losing someone she dearly loved, who praised the God who loved the poor, who models for us what it is to be human.

    1. Oh, Lauren, you bring tears to my eyes. What a moving and honest description of what it means to struggle with the idea(l) of Mary and yet embrace the reality of a woman who knew love and loss so intimately. The image of the Pieta – her whole world spread across her lap in the body of her son – has room for all of us in it. It seems to me that when we begin to break down the barriers that keep us from Mary, we are surprised to find how real, simple, open and inviting she was all along.

      (And I love how you describe your high Christology and low Mariology – well said!)

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