Real Life. Real Faith.

I found the book by accident. I wonder if, in actuality, it found me instead. It’s a do-it-yourself retreat culminating in consecration to Jesus through Mary, also known as Marian consecration. I’d not heard of such a thing before, but it seemed to be a good next step in my spiritual life so I bought it. It claimed to be a quick, easy and secure path to holiness, and heaven knows I need more holiness.

I started “33 Days to Morning Glory” by Fr. Michael Gaitley, M.I.C., on April 28, 2016. The recommendation is to finish on a Marian holy day, so 33 days later on May 31, the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I officially consecrated myself to Jesus through his mother. A priest told me not to be alarmed if I don’t experience a radical change or heavenly bolt of lightning. Celestial silence doesn’t mean it didn’t take. The graces may take time to unfold. That’s OK.

When I recently renewed my consecration for the eighth time, I reflected on how true that advice was. I didn’t understand all of what I was getting myself into — I still don’t — but I have developed a deeper appreciation for Our Lady and grown closer to both her and her son. I’ve also realized that despite her extreme holiness, she’s a lot like us.

Madeleine Delbrel, in “The Holiness of Ordinary People,” says, “There are some people who God takes and sets apart. There are others whom he leaves in the masses and who he does not ‘withdraw from the world.’ These are the people who do ordinary jobs, who have an ordinary household or an ordinary single life. People who have ordinary illnesses, ordinary deaths. People who have an ordinary house, ordinary clothes, these are the people of ordinary life.”

Mary lived the ordinary, like us. There are few recorded words of hers or stories of her. She came quickly onto the scene in the beginning of the Gospels and then we don’t read about her again until the end of Jesus’ public ministry. She is an example of the Catholic both/and paradigm. She is both separate from humanity in her perfection and role as God’s mother, and a woman who lived a largely ordinary life.

We can relate to Mary precisely because she was in some way ordinary. She worked in the background. She did the quotidian tasks that nurtured Jesus to adulthood in that quiet time before his public ministry. She did the things mothers do: changing diapers, nighttime feedings, laundry, cooking, cleaning, playing, laughing, maybe even holding him while he cried, and I imagine, gazing with wonder not just because he is God’s Son but because he is also her son. What mother hasn’t beheld her child with awe as he or she did the ordinary things ordinary children do. To be clear both Mary and Jesus were not ordinary as we are, but for 30 years, they lived ordinary lives.

I feel like Mary is OK with me sharing frustrations, concerns and joys of both parenting and life. She gets it. She did it. She had to have worried. She had to have wept. She wasn’t an emotionless automaton. She was a person. A woman. And she loved Jesus fiercely. I can learn from that.

Yet she was extraordinary as well. She gave her son to the world, knowing a sword would pierce her heart. She stayed with him through his Passion and at the Cross. I don’t know that I could stomach watching the torture and murder of my child. That might do me in. Every Triduum, I marvel at her strength and dedication.

When she became pregnant, she visited and served her cousin Elizabeth in the final months of her own unexpected pregnancy. Being newly pregnant and no doubt exhausted, as all newly pregnant women are, she served someone else instead of turning inward. This reminds me to do the same. To look outward at someone else when I’m not feeling my best.

As I go about my own ordinary life desiring to be close to Jesus and falling short at times, I find I need a friend and role model who gets it in a way no ordinary person could. Thus, Mary. It’s been slow going but that seems to be where I’m headed with this.

Mary is always pointing to Jesus and wants us to, as well. She is here to help us because we are frail and need all the help we can get. My gaze is still on Jesus. My pursuit is still him but I’m asking for help from his mother. She can take my meager offerings and make them better. It’s like having a coach who already won the championship and now wants to help me do the same. As Fr. Gaitley puts it, Mary molds us into the image of Christ..

I cannot say why I decided to do this eight years ago but I’m glad I did. It was good. I am learning to embrace my heavenly mother, who desires that I know and love her son. I am also enlisting her help with my own children, confident that her mother’s heart understands my mother’s heart. The more I come to know God and all he has brought into being, the more astonished and grateful I am. In his infinite wisdom, he knew we could all use another mother and he made it so. He is so good.