MADE SOME REVISIONS: This Saturday I will be giving a talk at my parish for our Sanctity of Life Committee's annual Ladies Tea. I thought I would post it to my blog for those who cannot make the Tea.
Mary: A Woman’s Guide in Vocation
Today I want to talk to you about our vocation as Catholic women. Some of us present have been called to marriage and motherhood and others to the single life. In fact, all of us have gone through periods of being single. I’d like to discuss five main points in today’s talk. First, I’d like to look at what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. We often are told that we are created in the image and likeness of God, but what does that actually mean? Second, I’d like to look at what it means to have a vocation and what the purpose of vocation is from a Christian perspective. Third, we will look at how Our Lady encompasses all feminine vocations within her person. Fourth, we will examine how Our Lady can help us to attain different virtues as we live out our vocation. And finally, I want to give you a few suggestions as to how you can better bring Mary into your home.
First, let us start from the beginning. In Genesis 1:27 we are told that “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” We hear this statement all of the time. We are created in the image and likeness of God, but what does that actually mean? It sounds like abstraction when taken at face value. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 355-361: We are the only creatures who can know and love God, second we were willed for our own sake, which means we were created out of a purely selfless act of love from God, and thirdly, we are called to know and share in God’s own life. This is where our dignity comes from. This is also where our femininity comes from. All of us were made as women. In God’s infinite wisdom he created man and woman to be complimentary in their masculinity and femininity. What does this mean? It means that we were created to be women, not men. God created men and women equal but with different strengths and innate abilities. One example would be that women tend to be nurturing in nature. This is currently very counter-cultural. We are told that women should be like men. When in reality women are supposed to be like women. God’s mission for us is tied into our femininity. Every aspect of our lives stems from this dignity and this is precisely why sin cuts us off from our own dignity and God. We were made to share in God’s own life. You and I were made from and for God. When we sin we choose to abandon that gift. When our society abandons truth it has abandoned not only the dignity each and every person has been granted by God, but it chooses to abandon God.
Blessed John Paul II sums up this choice of sin in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem: “It can be said paradoxically, that the sin presented in the third chapter of Genesis confirms the truth about the image and likeness of God in man, since this truth means freedom, that is, man’s use of free will by choosing good or his abuse of it by choosing evil, against the will of God. In its essence, however, sin is a negation of God as Creator in his relationship to man, and of what God wills for man, from the beginning and forever. Creating man and woman in his own image and likeness, God wills for them the fullness of good, or supernatural happiness, which flows from sharing in his own life. By committing sin man rejects this gift and at the same time wills to become “as God, knowing good and evil” (Gen3:5), that is to say, deciding what is good and what is evil independently of God, his Creator.”
Does this sound familiar my fellow sinners? God gave each of us a special dignity as women and yet we choose to violate that dignity when we sin. When I yell at my husband, which I am sure I am the only one here who has ever yelled at their husband, :o) Or, for you young ladies when you do not clean your room when your mom asks you to.; we are acting against God’s design for our lives. Okay, so why do I bring this up? Mainly because the rest of my talk will focus on the vocation of women and how Mary can be our example in living out the Christian life.
Why do we need a vocation? Because we need to learn how to abandon sin. A vocation is the call each one of us receives from God that He uses to bring about our holiness. Christ uses our vocation to make us new. As Pope Francis said in a recent homily, “God is even now making all things new; the Holy Spirit is truly transforming us, and through us he also wants to transform the world in which we live.” That means that the Holy Spirit is constantly working in each one of us to bring salvation to others. In my life, my husband and daughter are who God is using to bring about my sanctification. My husband is God’s calling for me. In turn I am meant to help my husband on the path to sainthood. As we live out our vocations together we will become new people and, Lord willing, saints. My husband is well on his way, as he likes to tell me, and I tell him the same from time-to-time. :o) If we have children, it is our job to lead them to holiness and in turn they help us on the path to sainthood. This truth is something we need to remind ourselves of daily, especially when we feel overburdened in our duties.
I don’t know about you, but I can get overwhelmed by the never ending laundry, dishes, and housework. There is a meme (you know one of those pictures on Facebook) that says, “Don’t you just love it for those 12 seconds when all of the laundry is done.” It is funny, because it is so true!!! In order to remind myself not to get bogged down by the day-to-day work, I have taped up a reminder for myself in the kitchen and bathroom that says: “My job is to lead my husband and daughter to heaven.” This is my vocation.
Not all of us present have been called to marriage and the call to the single life is equally important and difficult. God uses your call to single life to bring about your sanctification as well. You are uniquely equipped to serve others just as much as a wife and mother serves her family. You may be called to charity work, to be the best aunt, a great friend, to teach, or to serve others in so many ways. All of the people you work with are there to help you become a saint, especially the difficult ones. :o) In turn you show Christ to others and help them on the path to holiness. So, we are given a vocation to teach us how to abandon sin in order to serve God and others. Now that we know the purpose of a vocation, let’s turn to the path of holiness.
I don’t know about you, but I need a guide throughout my vocation. I was not born with an innate knowledge of how to be a wife and mother. Quite frankly, I wasn’t very good at being single either. Like all women who are here, I am stumbling down the path that God has laid out for me. One of the best guides for women, besides Our Lord Jesus Christ, is Our Lady. She is a model of virtue and she loves us with the heart of her Son. According to Mulieris Dignitatem, Mary sums up the vocations of all women in her personhood. She is both wife/mother and virgin. That means that she encompasses the married life and the chaste single life within herself. Mary is also the spiritual mother of the whole Church. She is the perfect guide for not only those who are biological mothers, but also those who are called to spiritual motherhood through a vocation of the single life or marriage, but no biological children. The call to spiritual motherhood is no less important than biological motherhood. Both serve in God’s plan to bring about the salvation of souls. As a spiritual mother you are able to focus on the needs and prayers of many people, whether it be family, friends, co-workers, or the community you live in.
Let’s take a look at how Mary can help us better live out our vocation. She is a model for numerous virtues, but I only have time to focus on a few of them. First, off Mary shows us how to be humble. What is humility? It is the opposite of that deadly sin: Pride. St. Thomas Aquinas said, "The virtue of humility consists in keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior". What does this mean? It means first and foremost that we should know our place before God and in Creation. We are not God. It means that we should seek to be lowly and meek. Not in a self deprecating sort of way that is just false modesty. We need to be less concerned with our own ego. Here is an example from my own life. Bringing a baby or toddler to Mass is a major lesson in humility. New parents tend to be overly concerned about the sounds and crying their child makes during Mass. Until recently, due to terrible twos, I have been taking Michaela to daily Mass since shortly after she was born. As all of you know the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is small and cozy. As Michaela became more and more verbal she liked to join in during Mass. Her favorite time was to “sing” along with Fr. Kevin during the consecration. To be honest, I was embarrassed at times. However, Father Kevin and the people present were always very charitable and happy to see Michaela participating in the Mass. She is after all a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. So what is the lesson I learned from these experiences at Mass? Mainly that I am not that important. I am not important compared to what is going on in the Mass. I should not be so concerned with how I look to others as a mother or a person. My daughter crying, squirming, or singing during the Mass is not something to be embarrassed about. She’s wasn’t screaming her head off. I should not be focused on myself during the Liturgy. At Mass we are partaking in the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Savior Jesus Christ and joining in the Heavenly Liturgy. Why am I so concerned with how I look or whether my daughter is a bit noisy? She has just as much right to be at Mass as the rest of us. In realizing my place not only in the Mass, but in Creation, I was able to re-focus on Christ and not myself. This is one of the many lessons that I have learned on humility in my vocation of wife/mother.
So how does Mary show us how to attain the virtue of humility? Mary’s life is one of poverty, simplicity, and trust. Mary’s response to Gabriel at the Annunciation is a prime example of Mary’s humility. She is confused, but curious at the Angel’s greeting. She is amazed that God chose her to bear His Son. She is a lowly girl from a dusty outpost of the Roman Empire. How can it be that she has been chosen? She understands her place in the universe. She knows that she is God’s and that any greatness on her part comes solely from Him who created her. When we understand that our gifts, talents, money, house, spouse, children, etc. all come from God, we are able to center our lives appropriately. We did not bring about these gifts in our lives, God did. In doing so, we can remember to be humble in our daily tasks, in caring for our spouse, children, co-workers, or community. In understanding our place in the universe, we are then able to open ourselves up to God’s divine plan in our lives. Once we know that God gives us all things out of love, we can better serve him and others. We are not so concerned with our own ego or getting our own way all of the time, rather, we are concerned with serving God. Spend time praying and contemplating Mary’s humility in Scripture and bring that humility into your own life. Let’s move onto the next lesson we can learn from Our Mother: saying “yes” to God.
In her humility how does Mary answer St. Gabriel’s request for her to be the Mother of God? She says yes. In her fiat she allowed God to bring about the salvation of all Mankind. She trusted in God’s goodness. This is the greatness that came from her yes. Can you imagine what amazing things will happen in your life if you say yes to God in every moment of your day? Saying yes to God is not easy. It takes tremendous trust and relinquishing of our false sense of control. I struggle with this lesson. I am a control freak. I want to grasp at what I have. But where does grasping get us? St. Paul explains Christ’s submission and yes to the Father in his Letter to the Philippians, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Instead of grasping at power and control, Christ opens himself and says yes to the Father. In doing so, He saved Mankind from the death of their sins. Mary in saying yes to God opens herself totally and completely to God’s plan and the promised Messiah is born. When we say yes, we open our own lives to God’s divine plan. In that openness, in our vulnerability, grace comes rushing in. When we are open and say yes, we can serve and share Christ’s message with our families and the world. What are areas of your life that you need to say “yes” to God? Is it an old sin you cannot seem to abandon? A Church teaching you struggle with? Is it believing that God has a great mission and plan for your life? Is it belief that God truly loves you? Is it giving your family back to God? We all grasp at sin out of fear.
If you are struggling with a particular sin: go to Confession. Fr. Mike is waiting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, each Wednesday and Saturday evening. If you say yes to the grace of Confession, Christ will wash you clean. Don’t believe me? Try it. Try regular confession. Go a few times a year, once a month, or bi-weekly. I know that Confession has changed my life and my marriage. I try to go every two weeks. If you are struggling in your marriage, with a child, or having trouble with a co-worker, go to Confession. You will not be the same. About two years ago my husband and I decided to start trying to make it to Confession bi-weekly. With busy schedules it does not always happen, but we do make it at least once a month. Adding Confession to our marriage has greatly improved our relationship, allowed us to more fully understand our individual sins that we struggle with on a regular basis, and provided great comfort during trials. Confession is a powerhouse Sacrament that is meant to help you in your vocation and lead you to holiness. Christ will heal you in your brokenness. Let Our Lady be your guide. She always submitted in obedience and trusted in her son. If like me, you struggle with saying yes to God because of fear, pray for the courage to say yes. We all have struggles. We all fear, that is the nature of sin. If we learn to say yes, God will change us. God will make us saints if we ask him to and if we allow him to work in our lives. Pray and ask Our Lady to show you how to say yes to God in your life. She is waiting to be your Mother and to help lead you to her Son in your chosen vocation. To be faithful in your vocation you must say “yes” to God and trust what he has planned for you. We have finished with how Mary can help us say “yes” to God. Now let’s see how she can teach us obedience to God’s will.
There will be times when your vocation will be difficult. You may question your choices. You may be unsure of how you are doing as a wife, mother, or single woman. You may have your own desires and dreams. Perhaps at times you feel like your life has not turned out the way you had planned. When these times arise, prayer is your best weapon. When Our Lady learned of her vocation as the Mother of God what did she do? She prayed. The Magnificat is one of the most beautiful prayers in Scripture. Pray and God will give you his answer. At times it is not the answer we want to hear. Perhaps we are praying for a child or a spouse or for another family member or friend. Perhaps we want to go back to work, but feel that God is still calling us to be home with the children. God’s time is not our time. We tend to want to push and move things along in our own time. It’s that ancient sin of pride again. We must learn to be obedient to God’s will. We do not have the divine plan laid out before us. Most of the time we do not know what God is up to in our lives or the lives of others. Mary can teach us obedience to the Divine Will. She was always obedient to God, even though she did not know what God had planned for her future. In being obedient to God we are learning how to trust Him and serve Him. Obedience to God’s will is a sure sign of a saint and that is our goal. The meaning of life is to become a saint. If you struggle with obedience spend time in Scripture and pray about the times Mary is obedient to God. Pray for the gift of obedience, especially in those times when things do not go the way you want them to. Looking at Mary’s life will help you to become obedient to the Father. Let us now turn to our greatest call: love.
In all that we do in our vocation, the most important thing we do is love. God himself is love. It is one of the theological virtues. Our Lady is an example of the self sacrificing love of her Son. She empties herself to bore Him. She empties herself to raise Him. And she empties herself as she suffers, trusts, and watches Him die a brutal death on the Cross. Love is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. It can encompass feelings and emotions, but these are not in and of themselves love. St. Thomas Aquinas defined love as “willing the good of other, as other.” When we will the good of another person, it may mean that we disagree with their behavior, especially if it is sinful. When we love our children, it means total sacrifice. It means less time with your spouse or friends, it can mean less prayer time, less sleep, and less “me” time. Our culture is always telling us that “I” am the most important person. While we need to take care of ourselves through regular prayer, the Sacraments, eating well, and exercise, our lives are not about us. Our lives are meant for service. I read an article the other day where the author said that my child “is what God gave me time for.” When I read that line I felt like God had just knocked me upside the head. I am here to raise my daughter and love and serve my husband. If you want to know what love truly is, then look at the Cross. The Cross is total self emptying love. He gives everything. We are called to do the same thing. This is difficult for us to do in our sinful nature. We are selfish and weak. Love is a choice we have to make in each moment of the day. Ask Mary to show you how to love with her Mother’s heart. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said of Our Mother, “Mary is a woman who loves. How could it be otherwise? As a believer who in faith thinks with God's thoughts and wills with God's will, she cannot fail to be a woman who loves. We sense this in her quiet gestures, as recounted by the infancy narratives in the Gospel. We see it in the delicacy with which she recognizes the need of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus. We see it in the humility with which she recedes into the background during Jesus' public life, knowing that the Son must establish a new family and that the Mother's hour will come only with the Cross, which will be Jesus' true hour (cf. Jn 2:4; 13:1). When the disciples flee, Mary will remain beneath the Cross (cf. Jn 19:25-27); later, at the hour of Pentecost, it will be they who gather around her as they wait for the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).” Ask her to show you how to love with the heart of her Son. Yes it will be difficult, but Christ did not say it would be easy. God uses our vocation to rip the selfishness right out of us. Having a newborn baby opened my eyes to the Divine Gardener’s pruning in me. The first six months of parenthood I discovered just how selfish I can be and I also discovered that God uses parenthood to make much needed changes in me. Let Our Lady show you how to love. We will now look at one the hardest lessons Our Lady can teach us.
The last Marian example I want to discuss is learning how to suffer well. We are assured of suffering in this lifetime. After all, we are all on the road to Calvary. Our Lady’s ‘heart was pierced’ as she watched her Son die. In our society, suffering is the ultimate evil. We are told to avoid suffering at all cost. In doing so, our culture has abandoned grace. As hard as it is to understand and accept grace works hardest in times of pain and suffering. God uses our pain to bring about His Glory and our sanctification. It has taken me a long time to begin to understand this truth. It has taken me a long time to understand in a small way how Our Lady felt as she watched her Son die. Two months ago I had my third miscarriage in just over two years. Coupled with periods of debilitating postpartum depression, my husband and I have spent the first three years of marriage learning to help each other carry our Crosses. This last loss ended with me in emergency surgery. Before the lights went out, as the anesthesia kicked in, I remember they had put me out cruciform on the operating table where I lay bleeding out. For the first time I understood two things. First, what it was like to bleed out for a life that was already lost. Christ died for all, even those who would never accept him. Second, as Our Lady wrapped me in her comforting mantle I started to realize just how much a mother has to give. As a mother I must give everything, even my body, even my children to God. I constantly am asking Mary to help me in my grief right now. I am trying to trust that in my pain God’s grace is shaping and molding me into the saint he desperately wants me to become. We must give everything to God. We must give everything to the people whom God puts in our path. He calls us ‘to love Him with all of our heart and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.’ That means complete self emptying even when it hurts. It means embracing and even being thankful in times of trial. The path to sainthood is tough and it is only by His saving grace that we can make the journey. Suffering is a part of that journey. Our Lady knows the depth of pain and suffering. She knows how to comfort the afflicted mother who has lost a child, the woman who has never been able to have a child, or, the woman who has lost her own mother. Mary can love us and show us how to make it through the Crosses of life. She can help us on our way to our final Cross. Bring Mary into your heart in those moments of pain and despair. She will lead you to her Son and your redemption. There are countless other virtues and lessons that we can learn from Our Mother Mary. I encourage you to read Church documents like Blessed John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem in order to increase your understanding and love of your vocation. Mary is a pillar of strength for us in our given vocation.
The last point I would like to discuss with you today is how to bring Mary into your home. There are many great Marian devotions for Catholics to discover, but I would just like to mention a few activities that you can bring to your family or home. First, pray the Rosary. It takes 20 minutes and it is the most powerful prayer that Catholics have in their spiritual arsenal. It will help you to gain a deeper appreciation for Our Lady and for her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s be practical. Some of us have young children and hectic schedules. The idea of a family Rosary sounds daunting or unappealing. I would say examine your motives first and foremost. Make sure that laziness is not stopping you. I am the poster child for laziness in prayer. However, once I make the effort to pray the Rosary I sense the blessings that flow from the Rosary. Prayer takes time to learn and master. It takes a lifetime. Look at prayer like you would if you were training for a 5K. The first week make it a goal to pray a decade of the Rosary each day or a couple of times a week. The second week, make it two decades and so on and so forth until you can say the whole Rosary. Do not beat yourself up if you miss a day. Just begin praying again the next day. Devotion to Our Lady and the Rosary will change you and your family. I have struggled for years with praying the Rosary daily. My husband and I talk about it, but fail to do it. I realized rather than beating myself up, I need to start “training” in prayer. Like me, you may have to space decades out given your daily tasks. It does not matter if you pray all five decades at once. Just start praying the Rosary. Give it a try.
Another great way to honor Our Lady is through a Mary Garden. Find a Mary statue that you like and create an area for a garden in your yard. This is a great activity for kids too. If you search online you can find numerous templates for gardens as well as flowers named for Our Lady. There are hundreds of flowers that are named for Mary. It gives you a chance to enjoy some time marveling at God’s creation and honoring His Mother. Plus, if you love to garden like I do, it gives you a chance to play in the dirt.
Next, live liturgically. We are a celebration people. Blessed John Paul II said, “We are a Resurrection people and Hallelujah is our song.” Catholics know how to celebrate year round. Plan to have special celebrations in your home on Marian feast days. Create a Mary altar during the month of May and adorn it with flowers. Make a special meal or dessert to celebrate. Don’t just stop at Marian feast days. Celebrate your family’s patrons and patronesses. My daughter is named for St. Michael the Archangel, so the Feast of the Archangels is a big deal in our house. Also celebrate Baptismal anniversaries. What is more joyous than when we were made new in Christ and joined the Mystical Body of Christ? Have a cake or a party. We need to show the world what being a Resurrection people is all about. The Catholic liturgical calendar is how we should be living our lives. It gives us focus. It has a deep rhythm that can help us live in such a fallen world. Living liturgically reminds us to come back to our center, who is Jesus Christ.
Finally, bring pictures and artwork into your home. There are thousands of beautiful depictions of Our Lady and Our Lord. Put these pictures up in your home. We are Catholic and should be proud of that fact. Make your home Catholic. Seeing pictures of Our Lady can help give you reminders of her example throughout your day and will guide you in your vocation. These are just a few simple suggestions to help you celebrate the gift Christ gave us in His Mother who is also Our Mother.
We have come to the end of my talk. I hope Christ has spoken to you today and helped you to see why He gave us His Mother as our Mother to guide us on this journey. She is the greatest example for women. She is the woman who can most show us how to love, learn humility, be obedient, learn to deal with suffering, and say “yes” to God. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. Let us go out into the world and learn how to shine with Christ’s love to a world that desperately needs to hear His message. Our vocation as women called by God is how we will share that Light. I’d like to leave you with a quote from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “"We can do no great things; only small things with great love."