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Mary: a model for every stage of life

By Mary Morrell

When my first granddaughter was about two years old, she loved to climb, jump and swing – always from the highest point she could manage. Anything a worried grandma like me would fear she loved to do, and my son happily obliged her.
 
One day he had her by the ankles and was spinning her around as fast as he could. She was screaming and laughing, and I was just plain screaming, “Stop!”
 
I was worried that his hands would slip or he would trip over his own feet or some other catastrophe would happen. My granddaughter, on the other hand, wanted one thing: “Do it again, Daddy!”
 
While I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, she wasn’t the least bit afraid. She had complete faith in her father. How like Mary and her unfailing trust in God, I thought.
 
Mary could have easily thought her life was beginning to spin out of control when the Angel Gabriel visited her to tell her she was going to have a child and not just any child: God’s child.
 
Just think of the circumstances: She was a teenager, engaged but not married, having to tell her future husband about her pregnancy. How would he respond? Would there be a wedding or would she be ostracized or maybe stoned to death? If, like so many other young women, Mary had imagined her future, this probably wasn’t how she saw her life unfolding.
 
Then there was the prophecy of Simeon shared when Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the temple: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many may be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
 
These words warn a very young Mary that she will suffer along with her son as He fulfills God’s work.
 
It has not always been easy for me to relate to Mary. Every image of her I had ever seen was one of youthful, radiant beauty, and holiness far beyond my reach. For us, time quickly takes away the bloom of youth, and our imperfect nature sometimes makes holiness seem inaccessible.
 
Then, as an adult, I discovered an image that resonated with me and my relationship with Mary blossomed.
 
On a visit to one of our Catholic schools, I saw a life-size bronze statue of an aged Mary -- as she might have looked as she stood at the foot of the cross, watching her son die a painful death.
 
She was seated in a chair. Her face had aged, her hair was pulled back in a bun, her hands reflected a life of hard work, but she emanated a beauty that came from wisdom and the experience of living life with all its joys and sorrows.
 
This is the Mary who persisted, who was resilient in the face of circumstances that she could not control. The Mary I saw before me was a woman of grace who must have gotten tired as we all do when we age, who probably had aching bones and muscles and who sometimes felt overcome with weariness.
 
Finally, I had found the Mary I could truly relate to.
 
As I began to see my life in line with Mary’s, I began to see that Mary’s holiness can be our holiness as we try to live our ordinary lives with extraordinary faith.

Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic.
 

Gratitude: a wellspring of hope, healing

“In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.”
-- St. Teresa of Avila

 
After I had been sick for several weeks, my husband thought a few days away at the shore would give me time to rest.
 
The hotel was lovely, as was the ocean view, but I was missing my family.
 
Then we went to eat lunch in the hotel restaurant.
 
An elderly woman, probably in her eighties, came into the restaurant where the waitress greeted her as if they were friends, asking her if she had had a good winter.
The older woman replied, “Well, not really, but we have to deal with things as they come.” She went on to explain that her daughter had become very ill with cancer during the winter and had died.
 
The waitress was stunned and unsure about how to respond. “She wasn’t your only child was she?”
 
The woman, now seated with a young man, shared that she lost her only other child, a son, two years ago. He had a heart attack at the age of 63.
 
Now I was stunned. I couldn’t imagine the pain of losing one child let alone both children, and within such a short period of time. How did she cope?
 
A moment later the gray-haired woman smiled at the waitress and said, ”I’m just so grateful to be here with my nephew and for my four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.”
 
I felt myself getting choked up, but I was beginning to understand.
 
Later that evening, when we went for dinner, my husband struck up a conversation with our waitress and discovered that she was a single mother of three children, ages 9, 7 and 2. Working at the restaurant was her second job.
 
“It’s been hard,” she said, “but I was so happy to get this job. My kids are having a hard time adjusting to not seeing me, but I explain to them it’s not a forever thing. The extra money gives me, and them, security for the things we need. I’m very grateful to have been hired.”
 
There it was again, the one thing that seemed to make the impossible, possible – gratitude – a powerful state of mind that serves as a wellspring for strength, persistence, positivity and growth. Rather than live in their pain and their struggles, these two women made the decision to live in a state of gratitude.
 
Of course, there is always a need to first work through our grief, our anger and our pain when we are suffering, but eventually there comes a time when we must move forward. Sometimes our losses are so traumatic that we need the support of professionals or others who have been through a similar experience. But when we find ourselves healing, choosing to live in gratitude can be an important step in reclaiming a life of hope and meaning.
 
Priest and author, Father Henri Nouwen, explains that gratitude is not as much a decision as a discipline: “The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.
 
“There is an Estonian proverb that says: ‘Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.’ Acts of gratitude make one grateful because, step by step, they reveal that all is grace.”

--Mary Morrell
 

Bishop's Mother's Day message

I won’t be going to visit my mother today for Mother’s Day; she still lives in the family home in a suburb of Boston, and I will be on a parish visitation in Vermont. My brothers and sisters along with her grandchildren will spend time with her for Mother’s Day, and I’ll make sure she gets flowers and her regular Sunday phone call from me.

And I will go to see her next weekend.

Most women of her generation stayed at home and raised their family. She had seven children, and at one point we were all under the age of 11. She somehow managed to take care of us, handing us off to my father when he was free from work and other chores. There were a lot of other large, two-parent families in my neighborhood; we had lots of friends and lots of adult eyes keeping track of all of us.

Mother’s Day usually meant handmade cards and some flowers but not too much else – it was too expensive for all nine of us to have brunch or dinner at a restaurant.

If the weather was nice enough, it was Dad at the grill.

Such was Mother’s Day then.

Things are different now, not so much in the love and care that mothers give their children but more in the circumstances and culture of the family. There are a lot more “blended” families (children of divorced and remarried parents), more unmarried parents with children, more mothers who work a job or two outside the home, more grandparents raising their grandchildren and more single parents – mainly women. These new realities often lead to unintended difficulties and outcomes for children and parents. Even though most are doing the best they can, personal and familial circumstances are often difficult.

Such is Mothers’ Day now.

Though times have changed, what remains the same is a mother's enduring connection with her children. And as women take on not necessarily more responsibilities -- just different ones -- they continue to be mothers, a role that they alone can hold, a role worth celebrating.

So as I offer a prayer in thanksgiving for the gift that my mother has been to me and my family, I offer a prayer of intercession for all our mothers, grandmothers and surrogates that in this time and culture, they may love their children with a mother’s heart and receive the help and support that they need from all of us.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
 
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