How Loving Our Lady Softened My Heart Towards My Own Mother
I carry a vivid memory of my relationship with the Blessed Mother that began in childhood. Around the age of six, shortly after I started first grade at a Catholic elementary school, I learned the basics about Mary: She was the Mother of God, how to pray the Hail Mary, she was conceived without sin, and we should imitate her holiness.
For days, I’d ponder these mysteries in my developing mind, often while cradling a holy card in my hand and whispering to myself. Mary began as a distant figure of history to me – an important one, but a mere shadow. I couldn’t relate to her. She was pious and meek, quiet and submissive.
Even at my young age, I knew my personality was far from hers. I opined when no one asked, held strong views about right and wrong, cared deeply for those oppressed by injustice, and openly spoke about my emotions which were always intense and often veered toward anger. In my estimation, Mary was nothing like me and I nothing like her. Because of that, I felt ashamed at what I perceived to be my flawed nature.
I’d pray and cry sometimes that God would make me more like Mary. I knew it was what my family wanted – a compliant, agreeable girl. But I questioned rules and the way the world worked. I didn’t know how to be any other way. The message I received was that I was too bossy and wouldn’t make or keep any friends with my bold, feisty temperament.
I didn’t pray to Mary for years. I would participate in the Rosary, going through the motions of the Hail Mary. But she was still not a woman I could understand or connect with, especially as a mother. Tensions mounted in my relationship with my earthly mother as I neared adolescence, and still I couldn’t muster a prayer to Mary for help.
During the early years of college, I felt compelled to attend daily Mass with my mom. I awoke early and started my day in this way, which quickly became a routine I relished. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my heart softened toward Mary as my spiritual Mother. I felt I needed a relationship with her in my life – not to supersede the one I was deepening with God, but to accompany or supplement it, that it might be richer or fuller, more complete somehow.
My mom suggested I try St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary. She purchased a little booklet on preparation for this devotion, and, intrigued, I selected a date for my official consecration (April 28, the Feast of St. Louis), then began the daily prayers alongside attendance of daily Mass.
I took the prayers very seriously and meditated on the litanies and long meditations written by de Montfort. Toward the end of my thirty-three days, I noticed my heart began to change. I was drawn to Mary, almost thirsting to know her – not just about her, but to know her as my Mother. I needed her. I was desperate to love her the way Jesus did.
After making my consecration to Mary, which included Confession and reception of Holy Communion, my soul felt freer, lighter. I prayed my Rosary with more fervor and ardor, meditating on the mysteries and how Our Lady must have experienced life with Jesus. She became real to me.
It wasn’t until I became a mom ten years ago that my relationship with the Blessed Mother deepened to the point where I understood her as a mother. I finally encountered her maternal heart – her love for me as a spiritual daughter – when I understood the love shared between mother and child.
Felicity was an infant, just a little over a year old, when I awoke on Christmas morning before everyone else in the house did. The image of the Christ-Child in the manger came alive in a new, enfleshed way. I saw in my mind’s eye Our Lady and St. Joseph with Him, and I understood a small fragment of her sacrificial heart. I was beginning to know what love meant.
Then, I started praying spontaneously to Mary. I’d ask her to protect Felicity, to guide me as a mother (because I had no idea what I was doing), to intercede for our family that we might become holy. Sometimes I’d utter or sigh through tears during middle-of-the-night feedings or after Felicity would scream and I was at a loss on how to handle her fits. These were prayers of the heart, a language that I understood to be part of that feminine gift, or genius, that St. John Paul II wrote about.
When our second daughter, Sarah, was born with a rare disease, I became drawn to Our Lady of Sorrows. For a time, I prayed the Seven Sorrows of Mary every day and imagined what her pain and suffering was like as she accompanied Jesus in His Passion. I participated in the Mystical Body of Christ. I was part of this suffering as a mother whose child underwent major cranial surgery before the age of one. I shared in the Cross of the universal Church.
Many Marian books came to me in the mail once I became a published author, and I read them hungrily. The great Mariologists, especially St. Alphonsus Liguori, impacted me greatly on understanding Marian theology. On the intellectual level, I gradually came to the realization that I wasn’t all that different from Mary in her humanity and that I could strive for holiness despite my weaknesses, because her mercy was waiting for me.
Two of the most profound gifts I’ve been given in this Marian journey are that I’ve experienced healing in my relationship with my earthly mother and I know that the goodness of my innate temperament is also a part of hers. A friend told me a few years ago that Mary is both meek and bold. She is quiet and fiery. She carries all the strengths of every temperament.
And when I pray to her now, I always include, “Please grant me a participation of your grace and a portion of your heart.”