Published October 13, 2005
The Blessed Virgin Mary has always been part of my world. From my earliest years in Catholic grade school, I remember the sweet lady in blue who stood smiling at the front of the classroom.
On her special feast days, the children wove a crown of flowers and placed it lovingly around the lady’s head.
She was a statue, of course, but like so many children, I believed that statues, like stuffed animals, had lives of their own, and that the lady would one day walk down the aisles and stroke our brows with her graceful hands.
All these years later, I still cherish the heartfelt lessons about holiness that came from that simple lady who resided in our classroom.
One lesson is gratitude, which comes from “The Magnificat,” Mary’s joyful song found in Luke’s Gospel.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior,” she says. “The Mighty One has done great things for me.”
Her words are a reminder that God has also done great things for each of us, but gratitude can be hard if we see the glass as half empty.
Too often, we take for granted so many blessings, like our faith, our health, our family, friends and home. Despite abundant possessions that would make us seem like kings and queens in the eyes of the world’s poor, we still find ourselves in the mall, pining for the glamorous things we don’t have.
Mary’s life was certainly not glamorous. In Luke’s Gospel, she refers to herself as “lowly” and describes herself as God’s handmaid, rather than as a woman of power or wealth.
And although the Gospel writers provide few details about Jesus’ childhood, it is easy to envision Mary as a typical mother of her time, humbly putting her child’s needs first.
You can imagine her with the boy Jesus, day in and day out, doing the million and one things mothers everywhere do every day without expecting applause: cooking meals, washing clothes, bathing him—and loving him.
As any parent can attest, the basic law of housework is that everything that gets done will soon get undone. This is true whether you are a single person living alone or parents with 10 children.
It is easy to feel despondent when the socks scurry eagerly from the dryer back into the dirty clothes heap, and the sink magically fills up with dishes whenever you turn your back.
How comforting to realize that the Virgin Mary faced the same humdrum tasks that we do, so long ago in Nazareth, and without the benefit of an electric dishwasher, clothes dryer or a freezer filled with meals-in-minutes.
And still she described herself as rejoicing.
Another lesson from the Blessed Mother comes at the marriage feast at Cana, when she notices that the young couple has run out of wine and doesn’t hesitate to tell Jesus about the problem.
She sees what is needed, and she asks for help, which we also must do.
We may assume that God doesn’t want to hear prayers about simple, humdrum things that are bothering us because he’s too busy controlling the rising and the setting of the sun, and attending to other such mighty matters.
But Mary shows us that even the simplest need can become a prayer.
What happens next in the wedding story is somewhat perplexing. At first Jesus seems to be denying His mother’s request, but a few lines later, we are told that He is in the process of performing His first miracle, which means He actually said “yes” to her.
I’ve always wondered if the Gospel writer failed to mention an important link in the story: Perhaps Mary looked at her son with a pleading, motherly glance, which changed Jesus’ mind.
This scene also contains a crucial lesson about obedience. When Mary says to the wine steward: “Do whatever He tells you,” she is referring to the changing of water to wine, of course, but there is a deeper message there.
“Do whatever He tells you” means taking Jesus’ words to heart by loving your enemies and doing good to those who persecute you. It also means taking up your cross and following Him.
Mary picked up her cross at the crucifixion of her son, which surely had to be the most heart-breaking experience of her life. What mother could bear to witness the torture and death of her child?
And yet we are told that Mary “stood there at the foot of the cross,” which means she withstood the worst possible trial.
That lesson still rings true for us today. When loved ones face tragedies, we may be tempted to rush in and try to fix things. Sometimes, though, standing in silence at the foot of a friend’s cross, and just being there with them—and praying for them—is all we can do.
Mary was rewarded for taking up her cross. After the horror of the crucifixion came the joy of the Resurrection, and she is later mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as being part of the first group of Christians in Jerusalem.
She witnessed many acts of healing in Jesus’ name, and the growth of the community that gathered together to follow his path.
In The Magnificat, she had predicted, “All generations will call me blessed,” and she was right. Even today, we call her the Blessed Mother and find in her simple, humble and yet holy path, the key to true happiness.
Lorraine Murray’s books “How Shall We Celebrate?” and “Grace Notes” are available at www.catholicbookpublishing.com. E-mail email@example.com. Artwork by Jef Murray.