A statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is seen at St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville, Ky. CNS photo/Elizabeth Wong Barnstead, Western Kentucky Catholic

Our Lady’s whispers of motherhood

By  Anna Farrow
  • August 4, 2022

‘Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us’

I have never had an easy devotion to Mother Mary. For most of my life it has felt rather contrived. There are a few possible reasons. Growing up in a bookish household meant that spiritual and intellectual pursuits were closely intertwined and many of the expressions of Marian piety were viewed as populist pablum. My mother is a convert and is naturally suspicious of anything smacking of folk religion. My father kept a Rosary in the drawer of his bedside table, but the placement was strategic. He once explained to me that the counting of the beads was a useful sleep aid.

I had the benefit of a Catholic education in the parochial school system of the United States. In the 1970s and ’80s that still meant a lively cultivation of the devotional life. May crowning processions involved a yearly offering from our gardens to construct the arches of flowers and greens under which we would pass.

We had hotly contested competitions of homemade Marian altars. Each class had winners and satiny ribbons were awarded. One year much derision was poured on the decision to grant first prize to some lazy eighth-grader who had the brilliant idea to pop a statue of Mary into a fishbowl, complete with goldfish and statuary, and label it, “Mary, Star of Sea.” As a mother who has endured her fair share of last-minute cobbling together of school projects that late-night decision now strikes me as a stroke of time-saving genius.

I absolutely adored those celebrations, but the processions and recitations of the Rosary were not enough to cultivate an uncomplicated relationship with Our Lady. My inclination tends to the eucharistic and Christocentric. Stick me in front of the Blessed Sacrament and I am content. When I go to pray my Rosary, and don’t worry, I do, there is always a little voice asking, “What, exactly, do you think you are doing?”

Recently, an answer to that question is being whispered back. And it comes, perhaps, as the result of my age and station in life. I am now the mother of adult children. No more teenagers. They all drive, vote, drink, file taxes and get themselves to church on Sunday. Two of them are recently married and one just received his commission in the Canadian Armed Forces. Two are still at home but they generally behave as adult tenants in so far as they take out the trash, tiptoe in on a Friday night and mow the lawn (well, when gently nudged).

And yet, and yet. Who knew that the ache in the heart intensifies the older they get? Who knew that that parental instinct to protect continues to grow in inverse relation to your ability to do so? The stakes have risen but I am not the one placing the bets anymore.

My children, now no longer children, are making promises and commitments that I cannot answer for. Worse yet, I can neither protect them from nor heal the wounds, the Shakespearean “slings and arrows,” that will inevitably be inflicted on them as they live out their vocation in this “vale of tears.” So, I can only watch and pray, take them out to lunch and give them gas cards on the sly.

And so, Mother Mary. On the afternoon of the Crucifixion, she stood beneath the Cross. Jesus saw her and saw who was standing with her, Mary’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and John, the disciple “whom He loved.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Behold, your mother.” Her heart was indeed breaking (here the cliché is true and useful), and yet, at that very moment, Jesus entrusted John to her. He said, love him as you love me. As she did at the Annunciation, Mary gave her fiat, her yes, I will love them as I love You.

Like John, I will take Mary into my house. I will continue to pray the words of the Salve Regina, “turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us.” I will ask her to watch and pray and I won’t refuse to accept any gas cards she sends me on the sly.

(Farrow is a writer in Montreal.)

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