Tomorrow is the Feast of the Visitation, when Mary traveled to her cousin Elizabeth, who was also miraculously expecting. If you are one of my Protestant friends, or otherwise curious about the role of Mary in the Catholic Church, I’d like to direct you toward this site: What Catholics Believe About Mary & the Saints.
When I was growing up, our Blessed Mother was in incredible comfort to me. Having a very awesome and loving, but busy, Earthly mother, I often turned to Mary when I was sad, or lonely, or confused. I trusted her implicitly, and she always led me to Jesus.
When I was pregnant with Gianna, I figured the role of the Mother of God in my life would change a little. She would be more of a mentor than a comforter. I imagined I would care for my my child as she had comforted Jesus. I would be patient and loving because Mary had been so with Him. I would draw comfort from her and learn from her and emulate her.
And then Gianna was born. I fell instantly in love with that tiny infant, which is a very very good thing because she soon proved to be what some euphemistically call a “high needs” baby. She rarely slept, she ate non-stop, and she cried in the arms of anyone other than me.
By the time the glow of new motherhood had worn off, I was a wreck. I was working full time, caring for a baby throughout the night, and just generally living like a zombie. I tried to imagine Mary caring for a colicy Jesus, but I couldn’t summon the image. Had Jesus pushed Mary to the brink of her patience? It seemed unlikely, and I began to rely less less and less on the intercession of Mary, and though I didn’t see it at the time, less on Jesus.
I found out I was pregnant with Aliya when Gigi was only 8 months old, and I wept. Yes, we were open to life and yes, we also rejoiced, but deep down there was also dread. My daughter still hardly slept at night, she still cried all the time, and she demanded every last second of my time. How could I possibly make room in my heart and my arms for a second baby?
If you’re a parent, you’re probably familiar with the fog of exhaustion, and mothers know that early pregnancy can cause an extreme version. One vivid day I was sure I wasn’t going to make it through that second pregnancy with my sanity intact, and I railed at Mary. “You don’t understand. You only had one son. And the Son you had was perfect. He probably never kept you up at night or demanded the last shred of your dignity and patience, day after day and night after night.”
Mary, who had been a comfort all my life, had now become an impossible measuring stick. There was no way I would ever be the mother she was, so she became an adversary.
I didn’t care for the way I felt, but try as I might to get over it, whenever I was struggling through something, my first thought of Mary was: she wouldn’t understand. Not only was her Son perfect, but she herself was conceived without sin. She didn’t even bear the mark of original sin that made her WANT to sin. Her patience must have been boundless, and it made me feel small and mean.
And then one day I was reading the story of the Visitation, and it struck me that I wasn’t looking at Mary with the eyes I should have. Elizabeth, her cousin, said upon Mary’s arrival:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
I realized that all of my discomfort had to do with the focus being taken off of Jesus. In thinking I had to be like Mary, I had forgotten that Mary was my own mother too. But a true and pious Marian devotion will never lead us away from Jesus, and it will never cause jealousy or mistrust. Mary tells us so in the very next passage, when she responds to Elizabeth:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Elizabeth saw Mary exactly as she should have. She beheld Mary’s grace through the fruit of her womb, and Mary responded by pointing back to God. This is a true Catholic devotion to Mary, and one that we should all aspire to.