With many of the holiest days on the Church’s calendar, we’re given a period of preparation.
Through Advent, we long for Christ, and when the day finally comes, the world wakes up with a palpable sense of relief. Through Lent, we walk with him, hoping and yearning for His resurrection, and the tension of the season goes on for so long that we forget that isn’t the norm. But then Easter morning arrives, and suddenly, it’s over – the loneliness, the fear, the sadness – Christ is with us again, and everything is okay.
Have you ever had the experience of not realizing you were even holding your breath, until you start breathing again?
Even though there’s no countdown, no preparation, for the feast of the Queenship of Mary, it hits me the same way. The fears and stress that I’d forgotten I was carrying – so normal had it become – lifts, and I wonder how I lived with those burdens so long.
Because now I remember! Mary, our own mother, is Queen of the Earth, Queen of the universe—and wonder of wonders, our human mother is Queen of Heaven, too. Whatever we’re afraid of, whatever is weighing us down, how can it stand up in the face of this truth?
Mary’s Queenship is such a comfort. She’s been given power over everything God made. As Pope Pius XII proclaimed in 1954, when he established this feast day, “…from her union with Christ she receives the royal right to dispose of the treasures of the Divine Redeemer’s Kingdom.” So we can trust that, in the end, everything will be okay.
Power isn’t usually a word that brings us comfort. The world sees power as a weapon, a way to assert our own will over others. But Christ, to whom “all power on heaven and earth has been given,” (Mt 28:18) shows us power’s true purpose, telling his apostles, “I have come not to be served, but to serve” (Mt 20:28), and leaving all of us the same call.
In the lives of the saints, we see the clearest examples of people who understood exactly what the call to serve is supposed to mean.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, for example, who held positions of authority her entire adult life as both a biological and a spiritual mother, lived a life of service—of self-gift. She prayed, “O Jesus, with whom I offer Myself, give me the courage to reckon myself as nothing, and leave nothing in me of self. …I must lose myself in You. No more Self. No more interest, but that of God.” (Hope Always Awake, 140).
Can you imagine a world where leaders – not just civic leaders, but parents, teachers, anyone with power over us – prayed that prayer with their whole hearts? In such a world, would we still be afraid of being ruled over?
“Give me the courage to reckon myself as nothing…” is a prayer of total self-giving, a prayer very much like Mary’s, when she told the angel, “Be it done unto me according to your word.”
I’m thinking about that sense of relief I feel when my Church reminds me – as it does on this feast day every year – that Mary of Nazareth is Queen of all that exists. We independent, self-sufficient modern people aren’t usually eager to put ourselves under the rule of another. Power, in our minds, is synonymous with oppression. But in Christ, and in Our Lady, Mother Seton, and the saints, power exists in the framework of love. And when Love is what rules us, everything changes.
Where love is, there’s no reason to be afraid.
Here on Earth, we have an especially acute sense of how much there is to fear. We want to deny it, but we understand, on some level, how little power we have of our own. Life flies by, chaotic and unpredictable. We assume we’re in control, but all that happens has less to do with us than we think.
Mother Seton’s life, to an outsider, looked like one tragedy after another: poverty, loss of status, death, struggle, uncertainty. But instead of living in fear, she forged ahead, because she kept the comfort that is celebrated on this feast day always in her heart.
Does it matter, in the end, what we go through, if our own Mother is Queen, and Christ our King rules over us with total, self-sacrificing love?
This truth was at the root of Mother Seton’s extraordinary courage. Through tremendous hardship, it enabled her to keep her priorities straight. She gave her all to the will of God, and rested in the fact that He is in charge. She prayed:
“When it is all over, when the silver cord is loosed, and the spirit returned to Him who gave it, then He who has witnessed its struggles will give it rest. In the meantime, exertions and sacrifices must be made.” (Hope Always Awake 210).
We can have that same courage. Our suffering, our struggle, our fear, is real. But there is so much more to reality than that. Faith reminds us of what is eternally real: that Mary is our Queen, and the power of Heaven is a force of pure, self-emptying love. Whatever life looks like at this moment, Love, ultimately, rules the universe.
ANNA O’NEIL likes cows, confession and the color yellow, not necessarily in that order. She lives in Rhode Island with her family, and tries hard to remember that “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
This reflection was originally published in August 2019.