When I was a new mom many years ago, I called my mother daily. I called about big things (“How do I teach my children to pray?”) and little things (“Why is he hiccuping so much? And why does this baby never sleep?”) and all the things in between. After every visit to the pediatrician, I called my mom to discuss my children’s growth and immunization schedules. I called to ask questions about child development, discipline, and education.
But mostly, I called to connect. I truly needed my mother’s presence in my life in those early years of motherhood, in ways I could not have imagined during my tumultuous teenage years. Though I have grown in experience and wisdom, I still need my mother, and I still value her opinion, especially on matters related to parenting and family life. I can’t imagine how I would have navigated many parts of my own life experiences without her.
Not every woman is blessed to have a good mother here on earth to guide her. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lost her own mother when she was just three years old. By the time she married, had five children of her own, and took on the care of her husband’s six half brothers and sisters, she must have felt the lack of an earthly mother’s guidance and example most acutely. She didn’t have the luxury of daily phone calls to a loving woman who could talk her through the trials she faced. Especially when her husband eventually died, leaving her alone to manage her family’s affairs, she must have felt more alone than ever.
Facing what seemed like impossibly difficult circumstances, some women might despair. St. Elizabeth Ann, however, turned to a heavenly mother in her time of need – Mary, the mother of God, and the mother of us all. Elizabeth turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary for guidance in her faith journey, especially when she was discerning her conversion from the Episcopal to the Catholic Church, but also for day-to-day support in the trials and sorrows of caring for others.
On September 8 we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Mary — Mary’s birthday! A great excuse to bake and share blue-frosted cupcakes. As a homeschooler, I often choose this date to begin our school year. It seems appropriate to begin the challenging task of educating our children for another year at home under the guidance of Mother Mary.
For some of us, a relationship with Mary comes naturally, but for others it can be challenging. Her perfection can make her seem somehow unapproachable, like a pristine statue that knows little about the real struggles of the real world we must live in. What can Mary, wife of a saint, mother of a single Divine Son, and conceived without original sin, know about the messiness we face in a world of sin and failure?
The answer is “lots.” Mary knows lots about messiness. She knows the ugly truth about the consequences of sin better than any of us because she witnessed it firsthand. Mary’s example, her silent, suffering witness to the torture and death of her son Jesus during his crucifixion, is a perfect example of motherly compassion – a gift she offers to us all.
The root of the word “compassion” is the Latin “compati,” meaning “suffer with.” And this is what Mary does. Mary suffered with Jesus during his passion and death, and she suffers with us today. She suffers beside us and offers love and encouragement in every trial we might face. Whether we face serious woes, like the deadly illnesses and dire financial circumstances that St. Elizabeth Ann endured, or small frustrations like dirty dishes, piles of laundry, or a potty-training toddler who has given up naps, Mary is there with us.
And because she knows what is good for us, Mary never fails to meet us in our suffering and nudge us closer to God. I love to reflect on the Gospel story of the Wedding at Cana and Mary’s simple words to the servants: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
This is Mary’s nudging reminder to us all: Do whatever He tells you. Go wherever He calls you. And even if the way He calls you is difficult, I am right here beside you.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton tells us: “We know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life. We know that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.”
Mary is part of that abundant grace that God gives us. Mary was a gift of grace to the “barren” St. Anne and her husband St. Joachim, born after years of their longing for a child. Mary, steadfast and loving, was a gift of grace to Jesus in his suffering and death. Mary, truth-seeking, gentle, and compassionate, was a gift of grace to Elizabeth Ann Seton as she searched for the truth about her faith and sought consolation in all the messiness and struggles of her earthly life.
In the holy life to which He calls us, God might allow us to face trials, but He always gives us the grace we need to endure them. Especially on the feast of her birth, let us remember that Mary, the mother of God, is part of that gift – the abundant gift of grace we need today.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s
Remember, O most pious Virgin Mary,
That no one ever had recourse to you,
Implored your help or sought your mediation,
Without obtaining relief.
Confiding then on your goodness and mercy,
I cast myself at your sacred feet,
And do most humbly supplicate you,
O, Mother of the Eternal Word,
To adopt me as your child and take upon yourself
The care of my eternal salvation.
O, let it not be said, my dearest Mother,
That I have perished, where no one ever found but grace and
Eternal Salvation. Love me, my Mother!
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood, and the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
This article was previously published. Click here to view all the Seton Reflections.
Image: The Madonna In Sorrow, Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, (1609-1685)