The beginning of 2019 brings to mind my good but forgotten intentions of 2018. While reminding me of my failures, the turn of the calendar pages symbolizes that I can start over again.
My daughter recently linked me to the Saint’s Name Generator created by Jen Fulwiler. A year ago St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was randomly chosen for me. She impressed me with her courage. I intended to contemplate prayerfully what this great saint can teach me.
Last year I put a great deal of thought into making some changes in my life Despite this, within a brief time, it all slipped my mind. I got involved in day-to-day living, putting my good intentions on the far back burner and turning off the stove.
Last year I said, “If I could only request one gift of God for me this year, it would be for the courage to follow wherever He calls.” The thought was good, but I lacked follow-through. I did not spend much time praying for that courage. The occasional time I did, it scared me because you cannot predict how God will answer.
The Perfect Epitome of Trust and Courage
This week I have been live-streaming the SEEK 2019 convention. In one talk, Leah Darrow talked about prioritizing. I realized that while I often speak of a desire to run towards Jesus and to cultivate the courage it takes to grow in holiness, those words do not often transform into action. To reach a goal requires a plan, and I need that plan to make it a priority.
I went back to the Saint’s Name Generator. As recommended by Jennifer Fulwiler, I prayed before clicking on “Find a Saint for Me!” and gasped when I saw the name it generated. God is clearly showing me another way to grow in courage and holiness. He is giving me a saint to walk with during 2019 who is the epitome of perfect trust and obedience, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In my youth, I never considered Mary’s Fiat particularly courageous. I did not realize the implications of her “yes.” I was a child, with the trust of a child. Of course, it also helps that I already knew how the story ended.
I thought Mary was lucky. In Luke 1:48 (NABRE), Mary herself says “From now on will all ages call me blessed.” She adds in verse 49, “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
God has done great things for her, and all ages will call her blessed. Think about that. How could life get any better?
As we age, sometimes we learn a few things. I have come to realize if God has to ask, whatever He has planned cannot be easy.
My mother had a great love for Mary. Her name, Dolores, means sorrows or pain. It is specifically associated with Our Lady’s sorrows.
My mother had her share of anguish. She left some writings behind in which she expressed the agony she experienced. Mom would plead with God for relief, but she always concluded by asking for God’s will to be done. She sounded like her namesake in Luke 1:38 (NABRE) where Mary said: “May it be done to me according to your word.”
I am nothing like my mother in this regard. When people I love suffer, I become frustrated and even angry with God. During a time when I suffered through years of chronic illness, it shook my faith to the core. Fortunately, God is willing to bear with us when we are at our worst. I learned that there could be a great deal of good in what appears to be terrible. During those difficult years, I explored the Church more fully and became ardently, faithfully Catholic.
Maybe God allowed my adversity because of the fruit it would bear. I like to think a benefit of my mother’s misery was purification on earth, so she spent little time in purgatory. Mary’s suffering, however, came as a direct result to her “yes” to God.\
Our Lady of Sorrows
September 15 is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. It fittingly comes the day after we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In particular, the Church recognizes seven specific times of anguish for Mary.
The first sorrow concerns the day Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord. Here they met Simeon. According to Luke 2:34, 35 (NABRE) Simeon told Mary:
“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
I do not think that is what she was expecting to hear that day.
The second sorrow in the devotion to Our Lady of Dolors refers to the time Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt while Herod, in his attempt to kill Jesus, murdered all males two years old and younger. Jesus was just a baby, and already somebody wanted Him dead.
St. Luke tells us that at the age of 12, Jesus was lost for three days (Luke 23:27-31, NABRE.) I used to wonder how this could happen. I learned that when groups traveled together to celebrate the Passover, the men gathered in one group and the women in another. Children could stay with either group. It would be easy enough, then, for each parent to think Jesus was with the other.
We know that Mary was at the foot of the cross, so it is likely she saw Him struggling to carry His cross to Calvary. I cannot imagine what that must be like, to watch your child carrying His instrument of death to the place He will die.
Then, horror of horrors, He is crucified and dies. Mary watched His painful death and could do nothing but gaze at Him in sorrow and love, and trust in God.
Then Mary witnesses the body of her Son removed from the cross and laid in a tomb. She could do nothing now but mourn and walk away, to prepare spices and oils in a last act of love.
The Church devotes a feast day to Mary’s sorrows. Many Catholics contemplate her grief through novenas, chaplets, and other means. Why is it of such importance to remember those agonies our Blessed Mother endured?
Contrary to the “gospel of prosperity” some people preach, when we say “yes” to God, it does not mean everything in our lives is magically going to work out. Your life from now on will not automatically be bright and free from pain. In fact, it is likely that it will get more difficult. Take a look at Scripture and the lives of the saints if you need verification.
There are some who will tell you that when things go wrong, it is a sign that you are not being a faithful Christian. During my years of chronic illness, I was told that if I just prayed more, I would be made well. Others said I was praying wrong, and they would give me their version of how to do it right. Many believed my lack of faith was making healing impossible. Ultimately I told them maybe they lacked faith too since their prayers did not resolve my health issues.
I do not believe Mary prayed too little, or in some incorrect manner, or lacked faith. Mary is proof that life in this world will not be pain-free just because we serve God.
Mary was chosen to bear and raise Jesus. God trusted Her with this momentous task, and Mary trusted Him right back. Jesus loved Mary with the devotion of a perfect Son. Still, her heart was pierced. We often feel abandoned and unloved by God in our dark days. Mary reminds us that those emotions are a lie of Satan.
Sin brought pain into the world. Jesus, without sin, suffered for us. Another speaker at the SEEK 2019 conference, Chris Stefanick, put it this way: “Our God suffered. He did not suffer so we wouldn’t. He suffered so we’d know how.”
There must be something important about the dark days of our lives. Acts 22 (NABRE) tells us ” It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
I do not pretend to understand why it is necessary. I do know that suffering can have its fruits. In my case, it brought me to recognize the fullness of Catholicism. It can help people detach from this life, and hopefully, to focus more fully on God.
It is important to love God for who He is. If turning to God made our lives on earth into a paradise, crowds would follow Him, but would it be from love or for our selfish interests?
Contemplating the sorrows in the life of Mary allows us to be next to her at the foot of the cross, where we see the depths of God’s love for us. At the SEEK conference, Sister Miriam James Heidland pointed out that “When a heart breaks wide open, love is poured out.”. At the cross, Jesus’ heart broke wide open. Mary’s heart most certainly broke with it.
Do I have the courage to allow my heart to break wide open? I desire that courage. Though I failed in my plans for last year, God always gives another chance. The best way I know to develop this trait is to get to know God better. I often complain that I do not know where He is calling me; however, I do know that He calls us all to greater friendship.
Relationships are built through communication and knowledge of each other. I will set up specific plans to pray, to listen, and to read certain works that I hope will help me get to know God better.
I will presume that it is no coincidence that the Saint’s Name Generator gave me Mary’s name. Suffering is one of those issues I struggle with when I am enduring it. Since I expect age to bring on more illness and loss, I need to learn to trust God during those times. My plan for that is to meditate on Mary’s sorrows.
The homilist at the Sunday Mass at the SEEK convention said, ” We have lost our sense of eternity.” He is right. Any suffering we do on this earth is as nothing compared to eternity.
Sarah Swafford, another SEEK speaker, reminded us “You will never find your worth in any other gaze but the gaze of Our Lord.” Do you have the courage to grow closer to God, knowing that it might lead to difficult times? Do not forget; those closest to God find joy even in their sufferings. Better yet, they have all eternity in God’s gaze.