These are some of the questions that I posed to Catholic women of all ages as I researched my book Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. It’s a topic that is close to my heart, given that my own Marian journey has evolved in unexpected ways throughout the years. I couldn’t wait to hear what other women had to say about the world’s most famous mother.
I was not disappointed.
In the book, forty-six women, from their twenties to their nineties, reflect on the role that Mary plays in their lives. Their stories reveal how Mary has been present during a wide variety of life events: having a baby, discerning a vocation, recovering from a breakup, losing a spouse, healing from abuse, overcoming an eating disorder, re-entering the Church after decades of absence. In the process of collecting these stories, I was amazed to learn how many faces Mary wears, and how easily she slips into women’s lives when they need her most.
One story comes from a forty-two-year-old teacher named – appropriately enough – Mary. In this excerpt, she describes the life-changing event that, years ago, made the Blessed Mother suddenly real to her:
At age thirty-four, Mary was blindsided by terrible news: She was diagnosed with uterine cancer and given a 20 percent chance of survival. Suddenly, everything in her life was different. “One month, you think everything is fine, and the next month, you have your uterus removed, you’ve been given giant doses of chemotherapy, and you’re just trying to grapple with the fact that you can never have your own children, also dealing with the fact that you may lose your life,” she says. “And it’s a cancer that no one my age usually gets, so it’s very hard to find peace or a place to rest anywhere in your mind or body when that’s happening.” In the midst of her fear, she needed the comfort of prayer, but found a barrier in praying to God. She was grappling with the question of why she had the cancer – had God caused it? Was it his will that she suffer and perhaps die? Was it some kind of punishment he was giving her? “I didn’t know who God was at that moment,” she says.
In the midst of these questions, she found herself turning to the Blessed Mother for comfort. “I knew this was the best person who could possibly intercede,” she says. When she approached Mary, there were no spiritual barriers. “I just felt a wave of listening and compassion come over me and almost felt understanding from her, and I suddenly felt as if I could pray. It was really important to have that female to talk to.” Mary was comforted to think that the Blessed Mother knew the pain she was going through at being unable to have children of her own. “All of a sudden, I felt like someone understood – not that Jesus couldn’t, but in my limited human way at the time, I needed to talk to a woman.”
To find out how the story ends, read Mary and Me!
P.S. To read another excerpt, go to St. Anthony Messenger Press and click on “Sample Chapter.”