"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

Mary: Embodiment of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness

Mary: Embodiment of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness 

It’s only fitting that we end by reflecting on our Blessed Mother, the means through which God chose to reveal His Beauty, Truth and Goodness to the world. Now, what do I mean by this? Two things, really. In bearing Jesus, Mary quite literally embodied Beauty, Truth, and Goodness in her womb. She was the vessel chosen to restore all of creation to its original splendor. Her “yes” unraveled the knot of sin that had gripped the world for so long. The moment the mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished, human history entered the ‘fullness of time’: the world was made anew, endowed and refashioned with grace.

But why Mary, a simple young woman from Nazareth? What makes her so extraordinary? Externally, very little. But God looks inside, at the heart, and what He found in Mary was magnificent: humility, obedience, and deep trust. Mary never drew attention to herself, never sought her own way, or asked for special favours. As Caryll Houselander reminds us, Our Blessed Mother was “not a woman of privilege, but a woman of grace so committed to Christ and his plan for redemption that her every thought and action [was] oriented to her son.”

Mary was the fertile soil, but God did the planting. Every grace and glory of Mary’s flowed from Jesus, her Son. And God chose her not only to be Jesus’ Mother but our very own. She carried Him first in her womb, sharing her body with His, and now she shares that life with all of us, her spiritual children.

Mother, who art thou?

I can say this now with all confidence and peace in my heart, but it wasn’t always that way. I’ve told you about some of the ways that God has worked in my life, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you the most beautiful part: how I came to know and love His Mother. Mary was really the first point of connection for me with the Church.

When I was in high school, I met a girl who moved to my school (in Texas) from Vermont. Everything about her and her family was so different from what I’d grown up with. They all had these crazy New England accents and looked like they’d just stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog with their turtlenecks and topsiders. More importantly, they were so genuine and friendly, and I found myself wanting to spend more and more time with them. As I got to know them better, I discovered that they were also Catholic. It was obviously important to them, a big part of who they were as a family.

Mary, our refuge and hope

One day, my friend and I were out riding bikes when a storm suddenly whipped up. Within minutes, the wind began to blow and the sky visibly darkened. Giant raindrops started to fall, soon followed by hail and the crash of thunder. Wearing only t-shirts and shorts, we tried to pedal faster to get home. Even though I had witnessed plenty of wild Texas weather in my lifetime, I was a bit terrified and wondered what would happen next. Then all of a sudden, my friend began to pray the Hail Mary. I had never heard the prayer before but found myself repeating the words. It was calming, comforting. The storm didn’t miraculously stop, but the one in my heart did. We were drenched and cold but thankfully made it back to her house safely. The moment passed, and I don’t really remember discussing it with my friend. But it stuck with me. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it was a moment of grace – God reaching out to me through His Blessed Mother. Not to discount my friend’s part… Her response in a moment of uncertainty was very important. But it wasn’t only her. God used all the circumstances together – the “perfect storm” – to get my attention. Before that day, the Catholic Church wasn’t even on my radar. But a little seed was planted in my heart and began growing imperceptibly. A few years later, I started dating this great guy at university who was Catholic, and my curiosity was piqued again. I’m sure you can guess the ending – I became Catholic, he became my husband, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yet even years after becoming Catholic, I was still confused about Mary. I knew she was the Mother of Jesus, of course, and, by extension, the Mother of God. I had what I’d call a healthy respect for her. But I didn’t really love her. I was put off by her perfection. The fact that she was free from sin made me think that she was somehow inaccessible to me. How could I possibly relate to this woman who was utterly perfect? In my mind, Mary’s perfection also diminished her “yes.”  If she were perfect, I reasoned, how could she not say “yes” to God?  Her perfection made everything sound so much easier – like she had a free pass to heaven or something.

The Truth about Mary

But then God helped me to understand. She was perfect, but she still had a choice. Being free from sin didn’t negate her free will. But since God (who is all-knowing) knew that Mary would give her consent – her unreserved “yes” – He preserved her from all sin. In His Goodness, God wanted to show us that perfection is possible, that our fallen race – through the grace of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection – can be restored to that state that existed before the fall of mankind. We won’t reach perfection until the next life, but Mary lived it on earth. Pope Francis said that  “Mary is that space, preserved free from sin, where God chose to mirror himself.” She gives us a vision of God, His Beauty, Truth, and Goodness.

Another thing that had always thrown me off about Mary was that there were so many different images of her. I had seen her depicted as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, the list goes on and on. But all these depictions confused me somehow. Who really was she? (Will the real Mary please stand up!) The moment of clarity came one day when I was reflecting on the Holy Trinity – how we like to make such strong distinctions between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, though He’s really only one God.

I realized that the same is true for Mary. We might know her by many different names, but she’s one woman: The Blessed Virgin Mary. These various images aren’t meant to divide her, but rather to multiply her. Instead of seeing her as just a young girl of Jewish descent (where perhaps only the people of Israel might claim her), in reality, she belongs to all of us – we can all claim her as our Mother. The Mexican people know her as Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Polish as Our Lady of Czestochowa, and the Irish dearly love their Lady: Our Lady of Knock. Practically every culture of the world has some way to see Mary as their mother. How beautiful is that?

The Power of Beauty (Part Two)

Moreover, through her Assumption, Mary isn’t bound to any particular time or place.  There is a “tomb” (of sorts) in Jerusalem – the place where, according to tradition, she fell asleep – but it’s empty.  She continues to live in heaven with Jesus, interceding on our behalf…and even making appearances from time to time when we need her most.

I’d have to say there’s probably nothing we need more in the world today than a mother’s love.  It’s a rare mother who doesn’t love her children – even when those children don’t live up to her expectations or when they truly mess up.  When a mother loves her children, she wants them to be happy, and Mary knows that we can only be happy if we are united with her Son in eternity.

The powerful intercession of Mother Mary in the lives of her children knows no equal. But the most beautiful part is that she does all this behind the scenes, working quietly, almost imperceptibly, in the background, as if she wants to remain hidden, almost invisible. I came across a lovely story that I’d like to share with you now. I think it fits into our discussion on Mary perfectly.

 The Invisible Mother by Nicole Johnson

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.  Inside I’m thinking, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”
Obviously not.  No one can see if I’m on the phone or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.I’m invisible.Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more:  Can you fix this?  Can you tie this?  Can you open this?  Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being.  I’m a clock to ask, “What time is it?”  I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is the Disney Channel?”  I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.”I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.She’s going … she’s going … she’s gone!One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England.  Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in.  I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well.  It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up into a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it.I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, “I brought you this.”  It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe.  I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription:  “To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book.  And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:  No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names.  These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.  They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.  The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.  A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam.  He was puzzled and asked the man, “Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof?  No one will ever see it.”  And the workman replied, “Because God sees.”

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place.  It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, “I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.”At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it’s not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.  I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder.  As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.  When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand-bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.” That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself.  I just want him to want to come home.  And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, “You’re gonna love it here.”

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals.  We cannot “be seen” if we’re doing it right.  And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

Conclusion

As women, this is precisely what we’re called to do – to make the world a more beautiful and loving place, one soul at a time. To leave things better than we found them! And Mary is our model – she shows us the way – in perfect faith, unwavering hope, and unfailing love, the fruits of God’s Beauty, Truth, and Goodness within her. We mustn’t feel put off or worried that we will never live up to such perfection. We’re not meant to. We each have our own vocations, and the Lord only asks us to live them with generosity and great love.

With His grace, we will develop an eye for the beautiful, an ear for truth, and a heart for goodness in our lives. According to St. Athanasius of Alexandria, “We are becoming by grace what God is by nature,” albeit ever so slowly. And as Saint Paul reminds us, “If we have no weakness, we have no place for Christ in us” (2 Corinthians 12:5). It’s not a failure to need grace, only to refuse it.

Let us end with this thought: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). For through Beauty, we seek wholeness; in Truth, we seek to mean; in Goodness, we seek relationship, and through Mary, we seek Jesus. Mary, our Star of the Sea, safely lead us home.

– Kelley Holy

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