Mary, Gate of Heaven

I knew I was out of my league when she came barreling toward me. She weighed at least as much as I did, and she was much more passionate in her goal than I was in mine. She wanted out, and, seeing her come toward me, I wanted out too, out of the way.

My brother-in-law or husband — don’t remember which —saved me. They hadn’t been foolish enough to leave me in charge of something so important as the escape route the sheep were bound to take.

I was the observer, the chronicler, the wanna-be. I held the camera, spooking the sheep with my flash; I interrupted the sheep talk with questions and observations that were inconsequential; I spoke too loudly in the calm of the barn.

One of them came over and caught the ewe. They made it look easy, but I wasn’t fooled. There was no way I was going to be able to do that. If not for the gates and the men around me, my participation in the activities in our barn would have ended then.

When you live on a farm with animals, you gain an appreciation for gates as more than just ways in and out of a space. When you have other beings — in our case, a group of sheep — who think the way out is an interesting diversion, that gate becomes a critical point.

When my brother-in-law sets up for shearing, a poorly anchored gate can mean hours of angst, even if no sheep actually escape. Sheep are different than some other animals in that they don’t always plot for escape; they’ll follow well enough. As long as the sheep with the initiative is in check, it’s usually okay.

Once, we had a near-calamity after we had a burn pile in the back pasture for a few hours, to get rid of the piles of scrap wood and burnable junk that accumulate at the speed of light. My husband forgot to tie the gate securely.  One of the ewes — called her Nosy Rosy for a reason — noticed the opportunity, and there were some panicked phone calls that afternoon when a neighbor noticed sheep near the road by our house.

Gates were as much a part of life when I lived in a farmhouse as they were in the barn. Leave the gate down at the bottom of the stairs and the toddler was likely to test her climbing abilities.  Our stairs were steeper and taller than those in newer houses, so I had to pay attention.

Gates can mean the difference between walls in new parish facilities being decorated with red (non-washable!) crayon and the neutral color they’re supposed to be. At one point in the days of my parish employment, the gate we used at work kept my toddler from harassing our parish secretary and posed an interesting hurdle for everyone in the office (because, rather than take it down, we all attempted to leap over it).

A gate can be an entrance, a welcome sight after a weary journey. When the prodigal son saw the gate of his father’s property, imagine the relief he felt. A gate can also be a barrier, a protection from the danger outside. In ancient cities, the gates were closed at night and the city was safe from harm. In software parlance, a gateway enables different types of communication between computer networks.

Mary was first addressed as the Gate of Heaven centuries ago. The most obvious reason is that it was through her body that Jesus came to His life here on earth. Jesus was born of her and after carrying Him for nine months — just as I carried my children — she gave birth. She held Him in her arms and introduced Him to the world. She was a critical part of the person He became, and as such, she can be an essential part of the person I become.

Mary is the entrance for me, the prodigal daughter, to my Father’s House. She stands there, arms wide open, assuring me that yes, He is running down the road to meet me. It is her, my Heavenly Mother, who I see first when I come Home. Her love for me stretches beyond the gate’s entrance and beckons me to continue on my journey, to stay on the road home.

Is Mary trying to keep me away from something dangerous? When my daughter threw herself against the gate at the top of the stairs with a delighted scream, I saw an image of myself, throwing myself against the greatest temptation I face and resisting it, thanks to Mary’s intercession. Perhaps I can imagine Mary praying for me as a protective gate between me and the dangers of Satan, keeping me from giving in when I’m not strong enough otherwise.

I have sometimes, in my experience with Mary in my everyday life, throughout the ordinary duties and obligations, felt a moment of “come and see!” out of nowhere. It might be a thought that just pops into my head, a prayer that runs through my mind, a song that starts skipping through my conscious like a scratched CD. She’s acting as my gateway, giving me a glimpse of the life outside myself, beyond my understanding. When I’m pleading for a special cause, I go to Mary and I imagine her going directly to her Son and saying, in language far better than mine, more suited to the heavenly realm, “Listen, this is what my daughter needs. You have to help her.” When I feel the comfort of her arms, the assurance of her love, the knowledge of her mediation, it’s then that the Gate of Heaven seems the most beautiful place to be.

I can look to Mary, Gate of Heaven, peer at her from my everyday struggles, and see the rays of heaven shining through. She does not block God, but leads me to Him.

Sarah Reinhard

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When Sarah Reinhard set off in her life as a grown-up, she had no idea it would involve horses, writing, and sparkly dress shoes. In her work as a Catholic wife, mom, writer, parish employee, and catechist, she’s learned a lot of lessons and had a lot of laughs. She’s online at snoringscholar.com and is the author of a number of books.

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  • JMC

    Ah, another shepherd! My sister and I raised sheep for thirty years. I was always the skinny one, the one that looked like a good, stiff wind would blow me over – and sometimes did! The only prayer I had of catching runaway sheep was by throwing myself after them, like a football tackle, and grabbing a leg on the way down, and then getting dragged a foot or two before the sheep came to a stop, and my heavier-built sister could get hold of it. (There’s a good reason we both always went to the men’s department for work clothes; ladies’ jeans would have been in shreds after a single wearing! ;D)
    It’s a learning experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything. Raising sheep gave all those biblical parables an impact that just wasn’t there when we lived in the city. And in recent years, financial concerns forced us to shift our farm’s focus from sheep to dairy goats, and guess what? That brought home even MORE parables, especially the ones that talk about separating the sheep from the goats. Next to goats, our most fractious sheep looked docile.
    Livestock of any kind, even chickens, is full of lessons, and God’s grace is always there to help us see them.

  • http://www.snoringscholar.com/ Sarah Reinhard

    Yes, I get a LOT of lessons from my life in the country, that’s for sure. That image of you diving after the sheep is priceless! :)

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