The Church has an entire season dedicated to waiting: Advent. This season not only reflects the waiting for the coming of Our Savior and the hope of the Paschal Mystery, but the reality that much of this life contains periods of waiting. This waiting may be something joyful, such as waiting for the birth of a child or a marriage. The waiting may be a period of intense trial and suffering as we wait to see if a loved one is going to die or recover from an illness. This waiting may feel agonizing, especially for those of us still crawling down the path to holiness.
Mary our guide
As frequent readers know, I am in a period of waiting. There are days it is agonizing and days that I sense God’s presence and love. It dawned on me in my impatience for answers about my husband, that God uses waiting to allow us to enter more deeply into communion with Him. If we focus on the anxiety and fear of the unknown, we will be robbed of the serenity and comfort of our God who walks with us during these trials. I realized this truth when I looked out my window and saw the sunflowers blooming in the garden. Their stillness and beauty in the morning light reminded me to enter into God’s love while I wait. It is not easy, but it is necessary. It is not a journey we walk alone. Lumen Gentium tells us rightly that Mary is our guide and a guide for the Church. St. John Paul II furthers this teaching in Redemptoris Mater 5:
Mary “has gone before,” becoming “a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.” This “going before” as a figure or model is in reference to the intimate mystery of the Church, as she actuates and accomplishes her own saving mission by uniting in herself-as Mary did-the qualities of mother and virgin. She is a virgin who “keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse” and “becomes herself a mother,” for “she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.”
Mary at the foot of the Cross
If there is one person we can look to during periods of waiting it is Our Heavenly Mother. She knows the depths of suffering in waiting. She walked this pilgrim journey. She stood at the foot of the Cross, watching her beloved Son die an agonizing and brutal death, and she waited. She trusted in Him and waited for the glory of God to reveal itself. Scripture tells us that she “pondered these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19) as she discovered more about her Son.
We also need to ponder how God is working in our own lives during periods of intense trial and waiting. This Friday morning my husband will have a lung biopsy, which more-than-likely will now turn into lung surgery. The thoracic surgeon informed him that his right lower lobe is “trashed” and no longer functioning. He wants to try to save it, but more-than-likely, it will need to be removed. This means that my husband will lose half of his right lung and we don’t even know the identity of the disease. I will be sitting in the hospital waiting to see him again after the surgery. It will be a time to ponder the Cross and consider how God is using this sickness to help my husband and me grow in holiness. I will admit that it is deeply painful, but also a blessing. The Church tells us to look to Our Heavenly Mother in hope. Again from St. John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater 11:
Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word, is placed at the very center of that enmity, that struggle which accompanies the history of humanity on earth and the history of salvation itself. In this central place, she who belongs to the “weak and poor of the Lord” bears in herself, like no other member of the human race, that “glory of grace” which the Father “has bestowed on us in his beloved Son,” and this grace determines the extraordinary greatness and beauty of her whole being. Mary thus remains before God, and also before the whole of humanity, as the unchangeable and inviolable sign of God’s election, spoken of in Paul’s letter: “in Christ…he chose us…before the foundation of the world,…he destined us…to be his sons” (Eph. 1:4, 5). This election is more powerful than any experience of evil and sin, than all that “enmity” which marks the history of man. In this history Mary remains a sign of sure hope.
In trials, Mary serves as a reminder of our election and of the hope of salvation. As we suffer, we do so in joyful hope.
Mary teaches us to abandon ourselves to God
In periods of suffering and waiting, it can be difficult to give everything over to God. In our Fallen state, we often want to cling to a false sense of control over things we in principle have no control over. I cannot stop my husband from dying if it is God’s will. In fact, this experience has taught me to relinquish this sinful sense of a need for control, so that I can fully turn to God in my pain, weakness, and need. As Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, she demonstrated a complete abandonment and trust in God.
And now, standing at the foot of the Cross, Mary is the witness, humanly speaking, of the complete negation of these words. On that wood of the Cross her Son hangs in agony as one condemned. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows…he was despised, and we esteemed him not”: as one destroyed (cf. Is. 53:3- 5). How great, how heroic then is the obedience of faith shown by Mary in the face of God’s “unsearchable judgments”! How completely she “abandons herself to God” without reserve, offering the full assent of the intellect and the will”39 to him whose “ways are inscrutable” (cf. Rom. 11:33)! And how powerful too is the action of grace in her soul, how all-pervading is the influence of the Holy Spirit and of his light and power!
Through this faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self- emptying.
Redemptoris Mater 18
The last line is also true for us. It is in suffering that we realize the need to unite ourselves fully to Christ and to empty ourselves completely so that He can make us fully human, so that He can make us saints. In uniting our own suffering to the Cross, we too are able to love as Christ loves, and as Our Heavenly Mother loved at the foot of the Cross. In our trials and waiting, we are conformed to Christ. Waiting and suffering seem to be intolerable gifts, but in reality, they transform us. The path of suffering is the path we must walk to become saints.