“Love gives new life to the heart. By its nature, the heart lives for itself; when it is struck by love, it begins a new life for the one it loves.”– Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations on Mary
When I discovered I was pregnant with our fourth child a year ago, my heart flooded with mixed emotions. Our youngest, Veronica, was barely approaching her first birthday, and I had just begun to feel a little more normal, a little more like myself.
The reason I felt both nervous and excited was that I had suffered from infertility for years, but was able to conceive Joseph without any natural intervention from my Creighton doctor. It was both a joy to know I could have another baby naturally, but also frightening that we would be welcoming a fourth child so soon after having our third.
In desperation and throughout my difficult pregnancy, I relied solely on the Blessed Mother’s assistance. And she came through, as always, but in a lesson I wasn’t quite expecting – a lesson that love must be a total sacrifice of self in order for it to be authentic love.
Mary teaches us all that love bears the fruit of new life, both in bringing children into the world and in bearing new life through our word and work for God’s glory. She accomplished both and teaches us how we can, too.
“Mary Gives Birth in Two Ways”
“Mary gives birth in two ways. She gave birth to Jesus and she gives birth to the faithful; that is, she gave birth to the Innocent One, and she gives birth to sinners. She gave birth to the Innocent One painlessly, but she gives birth to sinners with sorrow and anguish.” (Bossuet, p. 96-97)
Every mother knows that, once she brings a little human life into the world, her body and her time are no longer her own. Instead, she is constantly offering herself up – at times, painstakingly – for the sake of her baby. And this is done out of love. Even so, it hurts. It’s hard to be chronically sleep deprived. It’s difficult to incessantly be beckoned for feedings and diaper changes.
And as our kids grow up, their needs shift to more emotional and spiritual longings. They hunger for knowledge and truth; we, as mothers, nourish their minds and souls. They ask hard questions about life, death, and suffering; we, as mothers, honestly answer them without pretension. Our roles transition from physical birth pangs to the piercing of the heart as we watch our children experience betrayal, loneliness, and inevitable struggles.
As our Mother, Mary understands the physical and spiritual demands of motherhood. Not only did she undergo all of this in totality from the moment she heard the prophecy of Simeon in the Temple until her own Assumption into Heaven, but she also mystically gave birth to us at the foot of the Cross.
The words of Jesus, “Woman, behold your son” was the moment of our adoption into her loving care. And she journeys with us through the bittersweet changes of motherhood. That mystical relationship between our spiritual Mother and ourselves is a tender one that constantly alters us and deepens our understanding of how to live the love she and Jesus shared.
Mary Lived by Love, Despite Her Sorrows
“The Blessed Virgin lived by the strength of her love. Her condition was one of mortal sorrow and amid this sorrow, she lived by love. She always kept before her eyes Jesus Christ crucified…” (Bossuet, p. 102-103)
There are two ways I’ve vaguely gotten a taste for Our Lady’s sorrows: through watching one of our children suffer physical pain, and through the torment of witnessing another daughter suffer terrible emotional and spiritual agonies.
Sarah, our middle daughter, has had seven surgeries all before the age of six. They have all been excruciating to endure as a mother, but the hardest one of all was when she had skull surgery at six months old. The night before, I watched her innocence slip away before my eyes, because I knew she would feel a pain I may never understand.
Felicity, our oldest daughter, has always struggled interiorly with scruples, anxieties, and sensory processing issues. She is a highly sensitive soul who has already felt the searing pain of loneliness and loss.
Mary is my model of motherhood through all these incredible swings of highs and lows. I have never known life to be so full of intense emotions as I have as a mother, yet she tempers them all in my heart, that they may be exchanged as a gift of love to God.
Mary, Model of Motherhood
“Only love can give life. Only Christ’s love can redeem and forgive and illumine. Only Christ’s love can waken the world from apathy to wonder. Only Christ’s love can quicken the world with new life. Love is given only in man’s gift of himself. There is no other way.”– Caryll Houselander
Mary’s heart points us always to the heart of her Son, Jesus. I have come to see more acutely how intertwined their hearts truly are, to the point where one is indistinguishable from the other. The United Hearts of Jesus and Mary devotion always bring me back to the sincere prayer that my heart might be open to giving and receiving love once again.
So often, motherhood can harden our hearts. We are wearied from the daily struggles, the calamities and chaos, all with little to no respite. It’s hard to be receptive to love when we are exhausted, drained, and quite literally, empty. But the hearts of Jesus and Mary gently invite us to open ourselves up again to bring forth life in a new way every day by way of vulnerable and meek love. That is the gift of oneself – openness to giving birth again and again, every day.