My husband and I have had to make the difficult decision to enroll our daughter in public school. Homeschooling worked well for us the first few years, but as she has grown it has become clear to my husband, my daughter, and me that it is no longer working.
Our daughter is extraordinarily strong-willed. I do not mean stubborn, which is a trait all kids exhibit at some point in time. I mean she is strong-willed to the point that we have feared for her safety at times because she refuses to listen to our warnings. Once it is tempered and harnessed, this trait will serve her well on the path to holiness and in a world hostile to the Gospel, but for now it is a major hindrance and hurdle for our family.
We put her in Catholic school last year, but the financial burden was too great on our family, so we decided to try homeschooling again. The year started out well, but then the battles began and now they have become so heated that my daughter and I have reached an impasse. I finally asked her if she can listen to me for the next ten years as her teacher and she told me honestly that she doesn’t think she can. I told her that we would get her enrolled in public school in the coming weeks.
My response to all of this was a feeling of profound failure as her mother, coupled with fear of the unknown and her future path would look like. I was deeply disappointed that she will no longer be able to attend daily Mass with me and that I will not be able to educate her as I have always wanted to.
Do not be afraid
One of the most common phrases in all of Sacred Scripture is: “Do not be afraid.” St. John Paul II’s pontificate was marked by this call to to trust in Christ and not to fear. It is difficult to control fear once it arises within us. We typically have to wait for the fight-or-flight response in our amygdala to expend itself before we can think clearly enough to turn to God in trust and ask Him to help us overcome our fear. The irrational thoughts brought on from an initial fear response do clear in time. My initial fear gave way to a reminder that God will take care of my daughter and lead her in His ways regardless of her education and the temptations the world will offer her. All I can do is trust in Him. I’ve never had any control over her future to begin with.
Our Lady was asked to trust in God more than any other human being ever created. When St. Gabriel appeared to her, one of the first things he said to her after his initial greeting was, “Do not fear.” She would become the Mother of God, but God would be with her through it all. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes of this exchange:
The second word on which I would like to meditate is another word of the angel’s: “Do not fear, Mary,” he says. In fact, there was reason for her to fear, for it was a great burden to bear the weight of the world upon herself, to be the mother of the universal King, to be the mother of the Son of God: what a burden that was! It was too heavy a burden for human strength to bear! But the angel said: Do not fear! Yes, you are carrying God, but God is carrying you. Do not fear!
While we may not carry the heavy burden of being the Mother of God, there are many burdens placed upon us in this life. Many of us deal with illness, joblessness, loneliness, abuse, poverty, habitual sin, violence, death of loved ones, and the responsibility of raising our children in the Faith. There are times when what is asked of us begins to feel too heavy and fear takes over. It is in these moments that we have to ask for Our Lady’s intercession and guidance so she can show us how to rely on her Son and not to fear.
Trusting God in affliction through Mary
It is a reality of this life that there is much to fear. We will lose loved ones, violence, war, famine, injustice, and chaos rage around us. We will face our own death in God’s appointed time. Mary walks with us through these moments. She lived the pain and confusion of this life through walking alongside her Son in His ministry and at the foot of the Cross. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI again:
At the moment when Simeon said to her, “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed—and you yourself will be pierced with a sword,” at that very moment in which she might have succumbed to fear, Mary returned to the angel’s words and felt their echo within her: “Do not fear, God is carrying you.” Then, when contradictions were unleashed against Jesus during his public life and many said, “He is crazy,” she thought once again of the angel’s words in her heart, “Do not fear,” and went ahead. Lastly, in the encounter on the way to Calvary and then under the cross, when all seemed to be destroyed, she again heard the angel’s words in her heart: “Do not fear.” Hence, she stood courageously beside her dying Son and, sustained by faith, moved toward the resurrection, toward Pentecost, toward the foundation of the new family of the Church.
We can look to Mary’s example when we find ourselves afraid of what happens in our lives. We must trust in God and His ways as Mary did in every moment of her life. Our Lady—much like the mother in the Second Book of Maccabees in yesterday’s Mass reading—shows us that we must entrust all things to God, including our children, spouse, parents, friends, and our very lives. In the end they belong to God, not us. For parents, the hardest lesson is learning to relinquish our grip on our children and giving them fully to God trusting that He will care for them and lead them to become the saints He is calling them to be. Yes, this relinquishment means that suffering will inevitably come, but if we trust in God, then He will give us the strength to overcome any and all fear that arises within us.
Our Heavenly Mother cares for us as her children and she wants to calm our fears. She shows us how to follow her Son and to trust that He is always carrying us in this life:
“Do not fear”: Mary also addresses these words to us. I have already pointed out that this world of ours is a world of fear: the fear of misery and poverty, the fear of illness and suffering, the fear of solitude, the fear of death. We have in this world a widely developed insurance system; it is good that it exists. But we know that at the moment of deep suffering, at the moment of ultimate loneliness of death, no insurance policy will be able to protect us. The only valid insurance in those moments is the one that comes to us from the Lord, who also assures us: “Do not fear, I am always with you.” We can fall, but in the end we fall into God’s hands, and God’s hands are good hands.Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospels, page 21.
Regardless of what arises in our lives, God is with us. He guides us and constantly leads us towards our heavenly home. In our moments of affliction, He is united to us through the Passion and death He endured on the Cross for our sake. No matter what changes or sufferings occur, we can rest in His arms and we can place our children in the loving arms Who made them, confident that He will guide them to their true home. Our Heavenly Mother shows us how to rest confidently and peacefully in His arms.