Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fulfilling a Mother’s Deepest Need: The Miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to you!  Nuestra Senora has been such a dear part of my husband and my lives since we first started praying the rosary by her image at our diocesan center when we were dating (…after hours…using the key pad code my husband had learned when he was discerning the priesthood…which was romantic and exciting and Eucharistic—as the tabernacle at that time was off to the side right below her picture—and I’m sure Our Lady wanted to come down from that wall and have a few words with us).  But like a good mom, she kept her eyes on the big picture and was there for us when my husband proposed at the same spot…two months later--again, probably wanting to sit us down for a chat—but she stuck with us, beautifully caring for us and tending to smoothing out the details of our early marriage and guiding us through the joys and challenges of the births of our children in an unmistakably gentle way.

Different aspects of the apparitions to St. Juan Diego have fascinated me over the years: the miracle of the image itself on his tilma, the microscopic images in Our Lady’s eyes capturing the moment Juan Diego revealed the image in his tilma to a small group including the local bishop, and the intricacy and deep meaning behind Our Lady’s posture and mantle in the image.  

However, this very early morning, perhaps just a tiny bit more experienced in love than when I had just gotten engaged, what strikes me as most miraculous and awe-inspiring is Our Lady’s words to Juan Diego and the message of her tender motherhood that God desired the world to know.  During one of their exchanges, Our Lady tells Juan Diego, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief.  Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not your fountain of life?  Are you not in the folds of my mantle?  In the crossing of my arms?  Is there anything else you need?” 
How human!  And divine!  With what love Our Father in Heaven allowed for His little children to be reminded in such a remarkable way of the very real loving presence of their mother who will carry them back to the Father in her own arms if they’d only let her, guaranteeing a safe return to Him.  And further, with what love God has bestowed on motherhood to imbue it with such dignity.  To think—it seems outrageous for me to even say it—but that Mary and I are the same noun: we are mothers.

God, in His infinite generosity, mercy, and goodness has entrusted to me little creatures to take care of the same way that Mary cares for us.  In my calling to care for them in their littleness, in their fear of the dark, their suspicion of pants, their difficulty with letters and butter knives, their joy over things like snow and treats and animals and the novelty of having a real live decorated tree in our living room, in showing my love and concern, by being their mom, I am sharing in a small but by no means insignificant—thanks to the Passion—part of Mary’s life.  I am a mother.  Just like Mary.

I think of the image and of the purple sash that Mary is wearing, signifying pregnancy.  At the center of it all, Mary has come to bring us Jesus and to bring us to Him.  Our Heavenly Father has given us mothers a gift in this feast day, a beautiful opportunity to remember our specialness as His beloved daughters and to ask in a powerful way for His help in our calling, for the grace to pick our children up (and everyone else in our care) and to bring them safely to Him.  And isn’t that all that we want?  For me, this morning, this is the miracle at the heart of this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

If you should find yourself in Wisconsin, please be sure to visit the gorgeous shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in my home diocese of LaCrosse.  Visit to learn more.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Welcoming Santa with G. K. Chesterton

Tomorrow’s the Feast of St. Nicholas.  When our oldest was born, we were unsure what to do about Santa.  Afraid he’d usurp the meaning of the season, we toyed with the idea of banishing him, sending him back to the North Pole for good.  We thought that maybe we’d instead like to invite the Three Kings over and really play up the Epiphany.  We knew, though, that our house might be one of their few cold weather stops and in time it might be a tough sell for our children who would inevitably lack friends who could share in their excitement and help along the story line.  In short, they just weren’t part of our culture.  We waffled for as long as we could, and then when our daughter was approaching her second Christmas my husband came across “The Other Stocking” by G.K. Chesterton who so beautifully makes the case for Santa that he’s been warmly welcomed in our house ever since:

What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way. 

     As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good–far from it. 

     And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me.  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. 

     I have merely extended the idea. 

     Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. 
     Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. 

     Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.

I understand the reasons that a mother and father might not welcome Santa at Christmastime, as it is all too easy for him to overshadow the holiness of the day and season.  For us, though, it was enough to see a great thinker and faith-filled man not hampered in his spirituality but actually assisted in it through his belief in Santa.  It resonated with me, a lifelong Catholic who believed in Santa well up to seventh grade and who was eager to pass along such fun memories to her children.  Game’s on, thought my husband and me, as we happily began to incorporate all the fun associated with the jolly spirit into the season.

He is, though, very definitely St. Nicholas, who our children, accustomed to praying to saints, naturally welcome on his feast day.   CCC’s made a great video about St. Nicholas and how he became Santa Claus.  That seems to be a natural progression for a saint in my children’s eyes, going from being wonderful on earth to being wonderful in eternity, which manifests itself in gifts for them—that is, after all, how their mother approaches the communion of saints.     

This year, however, my daughter learned from the Macy’s Day Parade about Mrs. Claus, who muddies the waters a bit.  My daughter was very curious about her and asked what her maiden name was.  I told her I didn’t know and pondered how to work Mrs. Claus into it all.  I held my breath, wondering if this new element would push my daughter’s belief to the edge, but it didn’t.  In fact, she and her little brother seemed happy for Santa that he had some company.  I think having befriended Ukrainian Catholic friends during our stay in Canada, dear companions who would eventually become Fr. and Mrs., really helped things along on that account.

So, in our house, Santa is St. Nicholas, the bishop, married to Mrs. Claus of a rather somewhat mysterious background.  He will be filling stockings and dropping off a special gift for each child; the rest will be from Mom and Dad.  Our children are looking forward to the birth of Baby Jesus, enjoying the anticipation with their chocolate Advent calendars, praying and singing around the Advent wreath at night, and helped along in their excitement by the intercession and special presence of St. Nicholas.  Whether or not we got Santa right at our house probably won’t be clear until the children are grown, if even then.  But for now anyway it seems like all is well.  Except that, as my Ukrainian friends tell me, Eastern rite bishops can’t be married.  But here’s hoping that St. Nick doesn’t put the Eastern Code in my daughter’s shoe tomorrow.