September 5, 2011

Our Lady on Labor Day by Sarah Reinhard

Our Lady on Labor Day by Sarah Reinhard

Labor Day seems like the perfect backdrop for a reflection of the Blessed Mother, and we have that most years because her birthday is celebrated on September 8th, right around the time that we pause for Labor Day here in the United States.  It’s a chance to stop and honor the work and toil we do in our everyday lives, women and men.

We can look to Mary’s example in the house at Nazareth and see a loving model for a fresh approach to what was dull and routine before.  We can think of the miracle of her birth — not to mention the birth of her Son — and open our eyes to the miracles that are around us in the bustle of traffic, the piles of laundry, and the demands of children.

Saint Anne’s heart was broken because of her infertility.  Saint Joachim was ridiculed at the Temple and even spent forty days fasting in the desert as penance for his childlessness.

All they wanted was a child.

They had lived a good, holy, blameless life.  Back then, children were seen not just as a blessing, but as a sign of how much God loved you; if you didn’t have children, you had obviously done something wrong.

Even though I know this, I can’t separate myself from the women I’ve known who have struggled with infertility.  I think of Anne, alone in her house, and I see so many other faces.  I see the red-rimmed eyes and the desire, feel the emptiness, wonder with her…when?  Why?  Why?

Anne and Joachim did not give up.  It would have been so easy to throw up their hands, to snub the whispering neighbors, to withdraw into their own misery.

Instead, they offered their pain to God in prayer.  They remained open, even when everything looked hopeless.

And in old age, at a time when their friends were grandparents (or perhaps even great grandparents), Anne and Joachim were rewarded.

Having a child is no small thing.  It changes you.

But to have a child who is to be the Mother of God…

Anne and Joachim knew their child would be special.  Mary’s birth was preceded by angelic visits to each of her parents, and they had promised to dedicate her to God.

But did they know?

We might not feel like God has given us quite the important task He gave Anne and Joachim or other saints.  Who am I? I often wonder to myself.  Just another woman, just another mom, just another worker.

Except that’s not true.  God made each of us for a purpose, and we are the only ones who can fulfill that mission in life.  He’s asking something great of each of us, and we can look to Mary for help in following God’s will toward that purpose.

I often have to remind myself that the really important things God has in store for me don’t need fireworks or flashing lights.  I might not even realize the impact I’m having.

Mary wasn’t born in a palace, and neither was Jesus.  Their lives didn’t follow the pattern we might have chosen, if we were planning out the path for “Mother of God” and “God made Man.”

God had a better plan.  We’re all better for it.

At an early age, Mary was dedicated to God.  Her mother made sure that Mary took her first steps at the Temple.  At age three, we’re told, she was taken to live at the Temple with other consecrated virgins.  She had to leave at age twelve, the age of womanhood, because she would be ritually unclean.

She married Joseph, so that she was protected, safe, taken care of, though “the deal” was that she would remain a virgin.  Then the plan took an unexpected turn.  Gabriel showed up and announced something so far beyond what anyone could have imagined that I think Mary must have just gasped.

Her “yes” continues to inspire us today.  I look to it when I’m feeling like the world is too much or that maybe God had someone else in mind for my life.

If a teenage girl can say “yes” to being the Mother of God, then maybe I can say “yes” to the clean-up of a Labor Day work weekend.  If she can keep saying “yes” even as she saw where it would take her Son, then maybe I can “yes” my way through splashtime in the bathtub.  If she can hold her Son after standing at the foot of the Cross and still say “yes,” I shouldn’t even hesitate to put down my gripes and pick up my own cross with a smile on my face.