Happy Feast Day of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary!
In honor of the occasion, I’d like to share with you all a certain quote from Colleen Carroll Campbell’s compelling autobiography, My Sisters The Saints.
Of all of her gifts, Mary’s contemplative approach to life – her habit of prayerfully pondering life’s joys and sorrows in her heart – surprised and challenged me the most. Like most women raised in the wake of the modern feminist movement, I grew up equating feminine strength with outspokenness and action. I knew that godly women often are called to stand up and speak out. Mary reminded me of another truth: that a woman’s greatest strength comes from silent communion with God, and sometimes the most radical thing she can do is not rant and rave but watch and pray. 1
In the face of such cultural expectations as climbing an impressive career ladder, of making choices in the spirit of independence, and in general “having it all figured out,” stands this silently contrarian figure of Mary. Her life is not defined by any human accomplishments – do we know of any? Her priority has never been to carve out for herself a self-determined, independent existence. And yet, here we are, over two thousand years after her birth, and here she is still – gentle, humble, and yet steadfastly immovable. All over the world, she is honored, not for her own great accomplishments, but for what God has done through her.
In a boldly countercultural move, she allowed her life to not be about herself. Rather, she chose for her whole life to be about God. From before the Annunciation, through her Son’s death on the cross, and into the era of the Church, she always lived consciously in the presence of God. As Edith Stein put it, “She wanted nothing else than to be the handmaid of the Lord, the gate through which He could make His entry into humanity.” 2 Sensitive to His voice and responsive to His will, Mary was always in a state of readiness both to receive Him – pondering in her heart His words and actions, as well as the events of her life and the words of others as gifts given from Him – and to give Him to others.
This, of course, is clearest in her “Yes” to the Incarnation. But it overflows throughout her life, as she shows us what it means to remain present to Him. Her greatest gift to us becomes, in the most literal way, the presence of Christ with us. God’s gift of her to us, on the other hand, becomes her presence to Him – as an image of what we’re called to, and example for us to imitate, and above all as a mother who raises us to do the same (Jn 19:26-27).
On this, the feast of her birthday, let us once again joyfully receive her as a gift from our God. And let’s ask her to pray for us, so that we, too, may learn to receive God’s presence to us as the greatest gift there is.
1 Campbell, Colleen Carroll,, My Sisters The Saints, (New York, NY: Image, 2012), p.196
2 Stein, Edith. The Collected Works of Edith Stein. trans. Freda Mary Obhen, (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996), vol 2: p.119