by Mary Flannery
Some time ago, perhaps two or three years, I asked my spiritual director, Fr. Francis, how I could come to know the Blessed Virgin better and to experience the deep affection for her that I saw in others. I wanted to know what I was missing — what they understood that I just wasn't getting. I knew people who were so devoted to her and who seemed to have a very intimate experience of her. I understood that she is our mother, I just hadn't experienced her as my mother. Father Francis told me to speak to her and tell her that I want to get to know her. So I did.
She seemed very pleased by that request, and since then, she has been revealing herself to me — we've been getting to know each other.
Sometimes we can overlook the answers to our prayers because they're right under our noses. Shortly after making my request, I took a job with the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Mass., and was immersed in a community of intense dedication to Our Blessed Mother. Coincidence? I don't think so.
It's also no accident that I've begun to see her hand and hear her voice in the occurrences of daily life. She has taught me that her greatest attribute is her perfect humility. In fact, she has given me a burning desire to attain this virtue, and it has become the focus of my prayer life. I am convinced daily of my need for it, and I'm learning to view the challenging circumstances of life as opportunities to grow in humility.
Recently, while praying and meditating on sin, I was moved to tears by our propensity to sin. I loathe the thought of offending Jesus, and yet I do it. Saint Paul writes:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me (Rom 7:14-20).
But the Blessed Virgin Mary was not impaired in this way. She was sinless. From the moment of her conception she has been immaculate. She walked this same world as we do, and she faced many of the same things we face. But, although Satan surely tried to tempt her, she didn't have that same propensity to sin.
Imagine living without sin. Imagine being so close to Jesus that none of the things that Satan uses — distraction, temptation, confusion, fatigue, excitement, sadness, anger, pride, etc. — get in the way of union with Him. Imagine experiencing no struggle or inner conflict in fulfilling God's will. Imagine no barriers whatsoever between us and God's perfect will. Imagine being drawn up into that infinite exchange on love that is the Holy Trinity!
I imagine that this is what Mary experienced. And here's the best part: When we conquer sin and follow her to heaven, this is what we, too, will experience — perfect union with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Since coming to work for the Marians, I have also been introduced to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, and she has become something of a big sister to me. Our Blessed Mother taught St. Faustina about humility. I've been so moved and inspired by several passages from St. Faustina's Diary that beautifully illustrate the intensity of her desire for holiness and willingness to suffer humiliation for a taste of that union with God:
Once, when I was in the kitchen with Sister N., she got a little upset with me and, as a punishment, ordered me to sit on the table while she herself continued to work hard, cleaning and scrubbing. And while I was sitting there, the sisters came along and were astounded to find me sitting on the table, and each one had her say. One said that I was a loafer and another, "What an eccentric!" I was a postulant at the time. Others said, "What kind of a sister will she make?" Still, I could not get down because sister had ordered me to sit there by virtue of obedience until she told me to get down. Truly, God alone knows how many acts of self-denial it took. I thought I'd die of shame. God often allowed such things for the sake of my inner formation, but He compensated me for this humiliation by a great consolation. During Benediction I saw Him in great beauty. Jesus looked at me kindly and said, "My daughter, do not be afraid of sufferings; I am with you" (Dairy, 151).
Mary, my mother, has shown me that by imitating her — her perfect humility — I can have a small taste of that union with Her Son. When I am faced with a difficult situation that causes me hurt, sadness, anger, or frustration, it is almost always because I am holding on to my will and my ideas about how things should really be. The truth is that nothing happens outside of the will of God, and humility is an acceptance of our utter dependence upon, and surrender to, that will.
Our Blessed Mother has shown me that when I am willing to humble myself — actually welcoming humiliation — the brief experience of union with Mary and Her Son is the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. I've only tasted it a few times so far, always in the midst of adversity, and always through humiliation.
And I am hungry for more.
Mary Flannery works in the Marians' Editorial Department as associate editor and designer.