I’ve always been afraid to admit this, but I struggle with Mary. Mary is supposed to be the perfect model of motherhood, one who can understand us and our struggles.
I’ve spent a lot of years feeling like a second-rate Catholic because I can’t relate to Mary. I’ve been praying a long time to figure out how to fix that, but I had to begin by understanding why the disconnect exists at all. I’ve finally realized it boils down to this: Too many devotions and narratives surrounding Mary treat her as if she were divine. As if she knew every detail of her life, struggles, and sufferings in advance. As if, after that one question, “how is this possible?”, she never again had questions or doubts.
Too many devotional prayers and lay reflections are written as if this omniscient and unflappable Mary can answer prayers on her own strength, rather than acting as an intercessor. (See note below.)
When I’m struggling with hard questions in family life, I can’t call upon a heavenly mother who already knew everything and had all the answers. How is she supposed to help me? If she knew everything and never made any mistakes and her kid was God, what possible commonality is there between her life and mine? I know nothing and my life is a hot mess of mistakes and my kids are DEFINITELY not God. How is *she* supposed to enlighten my spiritual struggles?
Frankly, I don’t believe that otherworldly, ethereal Mary ever existed. The things that keep me awake the most at night aren’t sins. They’re unknowns. They’re mistakes. Errors in judgment, comments I never imagined might wound, assumptions that lead to words that cause hurt feelings, but without malice or ill will. Miscommunications. Misunderstandings.
Was Mary immune from all those screwups because she was sinless? She couldn’t have been. Those kinds of minefields depend as much on other people as they do on us. It defies our knowledge of human experience to think Mary never had to apologize for unintentionally hurting someone.
As I laid awake early this morning fretting about an error (not sin), contemplating the potential for far-reaching fallout, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a Mary I *could* relate to. A Mary who, even without sin, had to navigate all the minefields of uncertainty and lack of clarity that are part and parcel of being human.
Surely, raising the son of God made that experience more, not less intense. When your kid is God, how do you ask for advice from other parents? How do you teach the son of God what it means to be human?
This Mary—the Mary who knew and lived with uncertainty, who questioned herself and laid awake nights, begging God for clarity and peace of mind—this Mary, I can ask to pray for me.
(Note: I don’t believe anyone actually thinks Mary is divine. But I do think many prayers are poorly written, and the words we pray shape our unconscious attitudes. The best Marian prayers keep her role as intercessor squarely in focus. In recent months I’ve really come to appreciate the Hail Mary for this reason.)