I remember watching the tulle veil swaying softly over the crib as the crisp North Carolina air sneaked into the house through the open window. I had just woken up from a nap, not knowing the time or the day. Sleepless nights with a colicky newborn and low milk supply had taken a toll on this new mom. A familiar sound beckoned me outside my bedroom door… the melodic, rhythmic squeak from a rocking chair and the soft, comforting hum of a lullaby I had heard before. I walked out of my room in a haze. Squinting, I looked up to find where the song was coming from. My eyes opened, and I finally saw… There was my mother holding my son.
My first Fall as a mother… memories etched in my soul. Having lived all my life on a tropical island, my senses were enthralled by the changes this new season brought. The changing color of the leaves echoed the changes going on inside me. The young, carefree girl falling away, making room for the mother… making room for another. I was blessed to have there with me my own mother. As she rocked my baby to sleep, she was indirectly nursing me. Her love for me overflowed into my son, her grandson. As she cared for one, she cared for both… in fact, she cared for all of us. Like the training wheels on a toddler’s bicycle, she kept our new little family from falling as we learned to walk this new road of parenthood, this new road of love.
The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, the prayer that keeps us steady as we hold on to our Mother, Mary. She helps us when we fall. She is always there to guide us, to hold us, to teach us the way to her Son. As we walk in our fallen nature, our fallen world, our change of seasons, through our own falls… God is always with us. Mary is always with us. We are never alone.
A few years ago, after I finished writing my book, The Rosary: Eucharistic Meditations, I was struck by how the Table of Contents, listing the titles of each reflection, became, for me, its own prayer, a simple path Home. These words all come from Scripture, most verbatim, some reinterpreted. In honor of the month of the Rosary, I want to share the list here and invite you to listen, pray, and then “do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). May we allow Mary to hold us, to nurture us, to mother us… and through us, to mother those we love. May we grow as disciples of Jesus; may we grow strong in God’s love.
I have always been a rule follower. Knowing where clearly marked borders are gives me the freedom to move within the safety of its lines. Yet, every coin has another side. Every good thing made to help us can indeed become an obstacle for us as soon as we place it between God and us. We can become so comfortable focusing on the rule of law that it becomes what we trust. We can become legalistic and miss entirely the spirit of the law. Everything in creation is subordinate to the law of Love.
Imagine a spouse standing right next to the “no cheating” boundary, seeing how far they can go while not crossing the line. I’d say that marriage is in trouble. Their focus is on the line rather than on loving their spouse. Rules and boundaries are essential in all relationships. As a married person, knowing that cheating on your spouse is a definitive NO is important. Yet, if that is where our focus remains, on what not to do, we might miss living and experiencing the very relationship the boundaries were meant to protect. The same thing happens in our relationship with God. If our focus remains only on paying attention to the boundaries, we miss entering into the heart of God.
God wants us to be faithful, to love Him above all things, to believe in His love for us, and to trust in Him. It is not around the edges, around shallow waters, where we will find the fulfillment of this. It is by going towards His Heart, away from the things that used to bring us comfort and safety. As long as we move towards the center, we don’t have to fear losing our footing in the deep. He is there to hold us, for we were made for Him.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word sacrifice? For me, I think of a mom or a dad sacrificing themselves for their child, putting the needs of the children above their own, perhaps even going without a necessity. I think of how my husband lets the boys eat the leftover pizza he had saved for lunch without batting an eye. He gets annoyed for a moment but immediately turns around and says it is fine. I think of how I left my career to care for my sons or how my mom worked three jobs after my dad died. There is an immediate relation to suffering for someone - out of love - when I hear the word sacrifice, a voluntary giving-up of something of value… so that someone else might be allowed to rise up. This is the context in which I’ve always looked at Jesus on the Cross.
But today, I came upon some words from St. Augustine that challenged me to ponder deeper on the meaning of this word… sacrifice.
“A true sacrifice is anything that we do with the aim of being united to God in holy fellowship” …anything! The question to ask ourselves is, what are we aiming for? St. Augustine continues:
We can spend our lives sacrificing ourselves yet not making a sacrifice to God. Blood, sweat, and tears wasted, living for ourselves and for strange gods. Gods that can not speak and can not love, working endlessly just to end empty-handed. Sands of time run through our fingers as we keep running away from the One who never ceases to call out for us. Repent! Return! I am your God.
I’ve come to recognize a particular type of tiredness that comes upon me when I have been laboring for fruit that perishes rather than making an offering to God. A “burnt-out” feeling reminds me to return to the source. The grace of being left to my own resources is that I recognize and remember. I recognize this desolate place where I feel tired and helpless, and I remember where my strength comes from. Again and again, I find my strength renewed in the Sacraments, especially receiving Holy Communion. The beauty of this movement is that every step in the right direction is not just a sacrifice on my part, but since it is done “with the aim of being united to God in holy fellowship,” every step becomes a TRUE SACRIFICE. This act of self-compassion done to relieve the distress I feel in my heart is acceptable to God! The pain I feel becomes the means to turn back; it helps reorient my heart. Then every other act of compassion to myself or others continues to be “holy-doing,” “holy-making,”…a beautiful sacrifice.
Let us then find moments through our day when we stop and examine where is our aim. If whatever we are doing is not done with the ultimate goal of being more united to God, let us ask for the grace to pivot, to reorient and set our eyes on Jesus. Let us ask Our Lady, to bring us with her heart into the arms of God. Let us become a holy living sacrifice to God.