“I hate to admit it,” my friend confided in me. “But, I really have a difficult time feeling close to the Virgin Mary. She’s just so far out there.”
She paused and revealed the rest of her dilemma to me. “I have an even harder time with the Church’s teaching that we should imitate her.”
My friend had no problem with the Church teaching itself – it’s absolutely clear to her why we should imitate Mary. It’s the how that gives her trouble.
“She was born without original sin, she was perfect. How can I imitate her? I can never be that perfect,” she confided.
The teaching my friend and I were discussing is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in addition to the documents of Vatican Council II and a variety of papal encyclicals. The Catechism states:
“By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a “preeminent and. . . wholly unique member of the Church”; indeed, she is the “exemplary realization” (typus)510 of the Church.” (CCC 967)
While it’s true that Mary was born without original sin and was perfect in faith, hope, and charity, she’s not so far out there that we can’t imitate her. Here’s what I shared with my friend:
Certainly we cannot achieve the level of perfection that Mary had, but there are aspects of her being that we can imitate. We can’t imitate her perfection as such, but we can imitate the Christian characteristics, traits, and attitudes that she had. The idea, I believe, is not to become Mary – for we can never be worthy of the same veneration – but to incorporate her virtues into who we already are. We need to look to her, to see how she responded to God’s will in this or that situation, and then try by the grace of God to do the same in the situations we face in our own lives.
Let me pick on myself as an example.
By nature, I’m not a patient person. I want things to happen quickly and according to plan – my plan, preferably – and the most difficult thing for me to bear is uncertainty of any kind. As long as I know what the “it” is, I can deal with it and you’d better believe I’ll deal with it pronto. Sometimes I become so determined that I unwittingly step on others to achieve what I think needs to be done or resolved.
Mary wasn’t like that. I can imagine her getting to the task at hand with determination and efficiency, but only after she’d consulted with God to discern his will. Then, she’d allow his timing to determine when that would happen.
Just look at what occurred after the Annunciation and during the Visitation. Joseph, her betrothed, found out that the Child with whom Mary was pregnant was not his and was planning to divorce her. At the same time, God asked her to travel to Judah – seventy miles away from Nazareth (and Joseph) – in order to help her elderly cousin Elizabeth through the third trimester of her pregnancy and the birth of her child. Mary’s personal life was in turmoil, yet she made the trip in obedience to his will and entrusting Joseph and her marriage to God. Instead of trying to resolve things on her own and in her own time, she went to Judah and patiently tended to Elizabeth until it was time to return home, all the while bearing in her heart the uncertainty about her future. Patient? You bet!
Based on Mary’s example, and keeping in mind that I’m a totally different person, I try in my own life to take a deep breath or two before I march out and try to take the bull by the horns. I recall Mary’s exemplary patience during her separation from St. Joseph and form my own “Judah” by pausing (at least briefly) to pray, beg Mary’s intercession, invoke the Holy Spirit, discern God’s will, and assess his timing. If it’s a situation that’s causing me anger or grief, I allow myself to rant privately to our Lady, venting to her because I know she understands what it’s like to have to be patient in a quandary. I may not act as perfectly as Mary did in her Judah, but I will have attempted to imitate her patience in my own life, in my own way.
That’s what the Church is asking of us. And, when we look at it like that, Mary is not as far out there as we think.
From Imitating Mary: Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013)