Nicole O'Leary explores how we can learn from Mary's example of trust so that we, too, can abide in the presence of God.
One of the insidious effects of the breakdown of marriage and family life is the erosion of our ability to trust. The development of this muscle of the heart, which God intended to be exercised within the sanctuary of the family, is stunted when the word “vow” no longer connotes permanence and we are bombarded with private and public examples of infidelity.
Trust is necessary if any relationship is to progress beyond superficiality, and this is no less true in our relationship with God. Even if the initial stirrings of faith are filled with consolation and confidence, a moment—or a series of moments—will come when God asks a soul to say “yes” to His will even when common sense advises choosing the path of least resistance. Consider, for example, how Jonah responded to God’s call to preach repentance in the city of Nineveh; the reluctant prophet promptly hitched a ride on a ship headed in the opposite direction. More frequently, however, God’s appeal for our trust is expressed in the concrete circumstances in which we find ourselves. Gently and almost imperceptibly, He invites us to offer our wholehearted “yes” by a daily fidelity exercised in faith. When His voice is muffled beneath the clamor of the world or our own fears and sorrows, this “yes” takes on a heaviness that we feel ourselves incapable of supporting.
Tragically, the muscle that is necessary for entering into this deep and abiding relationship with God is the same muscle of trust whose growth is impeded when marriage and family life are no longer afforded places of veneration in society. Hearts which have experienced the invitation of Divine Love to “put out into the deep” may rush eagerly to respond to this call; indeed, it may be the stability and permanence of God’s love, so different from the fleeting emotion that society labels “love,” which attracts them. But if their muscle of trust has never matured, even Divine Love Himself will find it difficult to win the unconditional confidence of His children.
Since the modern attitudes toward marriage and the family leave almost no soul unscathed, the ramifications of our underdeveloped (or, in some cases, wounded) ability to trust are staggering and pervasive—eerily comparable to a pandemic or a hereditary illness. There are many factors contributing to the decline in sacramental marriages and religious vocations, but this is undoubtedly one of them. Confronted with the task of unconditional surrender to which their vocations, by design, call them, couples and individuals sincerely desiring to offer their hearts to God in marriage, the priesthood, or consecrated life find themselves vanquished by a foe whose existence was heretofore unknown to them.
Yet God does not leave sincere hearts that seek Him without sufficient help, and this help is offered in a marvelous way that only the mind of God could conceive: He shares with us His Mother. Receiving them into her Immaculate Heart, Mary forms her children in her own school of trust, so that they, too, can enter into friendship with God who is the love of her Heart.
There is an image of Our Lady in the Psalms which is particularly instructive and consoling for this present state of affairs: the City of God, fortified against the attacks and the capriciousness of the world. The Psalmist introduces the image by describing the fearlessness of the city’s inhabitants in the face of upheaval and chaos:
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
It would not be unjustified if we accused our Psalmist of foolishness, since he remains unafraid as the mountains themselves shake before him. In the midst of the instability and the storm, then, what is the source of his seemingly reckless confidence? He continues:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. (Psalm 46:2-5)
The City of God, the Psalmist sings, is unmoved even as the mountains collapse into the sea. Its stability comes not from exterior fortifications, but from God who dwells within. The whereabouts of this theological city could be explained in a variety of ways—it is Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Temple, the tabernacle, the Church, and even the souls of the baptized—but we are not departing from tradition if we understand the Psalmist’s words as referring directly to Mary. In her, the Holy Trinity dwelt from the moment of her Conception; in her, the Word found repose when He sought a home in His own creation. Her identity as Immaculate Conception means that she was not only free from sin but plunged into the Heart of God. Thus, she abides in His presence and He abides in her. “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.”
During the Advent and Christmas seasons, we frequently extol the trust of the Holy Family as they journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem to Egypt, and from Egypt to Nazareth again. We speak of their unwavering confidence in God’s protection as they encountered poverty, homelessness, and even violence. If we are to heal our own wounded muscles of trust, however, we must do more than gaze in admiration at their example. The essential quality of their trust was a familiarity with God that came from abiding in His presence. God indeed was in their midst, both in the Person of Jesus Christ and in the hearts of His Mother and foster-father.
Thus, our task, if we wish to converse familiarly with Him and “put out into the deep” without fear, is to learn from Mary to live continually in the presence of God. We do this by humbly requesting admittance to the Mystical City which is her Immaculate Heart. There, protected from incursions from without and dwelling securely with God within, we will be able to rejoice with Mary at the fidelity of God and offer our own hearts to Him—no matter where He calls us.
This article is part of the Love Bears All Advent and Christmas series, a global outreach of Holy Cross Family Ministries. During this holy season, Holy Cross Family Ministries offers special prayer resources for you and your family.
Copyright 2021 Nicole O'Leary
Images: Holy Cross Family Ministries