Nicole O'Leary considers what mothers can discover in the garden of Mary’s Heart that they can, in turn, cultivate in their own hearts.
Modernity largely ignores the mother who wishes to answer the summons to heroic charity her vocation makes upon her. Instead of offering her saintly examples, our culture presents her with a host of feminine role models whose many achievements are not necessarily bad in themselves, but which are only truly good if they orient women, their husbands, and their children to Heaven.
Thankfully, God foresaw our modern poverty and gave us the Mother par excellence, the Mother He chose to be His own: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although contemporary standards for success may dismiss her, the woman who looks to Mary as the pattern of motherhood will find in her a faithful teacher.
As we engage with Our Lady, however, we must be careful not to fall into either of the mistakes that we so often make with the saints. On the one hand, we would be wrong to conclude that because Mary’s holiness is so far beyond our own, we are called not to emulate her but only to admire her. Conversely, we must not downplay her holiness in order to represent her as easily imitated— “just like everybody else.” The gift of the Immaculate Conception did not simply preserve her from original sin; it set her apart for God and plunged her into the depths of His Heart.
If we avoid these two errors, our relationship with Our Lady will gradually be purified. She becomes, for us, not a stony icon whom we admire from a distance, nor a celebrity who intimidates us (and perhaps even makes us a little jealous). Rather, we find in her a living Heart which, with tender affection, loves us as Mother. Discovering ourselves loved, we are inspired to love in return and to imitate the one who loves us.
But what kind of inspiration does the maternal Heart of the Immaculate Conception offer the contemporary mother? The Song of Songs presents an image which the French spiritual writers understood as a fitting portrait of Mary’s Heart. “My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up,” the Holy Spirit says through the pen of the inspired author (Song 4:12). A mother—or any woman, for that matter—who wishes to understand more deeply the delicate sublimity of her vocation should meditate on this image. If she asks, with humble persistence, she will certainly hear the Holy Spirit speak to her of the loveliness of Mary, His spouse, whose likeness He wishes to find in every soul.
What might a mother discover in the garden of Mary’s Heart that she can, in turn, cultivate in her own heart?
First, a garden is a refuge.
It is the tranquil retreat from the world’s chaos. Our Lady told Sister Lucia of Fatima, “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” Admittance to this refuge requires earnest desire on our part; but she, as Mother, receives our humble offerings with joy. In our biological mother, too, we find the consolation of a listening ear and an understanding heart, pleased that we have chosen to trust and confide in her.
A garden nourishes.
It produces fruits that sustain its inhabitants. Mary, whom the Angel Gabriel addressed as the “fullness” or “plentitude” of grace, nourishes the children God gives her by adorning them with the graces she receives from Him. Likewise, a mother sustains her child—first in the intimacy of her womb and then with the innumerable necessities of everyday life.
A garden promotes growth.
When a garden is healthy, everything blossoms. Mary wishes to see us, her children, come to full stature—that is, she desires that we reach the maturity of love, and so be formed into Jesus Christ. This is her strongest inclination, Saint Louis De Montfort insists, and she is powerful in accomplishing it. Physical mothers, too, desire to see their children blossom into a mature and happy adulthood.
Finally, a garden—at least, a “garden enclosed”—is hidden.
Mary’s humility should not be equated with timidity or a lack of confidence. It was the fruit of a passionate love, a singularity of heart that so delighted in God that everything else paled in comparison. Her hidden Heart offered Jesus a space in which to grow; meanwhile, all that she did in their modest home in Nazareth was a continual song of praise and adoration of God. While the contemporary mother may operate in a different milieu, she can still recognize in her countless humble and unseen tasks a treasury of opportunities to lift her heart to God.
Mothers: what is needed to overcome the world’s poverty of sanctity? Saints! Mothers who have confided themselves to the Heart of Mary, who recognize in her not only a model to be imitated but also a companion, confidante, and mother of their own who is fully and truly alive. Mothers who know themselves to be loved by Mary, and who love her warmly and affectionately in return. Mothers who understand that to love Mary is to love Jesus, to be united to Mary is to be united to Jesus, and to become holy themselves is the most important task they can undertake for their children, their spouses, and for the glory of God.
Copyright 2022 Nicole O'Leary