This week for Lent, I vowed to work on my selfishness. From the outside I can give the appearance of quite the opposite, which makes it worse. I’m not as selfless and caring as I appear. I won’t go as far to say it’s a lie, but when it comes down to it, I’ll instinctively elevate myself over others. I’ll jump out of the fire to protect myself rather than push my companions out first. I’m not proud of this.
It’s been a struggle. How am I supposed to work on not being selfish, when by the very act of working on myself I have to think about myself? And when someone pointedly stated this week that something I’d done was selfish, it was the last push for change. The very next day I was in daily Mass, thinking about not thinking about myself, mindlessly staring at a statue of Mary.
Then I got it.
It’s said that the Virgin Mary is the most difficult dogma for converts to grasp. Sure, she’s important. She was chosen by God to bear His Son. But beyond Christmas, there’s hardly any mention of Mary at all. She did her duty and went on her way. I’m not exempt from this viewpoint—in the year or so since I first considered the Catholic Church, I’ve struggled with why she has so much prominence. I was raised to belief those Catholics worshipped her, like they do God, and as a result avoided her so I didn’t fall into that same wicked deed they do.
But all this time, I’ve felt her at my periphery. She’s been waiting, both patient and impatient (as a mother does). I’ve sent up a few Hail Marys in response, trying to appease her (as a stubborn child does). Not to say that I haven’t studied her—in the Bible, in the Catechism, and through Sacred art—to try to understand why she’s highly favored. I got it, but it still had nothing to do with me.
Until I stared at that statue, in all its serene femininity, in a church that literally bears her name: outside Jesus Christ himself, Mary is the crowning definition of selflessness.
The Blessed Virgin gave all that she had to bring God into the world. The angel of the Lord declared, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee.” (Luke 1:28) Elizabeth cried out, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” (Luke 1:42) (Sound familiar?) This isn’t about not being selfish. Mary didn’t have to take the time to put herself aside. She didn’t spend months trying to fit God into her busy schedule. She simply accepted, at that very moment, and offered Him her entire life.
The purpose of prayer is often skewed. God is viewed as a magical genie, one who grants every wish. (Spoiler: That’s not how it works.) And when I first learned the concept of praying to Mary, it was offered in the same way: She will intercede for you. She’s do something for you. Which is fine, but not the point. It’s not about sending up additional prayers to get what you want. Rather than “pray so I may achieve this specific thing,” it should be, “Mary, pray that I may be more like you.” When I understood that, I truly understood why she is highly favored. Not just among people, but by God.
We don’t really know what she was thinking when the angel visited her. I imagine she was frightened, and confused, being a young virgin who was suddenly pregnant. But she was willing. I don’t have to be brave. I don’t have to be strong. But I have to be willing. May I be more like Mary.
“For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” —Mary, Luke 1:48