Bubble-wrapped saints? Let’s take in that image…bubble-wrapped saints! How ridiculous, right? Saints are brave, tough, warriors and queens who sweat through struggle and shed blood fulfilling the will of God, steadfast and stouthearted no matter how difficult the task! But wrapped in insulating bubble wrap…?
But, if you think about it, if we carried our natural inclinations to the extreme, that’s kinda what we pray for sometimes! Dear Lord, please keep all bad things from happening to me, for forever. Please make me holy, and please don’t let me suffer. Please protect my children and my family %100 percent from failure, disappointments, heartaches, and all struggles. Please take away this weakness and make me perfect, please rid me of this horrible trait, Lord, and can’t you just make this all go away?
Well, what if Father God answered all those prayers? What kind of a Father would He be if He insulated us from all struggle? And for that matter, what of the Mother of God who intercedes as the mediator of all graces? What kind of Mother would she be if she constantly protected us from all struggles and challenges? Perhaps our Heavenly Father and our Blessed Mother would become those helicopter parents everyone is talking about!
I’m using extremes to illustrate our thought processes. Clearly there is something natural about wanting to avoid pain and suffering, and that’s a healthy life-preserving inclination that God’s given us. But I think these thoughts can be useful to examine how we relate to weaknesses and wounds within ourselves, and how we relate to struggles that are present in our lives – and how this in turn colors our relationship to God, and to the Blessed Mother. So many saints, perhaps you could even say all the greatest saints, turned to Mary as their Mother and Educator. And she faithfully guided them and formed them into the saints that we know and love today (and celebrated yesterday!). How do the saints relate to their own weaknesses and the challenges they faced? How did they petition the Mother of God to intercede for them in such sturggles?
Surely not to insulate them in bubble wrap!
Fr Jospeh Kentenich explains it this way,
“If we gift ourselves to the Mother of God, we should not believe that she is going to “blow” constantly over our wounds, and keep vigil so that the child will never get hurt. You should not believe that She, the great Victress, wants to spare us of all type of struggle. Ah, no! We must try in the struggle, we were born for this.”*
When we give ourselves over to the protection of Mary, Queen of All Saints – she who best knows how to form men and women into the image of her Son – ie, to be a saint – she will not spare us all struggle! She will not hover over us and baby us – that my dear friends would be the definition of a mother who pitied her child. Mary is the Queen of Mercy, not of pity. When we pity someone, we inherently communicate that the other does not have the capacity to overcome the challenge that the other up against. But when we treat the other with mercy, we recognize the suffering, and we meet the other where the other is – and honor the capacity in the other to rise to the occasion in the grace of God! Let us especially contemplate this connection between Mary and mercy that Pope Francis has given us a gift, in beginning the Year of Mercy in a little over a month on a Marian Feast day, December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Mary is this way with us, and she is this way with the saints. In her great workshop of sanctity, the saints turned to her for her sweet intercession in the mercy of God, and they received her company and motherly education in return. She is the Mother of Mercy because she believes in our potential for growth, which is the will of God in us, and thus she stands at our side with mercy to accompany us as we struggle, as we wrestle with our GOd-given limitations and circumstances, which in her we can learn to receive as from God the Father. The saints knew that to imitate Mary was to imitate the most perfect human imitation of Christ. And as she was an imitator of Christ, thus we are called to be. She knows that the only way to imitate her Son is to follow Him to the Cross – that our struggles and weakness are the very pathway to sanctity because they are the way of the cross that we are called to walk to reach the glory of the Resurrection. Fr. Kentenich continues:
” We want to be small reflections of the Mother of God and thus, not only small signs of light, but also small signs of struggle. But we are also signs of victory and as such, we should never forget that we have been inserted into the order of the cross. For the man who aspires to the heights, the heaviest cross is the weight of his own nature. And now we could sing the Song of Songs of love and of humility, which is probably of more importance for the man of today than for the past generations…That we fall is not at all an impediment. We have only to do one thing, the affirm that we have been “struck at the heel.” We say a “yes” to our small with all our hearts. This is the most essential presupposition to be apt, to be employed in the kingdom of God.”*
What a revolutionary way to relate to our smallness and struggles! It seems revolutionary because it is not the answer that we hear from our culture.
But it is not revolutionary at all in that it is the same answer Christ gave us 2000 years ago, and that all the saints and holy souls have been following since. Mary as the great former of all saints will not look with pity on us, but with Mercy, and she will not have us evade all struggle, but rather educate us to use our struggles as sure and steadfast ladders to climb straight into the heart of God. To imitate Mary and follow Christ in this way is to make, as Fr Kentenich describes it, a “death leap” of the mind, of the will and of the heart. This death leap is what transforms us into a child of God, so that we can proclaim with joy, “When I am weak, you are strong.” (2 Cor 12:10). Thus we can begin to become those everyday saints, those family saints, that we are destined to be, that our world hungers for, and not the bubble-wrapped porcelain saints of an exagerrated idealism, but the small and totally real, tangible, organic saints who are covered in the mercy of God the Father – and thus transformed in mercy, become an experience of mercy for those whom they encounter! Queen of Mercy, pray for us!
I’ll close with this – it has been my experience that those very natural inclinations to avoid suffering, that sometimes make us pray for bubble wrap and tempt us to stay comfortable and cozy in avoidance of the adventure of life…that same drive for comfort and pleasure, once sanctified – if we really submit ourselves to this way of sanctity through the cross and the merciful love of God – is fulfilled in a way that surpasses our initial plea, and we are invited to experience a sweetness and peace much more rich than whatever comfort God could afford us by sheltering us from all hardship and pain. So rather than curse our difficulties or smallness, let us ask the Queen of Mercy and of the Saints to teach us to sing a hymn, as she did in her Magnificat, to our smallness!
“Sing yourselves a hymn of praise to your smallness! And we learn to never consider our weaknesses as an obstacle to fecundity, to the aptitude for the kingdom of God. Our weakness will only be an impediment if we cultivate them and foment them, if we don’t use them as a trampoline to propel us into the arms of God.”*
And as a bonus..a song for meditation:
“I know it’s not because I don’t love you enough
It’s not because I’m weak, it’s how you choose to speak to me” JJ Heller
- Fr Joseph Kentenich, Talk given at Octoberweek 1950, on October 18th