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Mother Mary with Child
Family, Life, Parenthood

With Mary as our model, we mothers are enough

I’ve been reflecting lately on Mary’s role as a mother. Specifically on her role as a mother during the preaching years of Jesus and after His ascension into heaven, as her mothering years did not stop. Indeed, perhaps these were her mightiest years as she formed the hearts and souls of those set apart to form the Church.

As I hold another late-night vigil in prayer for my growing children, I sit with Mama Mary and ask her how she did it. For I know her mother’s heart was greater than mine, and I know the depths I would go to for my children.

I imagine the apostles reaching out to her as their mother, sharing their hearts. How she must have listened patiently to their worries, feelings of unworthiness and admissions of taking the wrong road. How she must have held their hand, wiped their tears, prayed with and for them and then watched them walk away, unsure if her words helped but holding each one so tenderly upon her heart. Her role of advocate to her Son was being honed in these mothering moments.

Mary’s fiat was more than just a proclamation of the moment. Rather, it became her mission statement, and she lived it out. We, as mothers, can proclaim the same boldness to our children in confidence that those seeds are watered.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my savior for he has looked with kindness on my lowliness.” (Luke 1:46-48)

As a mother, I recognize my inability and my unworthiness most acutely in the sacred moments when the doors of my children’s hearts are opened to me and their desire to believe and trust is so acute. When mistakes are made, or discussions begin, faith is brought into the discussion. I feel unworthy and ill prepared more often than not.

In the past, I have suggested, “Perhaps you can read Augustine,” or, “It sounds like Aquinas is right up your alley.” Tonight, after such a talk, I was awestruck by the realization that is me whom they need. Just like Mama Mary was commissioned, so am I. And I am enough.

These children of mine have grown up with the witness of a rich faith life. They have been surrounded by the stories of the saints, a home filled with prayer and laughter, a marriage that is deep and abiding and a door that is revolving with those witnessing to Christ’s love manifest in their lives.

As I reached to text a friend during this recent conversation thinking, “Maybe he or she will have the answers,” I felt a tug to pause and realized the answers are not to be given but rather to be sought. As these conversations get deeper and my children get older, my job is to listen, nurture, water and pray unceasingly. The Lord will place the right people in His time to bring clarity.

I am not abandoning ship to teaching the faith but rather am molding myself more acutely to the Blessed Mother’s heart, where a life lived out in witness will speak volumes more than heated arguments or long, drawn-out discussions. My children know I am always open to their questions, and rich conversations do take place but always in God’s timing.

As the Blessed Mother, dear Mama Mary, got older, I imagine her role as intercessor became fine-tuned. I see her talking constantly to her Son in prayer, reaching out, sharing, pleading and asking for guidance herself as she always models a suppleness to the Holy Spirit. It is why I turn to her so often as my guide.

My words whispered from my heart: Mama Mary, calm my voice. Steady my words. Let my words speak love and invite a relationship rather than an argument. It’s amazing the multitasking that we can do while in these moments with our children. I am constantly calling upon every saint and angel to make supple our hearts for whatever Jesus has planned for these moments.

Tonight, Mama Mary sits with me and, as the last child has walked off to bed and the clock strikes hours past the new day, we sit and we hold hands in the quiet, she and I. We pray for our sons and our daughters together. Our hearts swell with love and with pain for the trials they are enduring.

We lift them together to the Father and release them to His fatherly care. He knows them. He sees them right where they are, and He is working in their lives even when they and we cannot feel it. Hearts embraced together, Mama Mary and I pray blessings and leadership upon my husband as he will pick up the pieces of this discussion in the morning, after reading my late-night text giving him the details of the conversation. (We mothers are always advocating to the father!)

I know I am not alone in this struggle to give the conversion of my children’s hearts over to the Lord. I know every mother desires for her children to be in a relationship with Jesus, for if they know Him, they will love Him, and if they love Him … well then, how can they not serve Him?

St. Thérèse of Lisieux says, “The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother.” Let us take our mother’s hearts, united with our dear Mother Mary’s, and claim our worthiness to have the hard talks, to wipe the tears, to proclaim the truth and to devote ourselves to prayer for the sanctification of our families.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Times.

Photo licensed through Adobe Stock.

Friend comforting friend
Family, Life

Be open to the challenge of receiving love; you are worthy

It’s easy for me to love. It is what I do. Raising eight souls and being married 24 years have given me plenty of opportunities to grow in the knowledge of how to love.

Those who are loved by acts of service, I’ve got your gas tank filled up for you. Physical touch? Let Mommy rub your shoulders. Gifts? Here’s a special package mailed to your dorm room.

To the one who needs to be affirmed and connected, there is a note placed on top of your pillow, and “special time” is a coveted but precious phrase in our home. Those who are blessed with it bloom under its umbrella. At times, we have all felt loved by these efforts, but for me, the doing has always been easier.

I find myself in a season of needing to receive love, and it is formative. There have been multiple times in the story of this incredible family of mine where charity has been needed, and, oh, the stories of generosity and kindness have formed the backbone of who we are as a family.

But I have come to realize that my openness to that charity and love was always for my family. They were (and continue to be) always worthy, but it was for them that the charity was received.

I sent a text the other day to a good friend on my way back from a hard appointment. In it, I laid out the details of upcoming medical care: when I would be home, and when I would not. This friend, so busy with a thriving life of her own, responded: I will be there with your children.

I sat there in the car, as my husband drove me home, holding the phone and reading that message. I will be there. I sat in awe of that fact that she so loved me that she would stop her world, that I was so much a part of her world, that she would do that for me. Not for my children, not for my husband, but for me. I was worthy.

It’s a tricky thing being loved. I have been married 24 years, and even now there are days where I ask my husband, “Really, me?” Steadfast and true, he responds, “Always, you.”

I received a letter the other day from my children’s surgeon. I have spent 15 years walking with this man, showing him Jesus along the journey. I have been so grateful for the friendship that has grown.

His letter, so woven with care and love for me, left me weeping. In it, he spoke of who I am. He spoke in words that said he knew me, my strengths and weaknesses, and loved me. I was fully known and loved.

I’m in a place of pondering love. Not romantic love, but abiding love. I am reeling from the deep and steadfast love that is being laid before me in a time of need. Male or female, child or senior, love is being given to me. Love is slowing me down with its sheer radiance.

At moments, I feel like Peter or John at the Transfiguration, almost blinded by the sheer brilliance of it. It is palpable. There is no avoiding being loved like this.

A dear priest friend shared with me that receiving love is more challenging than giving love. That is why God became man, to show us how to receive. This has been my reflection, day and night, that I may live in that humility.

I know I am not alone this season, where receiving love is a necessity. It is also an opportunity I don’t want to let pass by, for I know this is sacred time – this dependency on the Father’s love, walking forward in faith and trust.

The Lord works through us in our weakness. When we allow ourselves to be supple to His working within us, our strength becomes His light shining from within and welcomes others in. Love speaks, welcomes, gives and frees us in our deepest moments.

This season, may we welcome love in all its brilliance and receive it as the gift that it is.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Times

Woman sitting with two coffee cups in foreground
Family, Life, Mercy and Suffering

A New Lens of Hope and Understanding

Preface: I am not a writer on grief. Suffering, this I know  –but grief is new to me. I can write on laughter, joy, prayer, and love, but I never knew how they all could be wrapped up in a package of grief. While emotions are completely raw, they also offer healing. I share this with you in that spirit and ask your prayers as my family walks forward in faith.

I’m sitting in your chair tonight: a place I never thought I’d be. I feel numb at the loss of you; not really able to process the day’s events. It happened so quickly. This is not how I thought this day would go. And yet, you’d be happy I feel. We are here, all of us together, caring for Dad and helping him through what seems unimaginable, yet what we knew was coming.

I’m learning to know you again; a you I never knew — you through other people’s eyes and words. I wish I’d known this mom. They all speak so highly of you. I read your letters and your words to others, and I met a new person. This person seems recreated, renewed, filled with hope and a touch of sadness. This was you all while I was here; you just never showed her to me.

Day after day I prayed for you to know Jesus. I did, Mom! I prayed for you to know Him because I wanted you to have the eternal. This you I’m meeting while sitting in your chair … she took the Gospel seriously. She fed the poor, clothed the cold and needy. She welcomed in the stranger and offered shelter. She gave in countless ways. And yet she stayed stubborn till the end. I am not sure if it was all stubbornness, or if fear held you back. How is it possible to hold on to our brokenness and yet strive for sainthood? Letter after letter, call after call, I’m learning it is quite possible. Perhaps that is where we all are. It’s so hard to let go of hurts and wounds, yet so many stories are filled with your acts of kindness. You always had a servant’s heart for others. It is good to know that those virtues carried on as I moved away and raised my own family.

I can’t believe I’m sitting in this chair. It’s a visceral reaction that I am trying to comprehend. I both hug myself, wrapped in a blanket you knitted, and then throw it off as I stand up. I imagine you knitting and watching television. I wish I could be Ebenezer Scrooge on the outside of the window, seeing you and knowing both sides. It certainly feels like that kind of night as I write this. Most experiences like these are strong pushes to look for the Lord speaking into it. I’m always learning from what I see and asking how I can use it in my own parenting and marriage.

I won’t be the same, Mom. I will use this lens of hope and understanding you have given me as a final parting gift here on Earth to look upon others and cast away my assumptions. For I believe that as God formed us in our mother’s wombs, He planted seeds of our identity. Seeds that as they sprout, whenever they sprout, bear blooms of righteousness and redemption. Thank you for this gift. Pray for me, Mom, as I will pray for you. You are free of the shackles that bound you here on Earth. May your spirit soar with the angels you so dearly loved to collect as you watch down on us from above.

This article first appeared at CatholicMom.com

Image licensed via Adobe Stock.

Bible Group
Life, Reflections

Behold How They Love One Another

Early Christians were made recognizable by their actions. Aristedes, sent by Emperor Hadrian during the days of the early Church to scope out those known as “christians,” gave a report and these ending words have stood the test of time. “Behold, how they love one another.” I love my Bible. The sense of belonging, understanding, mercy, comfort, and love it brings me has no parallel. It is a love story that provides unending hope. In it we are reminded of the steadfast love of our God. He is our constant companion. There really is nothing that we need that He will not provide. We wait with an expectant heart. For our God is also a Father who loves to bless. Let us not forget this in times that may seem challenging. Like a parent who picks up the extra treat at the grocery store or who puts gas in her son’s car, the Lord is this type of parent to us as well. We simply must look for His blessings. We also must trust that as for our ancestors before us, God’s plan for us is always better than what we can imagine. We all can look at our life and see times of trials and crisis where we struggled and felt tested. There is a temptation to allow ourselves to feel distant from God or abandoned by him, but that is very far from our reality. We must look back and see how the Lord was with us and how we were changed from those experiences. The situation we find ourselves in today is not new. The threat of this current health crisis can make fear, anxiety, and worry dictate people’s actions. It is an unknown time of wanting to provide and protect for our own families. We are being asked to distance ourselves physically from others as a way to prevent the spread of this virus. Social distancing is by definition isolating and fear feeds that emotion. The challenge again is to look and see how our Father is working in these times. With eyes to see Him, we see Mass and group prayer being livestreamed. We see families drawing closer, playing games, sharing meals, and praying. Candles are being lit in windows as communities join in prayer. Entire industries are responding in ways to unite people. Individuals are pondering their gifts and humbly sharing them, from posting songs on their social media to poems, letters of encouragement, and selfless acts of kindness to others. The Lord is using this situation as an opportunity for us to respond in grace.

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The truth of our history is that God is always giving us opportunities to become more of the people He created us to be. The Christian paradox is that even in times of trial and tribulation, the Lord is blessing and forming His people. We see this numerous times in Scripture. Consider 2 Corinthians 9:8:

Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.

How many times in my struggles have I on my knees cried out to the Lord how hard it is to be a Christian and He reminds me that being a Christian is not supposed to be an easy task but rather a leap of great faith. But our Father wants us to have a big and deep faith, a faith that covers all our worries and fears in a blanket of security and trust in Him. In Philippians 4:6, we see St. Paul offering that same relationship with Jesus.

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.

So let us cry out to God in prayer and petitions. Let us turn to him with expectant hearts that we will be refined and our relationship with him made deeper through these times. But let us take this faith we profess and use it in all the means we have available to us to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. For as the old hymn says “ They will know we are Christians by our love.”

Picture licensed through Adobe Stock

This article first appeared on CatholicMom.com

Child peaking at Mom praying for Striving for Sainthood
Family, Life, Parenthood, Reflections, Saints

Striving for Sainthood: Saints Living Among Us

It is always good counsel to walk with a friend who brings you closer to the best version of yourself. Some people draw you to them in wonder, as you see the way they live their life and we seek to imitate them. Some people make you shift a bit in your seat at their outspoken nature in professing their faith. They live life intentionally with a laser-like focus on their mission.

I’ve shared often here about walking with the saints in our church: St. Monica, St. Andrew. St. Anthony, and St. Thérèse; there are so many examples of holy men and women in our church’s history.

This time however, I feel called to write about those striving to be saints among us and how we can have eyes to see them. Saint is an often-overused term. Webster’s defines it as a very virtuous, kind, or patient person. Surely, we encounter these people in our everyday lives, and yet there is more. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops define a saint as “the members of the Church who have arrived at perfect union with Christ, who join their wills to the will of God in praying for those in the Church. When we encounter someone who is striving for sainthood among us, we feel it in our soul. We are uncomfortable but drawn in. These “saints” among us live the everyday life as we do but do it with a joy that is palpable. They shine light amid the cobwebs that have gathered in front of our hearts and eyes. We see something in them that calls to us. That something is love. That love is Christ.

I have encountered numerous living saints on my journey and knowing them has taught me to examine my life and strive to be more in relationship with Jesus because of their example. Living saints make us both uncomfortable and aware of their passion and peace. We strive to walk with them and learn from them and then go out, like they do, on mission. For as Pope Benedict reminds us, “We are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness.” 

A few years ago, I met a young man who made me uncomfortable with his zest for Christ. He challenged me with his unbound zeal for missionary life. He was freer than anyone I have ever met! He spoke of freedom as something given not attained. This young man sang praise and preached mercy in coffee shops, at dinner tables, car rides, and grocery stores. He made and continues to make me uncomfortable in the best of ways. He laughs and cries purely. He gives and prays fully. He reminds me of John the Baptist in his quest to prepare the way for the Lord. He is an unending wick on a candle burning with love for Jesus Christ and he will never not be on mission. 

I have been blessed to know another soul with a missionary heart and a zest for the Lord, meeting him early on in my marriage. The Lord is his joy and stronghold and he has rooted his work, his vocation, his community and most importantly his heart upon this truth. Rarely does it seem that a decision is made without being in conversation with the Lord. His discernment is true. His efforts are motivated with love. His heart is sincere and while we may disagree from time to time, I know his heart to be true. He manages his time in such a way as to be very successful professionally and personally. He is humble and grateful for all blessings. He seeks to share his blessings because he knows they were gifts to him. James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift is from above.” 

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Another glimpse is of a woman who is a mother working outside the home. She is a lawyer on mission and a young mom of many. She raises her young children to love the Lord. She leads a praying home. Her children revere the Lord and dress up as priests on occasion. She comes from a faithful family. She and her husband are joyful and kind. Undoubtedly life gets messy and there are hardships, but they persevere. They continually give of their time, talent, and treasure as they are able. They live a just life and seek to carry on the mission of the Church. It seems ordinary but is daring in their quest to live the Christian life as a witness. We all need these witnesses. 

Carlo Acutis is a young blessed in our church; which means he is being considered for sainthood. He died in 2006 at the age of 15. He lived in Milan, Italy, and from the age of 7, after receiving his first holy Communion, attended daily Mass. He was outspoken in praying his Rosary and leading others to Jesus. He used modern technology in a way as to bring others to Jesus. Such outspoken words such as, “To be always united to Jesus is my program of life.” He lived life with an urgency saying that “Every minute that passes is a minute less to be like God.”

Carlo came from a home described as barely lukewarm in its Catholicism. His mother remembers going to Mass three times in her life; Baptism, first Communion, and Confirmation. Carlo is interesting and inspiring to me in his fervency for spreading the gospel with joy but also his desire to be in right relationship with the Lord and mother Mary. Here is an example of a modern saint in the making who lives by example, bringing others to Christ. 

We are all saints in the making. At least that is our call. That is our mission. Whether it be outspoken and counter cultural like John the Baptist or selfless and servant hearted in raising up a family like Saint Zélie, sainthood is achievable! This is truly our purpose here on Earth. Have you ever felt that tug on your life for something bigger? Has something someone said led you to search for more? May we all take a moment to reflect on the people who have challenged us by their words and actions to be better versions of ourselves. May we too strive for sainthood by being living examples of Christ’s light in the world. Our church needs us now more than ever.

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Copyright 2021 MaryBeth Eberhard
Images: Canva Pro

This article first appeared at CatholicMom.com

statue of Saint Monica
Family, Life, Reflections

Walking with the Saints: Saint Monica

This year, I resolved to take a walk with a saint. This idea came from a shared coffee-shop conversation with a dear friend. Each year I will befriend one saint and we will journey together through the ins and outs of my year with my dear husband, eight children, two dogs, two cats, homeschooling, writing, and teaching. But whom should I choose for my first new friend? I thought St Thérèse would be great, or maybe Mother Teresa. We adopted one of our daughters from the Missionaries of Charity so surely that would make sense! I love to sing so St. Cecilia and I had something in common. These all felt like trying on a costume that wasn’t the right fit. The secret, a friend told me, was to pray into this and let the Spirit guide you.

As I prayed, I felt drawn to St. Monica. Oh no, I thought. I am the mother of five boys whose adventures keep me plenty busy. I know the struggle grows greater the older they get and a couple are ready to be leaving soon. But over and over God kept speaking, from an old book to a saint medal gift from my husband, nudges became pushes and one night I just felt St. Monica place her cloak over my shoulders and I resigned to walk with her. The word resigned sounds ungrateful, doesn’t it? But it is the truth, for I knew bits and pieces of St. Monica’s life and I knew that walking with her would require me to walk a path of trial and tribulation. I knew increased courage and fortitude would stem from this journey, yet I did not feel up to this task.

Along this journey with St. Monica, I have immersed myself in her life, reading St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer by Mike Aquilina and Mark Sullivan, and Restless Heart, a historical fiction account of St Augustine’s youth which then led me to St Augustine’s Confessions where St Augustine speaks of his mother with such honor and love. I have written letters and shared conversations with St. Monica, both in long walks and on my knees in supplication. It has been a year and I have been strengthened by my new friend.

St. Monica was a strong and devout woman of faith whose intimate relationship with our Lord led her to raise her children as Christians alongside her pagan and often unfaithful husband. (He later converted due to Monica’s disciplined example.) So too were her children raised in a Christian household. St. Monica was known to be in the church twice a day for prayers. It’s interesting to me that as self-disciplined in prayer and as outspoken as St. Monica was regarding her Christian identity and relationship with Jesus, her son Augustine still struggled with great sin and doubt. His actions caused Saint Monica great suffering and anguish and yet she persevered. St. Augustine is quoted as saying,

“My mother spoke of Christ to my father, by her feminine and childlike virtues, and, after having borne his violence without a murmur or complaint, gained him at the close of his life to Christ.”

This was her mission and once achieved she continued on. This inspires me to live a life of example worthy of who I say I am and also to place my focus first upon my husband and then upon my children. Saint Monica had her priorities in order.

My children know the Lord and yet the desire of my heart is for them to enter into a relationship with him. That is the transition from youth to adult in my mind. As a parent we can plant the seeds of faith as Monica did so frequently, but our children must embrace the faith on their own in order for their relationship to be authentic and intimate. St. Monica shows us patience and perseverance.

St. Monica was also an advocate for her son. Knowing him as only a mother can, she followed him, spoke truth to his heart, reached out to others to speak louder when her voice seemed to be unheard. Her persistence lead to a bishop, St. Ambrose, to assure her that “it was not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” At this point, Monica felt great peace and knew that her son would know the Lord. At the age of 55, St. Monica died. She was blessed to see her son’s conversion before she died.

My year with my new friend is not finished yet. We have a couple more months to sojourn together. We will walk together as my daughter leaves for her first year of college, trusting in God’s protection and all the seeds planted. We continue to walk through a pandemic and grow family prayer traditions and virtue. We raise our voices in song and praise the Lord from whom all blessings flow as Monica used to love the traditional chants from St. Ambrose.

This practice of walking with a saint for a year is a highly recommended spiritual exercise. St. Monica chose me, and her faith in me has urged me onward through many a challenging moment. I pray that we all take the time to know these friends, the saints, as the depth of their faith cannot go unnoticed and truly lifts up the human heart.

St. Monica’s feast day is August 27. She is the patron saint of married women, difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of adultery or unfaithfulness, victims of (verbal) abuse, and conversion of relatives.

This article first appeared on CatholicMom.com here.

Copyright 2021 MaryBeth Eberhard
Images: Canva Pro