I’m a new priest and I have a lot to learn. Of course, working in a parish affords me many opportunities to work with different and diverse groups of people. A group of mothers approached me a few months ago and asked if I would be willing to lead a book discussion for them. I said yes. Immediately, given the dynamic of their group, I knew what book would be good: Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom, written by a fellow Wisconsinite named Marge Fenelon. It has been a great joy to walk with these moms as we journey with Mary from the Annunciation in Nazareth to Calvary and the Upper Room. In the process, these moms taught me a lot. Here are four lessons I learned:
- Openness to Life
Many of the moms in the group brought their children to our discussions. What a joy to see the many gifts from God present in that room! In their motherhood I realized what a blessing it is for them to have children. They taught me that people today still seek to live out the Church’s teachings regarding family and openness to life.
- Moms Need Support
It was clear to me that these moms valued the support that they gave one another. Many of them are a part of each other’s lives and they seek to incorporate spirituality into their daily lives. They gather in each other’s homes throughout the month to pray the rosary and organize play dates. They break open the Word of God together. The moms all came from different walks of life but they share a commonality in that they are mothers. Each mom present learns something from the others. They reflect and brainstorm together about the spiritual life and life in general. They look to each other for support.
- Mary in the Life of a Modern Woman
Pope Paul VI in Marialis Cultus 34 wrote: “Some people are becoming disenchanted with devotion to the Blessed Virgin and finding it difficult to take as an example Mary of Nazareth because the horizons of her life, so they say, seem rather restricted in comparison with the vast spheres of activity open to mankind today.” This phrase troubled me when I read it a number of years ago, so much so that I gave a talk to a woman’s group entitled “The Motherhood of Mary and Your Motherhood Too.” I was happy to find Marge’s book about Mary because I believed she answered the challenge presented to Catholic women today by modern society.
In our moms’ book study I learned so much about how the modern woman identifies with Mary. They shared many great insights, pearls of wisdom. We talked about the difficult journey Mary had in traveling from Nazareth to Ein Karem and then her return from Nazareth, only to head to Bethlehem for the census. One insight the women shared was the difficulty to imagine Mary traveling in the third trimester of pregnancy. Marge helps us to realize that the modern woman can relate and look to Mary for inspiration.
- Desire for Sanctity
Over and over again it was clear to me that these moms want to be holy. And not only do they want to be holy but they want their children to be holy. They want to teach their children the difference between right and wrong before someone else does. They want to protect the innocence of their little ones. They are trying to raise their children in the best way that seems fit for them and in accord with Christian morality. They want to raise saints for the Church—just like Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.
Marge Fenelon’s book provided a great opportunity for conversation. She had the ability to take a biblical event like the flight into Egypt or the wedding feast at Cana and use it as a springboard to discuss real life today. But even more so, her book led these moms and me through a conversation that has left me with a wealth of knowledge. If you are a mom, consider picking up Marge’s book and reading it. Also, think about joining a moms group. You will be happy you did!