I recently took time to step away from Community and booked myself on a silent retreat weekend. As I have stated in a previous blog on St. Joseph, I love retreats. They are not only a time to rest and recharge, but a place to refocus on the more important things in life such as my relationships with Jesus and Mary. It is taking time to step away from the noise of life and to be quiet interiorly and exteriorly.
This particular retreat started as all the other retreats with me declaring that it was “Jesus and me time.” After I arrived at the retreat center and got settled in, I went exploring as there were still a couple of hours before dinner. I found my way into a small oratory outside the main chapel and it was there that my focus of the retreat shifted. On the wall next to the tabernacle, was a beautiful icon of Mother Mary holding Jesus. I was told that it was called Our Lady of the Camino. What struck me at that moment, and for the rest of the retreat, was that I was not seeing Our Lady holding Jesus, but what looked like me as a little girl. There was a love being poured out of these tender eyes of Mother Mary towards Little Alison, which in turn warmed me from within. I was drawn in and captured by this image, even before my retreat was to begin. It was as if Mother Mary was saying, “this is our time together this weekend.”
What stood out for me was the embrace between Mother Mary and Little Alison (aka Jesus). I believe it stood out because in my past, I never really had a strong connection with Our Lady. I have had encounters with her here and there, and I pray my rosary every day, but I never developed a strong devotion or relationship with her. Yet, here I was seeing myself embracing her as a child does their mother. It was as if Jesus was whispering to my heart, “Behold your mother” (Jn. 19:26-27). If you look at the image, you see Mother Mary’s left hand pointing at Jesus. What she was having me see was her hand over her heart as she whispered, “You have always been right here in my heart, my child.”
Throughout the retreat, I sat with this icon, either in the oratory or with the picture I took with my phone. Our Lady was never far. I also sat with the scripture of the Annunciation, and I asked her deep questions I never thought to ask before such as “How did you feel after the angel Gabriel left you?” “Were you frightened?” “Who did you tell?” Her answers to my questions made her more real and much more relatable to me. Later, I sat with the scriptures on the Visitation and saw the significance of the embrace between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. It was in that embrace, that Mary was able to embrace who she now was, the Mother of our Savior.
Within these scriptures, I found deeper healing for one of the hardest times in my life. It was then that I realized that the person who can really see the broken and frightened child within is Mother Mary. She is the Mother that can comfort and care for Little Alison. Even I cannot embrace her as Mother Mary can. It is in the arms of Mary that peace and joy return. I know, as I can see it on my face in this icon.
By the end of the retreat, I had learned to not only embrace Mother Mary but to embrace who I am and my position within my Community. I am being called to embrace this life as a formator and teacher to the Applicants, and in turn, be like Mother Mary to them as well. I am now trying to see beyond the memory of being the rookie teacher who tried teaching a group of children at church once before and felt like she had failed miserably. Even as I write this, I sense Mother Mary speaking to my heart saying that she too felt like she had failed when she lost Jesus in the temple, but she was able to let go and move on from that incident after she and Joseph found Jesus. She did not let that one incident define her, and neither should I let that first difficult class define me. As she teaches and nourishes me, I need to give that to these new women.
It still blows my mind that this simple icon in a small chapel spoke volumes to me over the course of a couple of days. This icon that I had seen before but never reacted to except to say how beautiful it was, drew me in and captured my heart. Even today when I look at this icon on my phone, I still see Mother Mary holding me in her arms.
What about you? Have you ever been touched by Mother Mary? In what ways has she embraced you and captured your heart? If you struggle with hard experiences from your past or find life today is hard to handle, run to your Mother. Allow Mother Mary to embrace, comfort, and love you as a mother does. She will calm your fears, and bring you to her son, Jesus. That is why He gave her to us.
Since Advent is coming soon, maybe you can make it a point to spend that time of preparation for Christmas with Mother Mary and allow her to embrace you. Take the time to walk with her through the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. See those moments through her eyes and I promise you, it will be the best Advent yet.