As a teen, I heard my parents anxiously whispering on our front porch one evening: my grandmother didn’t remember names anymore, or where she had left the keys. And sometimes she couldn’t recall her own address.
Over the next few years, we watched as Alzheimer’s Disease slowly wrapped her in its mists. Unable to care for herself, she had to move into a nursing home, and though delighted by our visits, she constantly asked who we were, and why we’d stopped by.
Fortunately, she still answered to her name, and could rattle off details from the distant past. The cruel constrictions of her brain’s blood vessels had not left her completely adrift in time and space, and for that we were grateful.
Devastating as my grandmother’s decline was, perhaps the greater agony was caused by those of our family members who battled addiction. In the dark depths of chemical dependence, their real selves — the ones we knew and loved — seemed to have disappeared behind glazed eyes, slurred speech and bewildering behavior. How helpless we felt in trying to summon their souls back from the inner wilderness in which they wandered!
Surely, then, the Lord himself must grieve when he sees us struggling with the very fundamentals of what it is to be human. Never in our history have we so vigorously worked to redefine ourselves.
Made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26,27), we now prefer to be known strictly by our political parties, our nationalities, our skin color, our social activism, our consumer spending preferences.
Collectively, we discard biological reality and create (on an almost hourly basis, judging from social media) a dizzying array of self-proclaimed gender identities and sexual orientations. Failure to honor these in the smallest detail incurs the wrath of “cancel culture,” a global shaming that can destroy a personal reputation in mere minutes — not unlike the hysteria that gripped the residents of 17th-century Salem Village in Massachusetts, where fanciful accusations of witchcraft ultimately saw 20 people executed and more than 200 imprisoned.
With our advanced technology and equally refined skepticism, we’d like to believe we’re above witch hunts these days. But even as we vaunt human vision and initiative, we’re increasingly selective about who qualifies as a member of the species. Those who cannot muster sufficient power and wealth are excised from our ranks: the unborn, the aged, the infirm, desperate migrants and death-row inmates. These we consign to the biomedical waste incinerator, the drugs of assisted suicide and capital punishment, or — as too often happens in the Mediterranean Sea — to the ocean depths.
In matters of faith, our brokenness is more apparent still, as believers of all traditions snarl at one another online, and in some countries kill those who do not worship as they do.
Such “alienation from self and from one’s fellow men has its roots in separation from God,” observed Ven. Fulton Sheen.
But when the road back to the Almighty seems impossible to trek, there is one sure guide to whom we can always turn: Mary, Mother of Christ, and — as the Catholic Church teaches — “the Mother of the living” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 494).
While “Jesus is (her) only son,” Mary’s “spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save” (CCC, 501). In her complete surrender to God’s mighty love, Mary opens her arms to us as well, longing to draw us back to the One who made us. In our fear, we often believe God to be too remote and wrathful to endure us, yet Mary embraces us and assures us of his mercy.
“When I first got sober, I couldn’t go to God,” said a man who had just left one of our parish’s Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Overwhelmed with remorse for his years of self-destruction, he “went to Mary,” seeking solace in a mother’s heart before approaching the Lord directly.
Mary remembers who we really are when we ourselves have forgotten, or when we have labored feverishly to erase God’s handprint on our souls. In our confusion, in our sorrows — in May, and always — may we turn to her, and let ourselves be gently led home.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.