Tag Archives: Mary

Leaving my losses at the foot of the cross


In the early 1980’s. while working at University Lutheran Church at the University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to go on a Palm Sunday weekend retreat with the Taize brothers from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. I felt privileged to be among this group of pilgrims preparing for Holy Week. The retreat house was in rural Maryland, and signs of spring were all around us.

The small chapel where the brothers led us in Taize prayer services was dominated by a large wooden cross, and we were invited to meditate on the cross.

I remember sitting in front of the cross on Saturday afternoon and imagining the scene on the day Jesus died. I imagined Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen (my patron saint) at the foot of the cross, overcome with sorrow, crying out in anguish. In my imagination, I joined them at the foot of the cross and looked up at the dying Jesus. I gasped at the sight of Jesus in agony.

As I sat with Mary and Mary Magdalen, I joined in their questioning the scene before them. Poor Mary, recalling the prophesy of Simeon that her heart would be pierced. How right he had been!

Poor Mary Magdalen, losing the only man she truly loved, the man who had given her hope and loved her into wholeness.

How could this be? Where was God in all this? How could God abandon Jesus and us?

Even though Jesus had suggested bad things would happen in Jerusalem, we had no idea he meant this bad. I wondered how I had missed the signs, how I had misinterpreted what Jesus had been saying. How blind I had been, how comfortable in my denial.

As we watched Jesus dying and heard him cry out to God in his abandonment, my heart broke, and I wept along with Mary and Mary Magdalen.

Tears streamed down my face as I thought of the losses in my own life, of times when things did not go as I had hoped, of unmet expectations and crushed dreams. I joined Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalen in the depths of despair. I questioned God’s love and care for me.

And then, one of the Taize brothers approached me and gently invited me to lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. “Lay them down,” he said, “and walk away.” He told me to trust that Jesus would take up whatever was weighing me down.

What? Just let go of the hurts I had been carrying around for so long? Let go of those losses that had shaped me? Those painful events that I had survived and carried as a badge of honor?

The brother sensed my hesitancy, my resistance, and reminded me of the resurrection. God did come through. God is faithful.

By the time we left that retreat house on Sunday afternoon, I felt ready to enter Holy Week, believing that God’s love would transform my sorrow into resurrection joy.

Originally published in Manresa Matters, Spring 2022.

To be chosen

Were you one of the kids who was a top-pick when teams were chosen or a last-choice?

I think I was chosen early because I was tall and athletic, but what I remember most about the choosing process was the anxiety of waiting to see what would happen.

I would stand in the back of the group, both because of my height (not wanting to stand in front of anyone) and also my fear that I would not be picked (it would be less obvious that I was not being picked because no one had to walk around me). I wanted to be picked so I would know I was seen and valued, and I was also anxious about whether I would be a help or a hindrance to my team.

That memory came back to me when I was preparing to write an Advent reflection for my alma mater based on the readings for December 8.

In Luke 1:26-38, the phrase “…you have found favor” made me think of Mary searching, trying to find favor with God. I thought of people who talk about seeking or searching for God, as one might search for clues in a scavenger hunt. 

But the reading from Ephesians (1:3-6, 11-12) tells us that it is God who chooses us, that “in love he destined us for adoption.”


Finding favor with God, I believe, is more about being pleasing to God and about receptivity—being open to the goodness God wants to give. We don’t have to search for clues to find God; we have already been chosen.

We can put up roadblocks to receiving God’s favor—perhaps a resistance to change or a sense of our unworthiness. I think back to my anxiety about being chosen for a team as a child and see how my fears and insecurities probably blocked my ability to be my best. And I can look at other moments and events in my life and see where my resistance served as a shield to block God’s favor.

As I thought of Mary hearing that she had found favor with God, that God was pleased with her, I thought again of the prayer a friend had given me: Lord, help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is. Mary, I think, accepted the truth about herself and was able to be open to receive God’s favor.

Is there anything that is keeping you from being open to receiving God’s favor?


Chances are

“It grabbed me and would not let me go,” a man said during a radio interview. I don’t remember what he was talking about, but I resonated with the phrase. So often, a word or image grabs me and sticks like glue, whirling around my mind and intruding into my thoughts for days or even weeks.

Recently, the phrase chances are has taken hold of me. First a friend mentioned she was reading a book by that title. Over the next few days, I heard the song by Johnny Mathis—not once but twice—and then those two words were used in a sermon. Chances are.

Being mindful for me means paying attention to this kind of thing. Being mindful means noticing what I notice, and I noticed this phrase. Why? What invitation is it offering to me? What meaning does it hold for me?

Johnny Mathis sang this dreamy love song in the 1950’s, and I only recall the first line.


Google tells me that the phrase means that something is likely to happen but is not certain.

So what is likely to happen in my life? Or is the emphasis more on what is not certain?

At random times, this phrase pops into my mind, unbidden and seemingly unconnected to anything that is happening at that moment. It has grabbed hold of me and won’t let go.

I pray for insight and guidance. I want to be open to what is likely to happen. I want to be receptive.

We have entered the season of Advent, a time of anticipation and watchful waiting. It is the perfect time to ponder the words, phrases and images that catch my attention and stay with me.

Last weekend, I officiated at a wedding, and before the ceremony, the young man who was reading from 1 Corinthians told me he had practiced the reading that morning and one line jumped out at him.


“I kept reading and re-reading that line,” he said, his voice marveling at what almost seemed like magic to him. “I love that line,” he added.

“Perhaps there is an invitation to you in those words,” I suggested.

Chances are this same thing happens to you. What do you make of it when it does? Do you allow the words or images to swirl around you? Do you take time to reflect on what catches your attention?

Like Mary, John the Baptist and the other people in the Advent stories, God reveals something of the divine through our personal life experiences. What grabs us and won’t let go may be part of the process.


Christmas love

In the days leading up to Christmas, I have been pondering how God infused humanity with divine love.

This infusion of love happened in the most vulnerable of circumstances—an unmarried woman became pregnant, Joseph had the courage to take her as his wife, their arduous trip to Bethlehem, no room at the inn and giving birth among the animals. It happened to ordinary people who were living ordinary lives.

The shepherds were the first to hear the news, lowly shepherds. God chose to reveal His greatest glory to working-class people—not royalty or rich people, but poor people, marginalized people, people who smelled like the sheep they lived among.

The fact that God chose these particular people and circumstances makes me think that lowliness and vulnerability are highly esteemed by God. God prefers lowliness.

As I pondered the mystery of God coming to us in these humble surroundings, love took on a different look. That first Christmas turned societal order upside down, placing first those who seemed to be last. That Christmas, the lowliest were the first to receive the message of God’s love breaking into the world.

Christmas love seeks out those who are marginalized and lets them know that they are the most important to God, that God chooses them.

Christmas love honors two things we might find difficult to even look at, let alone esteem—poverty and powerlessness. Who wants to be poor and powerless? Who wants to even think about their brokenness and fragility?

Yet, the message of Christmas seems pretty clear—God chooses those who are lowly; Christmas invites us to consider our own lowliness—our own weakness and insecurity.

This is the gift of Christmas—not expensive presents or lavish parties, but humility and vulnerability; that is where God touches us with divine love. God turns things upside down by blessing those very parts of ourselves we try to hide.



As I thought about Christmas, the word fear kept coming to me. Fears keep us from accepting those we see as different, because we can fear being judged, being hurt, being taken advantage of or even being seen as different. I wonder if Mary and Joseph were afraid of the shepherds who approached them and their newborn baby—in the way we might be afraid of being approached by someone who had been living outside.

Christmas assures us that God prefers to meet us in our vulnerability, our fears and insecurities, our poverty and pain. There God can infuse us with divine love so that we can be open to pain and suffering—our own and others.Christmas-love-vulnerability

Christmas love is accepting and forgiving. It is abundant, and it offers true freedom and peace when we can let go of our fears and expectations and honestly admit our dependence on God.

To be humble rather than proud; to be weak rather than strong; to love rather than hate; to trust rather than fear; to hope even in dire circumstances—let the Christmas celebration begin.Christmas-love-vulnerability







Follow the signs

Church parking lots seem to attract people who like to go against the grain—they enter through the exits and exit through the entrances. Signs clearly designating which is an entrance and which is an exit don’t seem to matter. The pastor’s pleas to follow the directional arrows don’t seem to matter. When a car entering through an exit ran into a bicyclist in our church parking lot, I thought for sure that would be enough to change people’s driving practices, but people continued to disregard the signs and go the wrong way.


My suggestion was to install “do not back up” spikes, the kind I’d seen at the exits of rental car lots. I thought that they would definitely keep people from going the wrong way.

As I made that suggestion, I realized I wished I had those spikes installed at different times in my life—times when I was heading in the wrong direction, when I was making a choice that would lead me away from God.



I have been blessed by good friends who felt free enough to warn me that I was heading in the wrong direction, but those warnings were often not enough to stop me—not in the way spikes would have. No, I would often continue along some dangerous path and end up in a disastrous situation.

Why couldn’t I have spikes to stop me? What a life-saver they would have been. Imagine all the pitfalls I could have avoided.


Advent is a time to look at the direction my life is taking, to check and see if I am on the right path, going in the right direction.


John the Baptist and Mary are two prominent figures of Advent, two people who had great clarity about what God was asking of them. Each one stepped up in an extraordinary way to answer God’s call.

One of the things I love about Advent is that it shines a light on how God calls each of us to a particular mission. God did not call John the Baptist to do Mary’s mission nor Mary to do John’s.

I can sometimes be tempted to look at the work of others, to compare myself and ask if I should be doing something else, someone else’s mission. My mission can seem to be less important or impactful than what others are doing. My insecurities nip at me all along the path, reminding me of my inadequacies and failures.

But God calls me to ignore those negative messages and listen for affirmation as a sign that I am on the right path.

God calls me to fulfill my particular mission and trust that it is just what God is asking of me. I only need to stay focused on God’s call and keep moving forward; I simply need to follow the lights along my path. If I can just do that, I don’t need spikes to keep me from going the wrong way.


On Retreat

I recently went on my annual silent retreat at the local Jesuit center. St. Ignatius advised people to prepare for retreat by praying for a certain grace or gift from God.

At Mass the day before retreat started, these words from the song Hosea touched me: Come back to me with all your heart, don’t let fear keep us apart….Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.

Here was the grace I would seek: to know what fear was keeping me from God and to see more clearly what my new life of living deeply with God would look like.

In the silence of my retreat days, I prayed God would reveal to me what might be keeping us apart.

And then I remembered December 8, 1972, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

At Mass that day, the priest talked about Mary being an example, a role model for how to live a good life, a godly life.

I listened to him, trying to take in his words, trying to see a way Mary and I might be connected.

But I was too aware of my sinfulness. I was not living a good life. I was not living the life God wanted for me—or even the life I wanted for myself. And I seemed powerless to do anything about it. I was living out of a broken place deep inside me, an open wound that refused to heal.

The words to a popular song ran through my mind: “I felt all flushed with fever, embarrassed by the crowd, I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud. I prayed that he would finish, but he just kept right on, strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song…”

I understood. The priest’s words condemned me. I was condemnable, contemptible.

Tears fell freely as his words accused me, judged me. His words were killing me.

In my darkness, I already felt dead inside.

I was too broken, too damaged. I was sure others could see the darkness surrounding me, the turmoil enveloping me. I did not belong here, in this church on Mary’s feast day. I was a sinner. Mary had indicted me by her purity, her godliness; the priest had called me out. “

Guilty,” I pleaded.

“Please, God, help me,” I cried.

And then a vision: the floor opened and I fell through, removing me from the presence of Mary and the priest and all the good people who sat in that church, dropping me down, down—into the waiting arms of a loving God who cradled me and offered me hope.

On retreat, all these years later, I realized I was still carrying the shame of my youth, letting it get in the way of my living in total trust.


Communion of Saints

“I believe in the communion of saints…” is one of my favorite lines in the Creed. It reminds me that I am part of something bigger, much bigger. It conjures up images of a more cosmic perspective, where I am connected to all those who have gone before me. It makes me think of a life-time continuum—from the spark that starts life, through this life and then onto new life—eternal life.

In the communion of saints, I feel more connected to some saints than others. Mary Magdalene tops the list of my favorite saints. She has inspired me and consoled me more times than I can remember. When I think of her, I think of how much she loved Jesus and how she was loyal to him to the end of his life and beyond. She reminds me of forgiveness and healing and love. I feel a deep bond of friendship with her.

On Good Friday, I posted a piece here about another Mary, the mother of Jesus—the other woman who loved Jesus and was loyal to him to the end of his life and beyond. I wrote about a vision I had of Mary two years ago.

Later that day, during the Good Friday Liturgy, I had another encounter with Mary, the mother of Jesus. It happened after an elderly man tripped and fell in the aisle near where I was sitting. Several people rushed to the man and someone called 911.

While we waited for the ambulance to arrive, the priest started to pray: first, the Our Father and then the Hail Mary. He continued to pray the Hail Mary, again and again, until the ambulance arrived.

Tears poured down my cheeks as I prayed, “Holy Mary, Mother of God….”  It reminded me of that day two years ago, praying the rosary with Jim, invoking Mary, the Mother of God.

I felt her presence.

“What do you want, Mary?” I asked in the silence of my heart.

For the rest of that day—and every day since—I have wondered what Mary wants.

When I reported all this to my spiritual director, she asked about my history with Mary. I told her that over the years, Mary has tried to get my attention—through scripture and prayer and art—but I have not been open. I already have my “best friend” saint in Mary Magdalene and did not see how the other Mary could fit into my life.

My spiritual director suggested that one thing Mary and I have in common is that we both store up things and ponder them (Luke 2:19).  She suggested I simply sit with Mary and be open to a new relationship.

I have been much more aware of Mary’s presence since Good Friday, as I ponder all these things and pray for openness.


Good Friday

In the days before my friend Jim died, he repeatedly asked to pray the rosary. I took the lead, announcing the mysteries and beginning each prayer, and he would finish them. The nearer he got to his death, the more he wanted to pray the rosary.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

I think it helped him to accept what was coming and it was reassuring to think about Mary praying for him at the hour of his death.

He savored the words, letting them swirl around in his mouth as he had once enjoyed fine wine. Those words had become his comfort food, his sustenance.

On the Saturday before he died I took a nap after we prayed the rosary. Fifteen minutes later, Jim woke me up and asked if we could pray the rosary again. I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep, but he wanted to pray, and so we prayed.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” I began.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen,” Jim concluded.

As the beads passed through my fingers, I became aware that Jim had changed a word, had made the prayer more personal, “…now and at the hour of my death,” he prayed. He knew his hour was near.

While we prayed the rosary the second time that afternoon, I had a vision of Mary coming to get Jim to lead him to God. I was startled by the vision, since my relationship with Mary had been tenuous at best. But there she was, letting me know that she was coming and that she was going to lead Jim to God. I continued to pray. “Hail Mary…”

When we finished the rosary, I told Jim of my vision. “That is exactly how I imagine it,” he said, his voice wistful and his face transformed by a faraway look and a knowing grin. He was ready and looking forward to the moment Mary would come for him.

Jim died the Tuesday of Holy Week.

In the midst of this Holy Week, I am reminded of that other one two years ago.

At the time, I thought the vision of Mary was for Jim’s sake, to give him reassurance as he neared death, but I soon realized that the vision was also for me, offering comfort and hope—from one woman to another.