“We needed this rain.”
It’s most often a topic of conversation when the ground has been parched and the vegetable garden is starting to look a bit wilty and the meadow hasn’t been muddy in a while. And then the winds blow just right, a storm sweeps in, and the yellowing grass returns to its lush green. The once strained trees relax. The birds splash cheerfully in the puddles.
The rains we needed came, just when we needed them to refresh the earth. Just when we were beginning to wonder whether the rain would ever come. Just when we were beginning to wonder whether the drought would stretch on forever, driving us into desert wilderness.
Just when we were beginning to lose hope, the rain comes. The rain douses. The rain drenches. The rain fills the cracked, thirsting parts of the earth. New life, new growth, follows.
The same is true of Our Lady. At the point of history when all seemed lost, when God’s chosen people were being crushed under the power of Rome and the promised Messiah was still nowhere to be seen, God sent Mary, Ever Blessed Virgin, conceived without original sin, as the rain that would prepare the parched earth for our Eternal Life, Who was to be borne in her womb.
We needed that rain. That rain brought forth our Salvation, Jesus Christ.
I don’t think we always experience rain as a positive thing, though. Often, when we refer to the storms of life, it’s a sign of trials, family illness, spiritual warfare. That sort of rain leaves us drenched while the wind whips around us, chilling us. And the thunder booms overhead, reminding us that this storm is so much more powerful than we are.
I wrote the above paragraph as an illustration of unpleasant rain. But the illustration itself comes from some of my fondest memories fishing in the boundary waters of Minnesota with my grandparents. Those storms, even in their terror, had an incredibly beauty whose memory alone fills my heart with awe at God’s grandeur.
Let me emphasize that it’s in the distance of remembering that I’m able to see the beauty. At the time, I was wet and cold and scared and had no idea how my grandpa’s tiny little fishing boat was going to manage its way back to the resort through waves twice its size.
My grandpa showed he knew how to navigate the storm. Enduring it without rushing. Easing back and forth through the waves without trying to force a way through them. Letting things take the time they needed to take in order to get us safely to shore.
We don’t often recognize the rains of our life as something we need. We look at storms as something to endure more often than valuable lessons that impart some of the most important skills and knowledge we’ll need for other storms later in life.
In reflecting on Our Lady’s life, I don’t see her seeking to avoid the storm. Her “yes” to the angel Gabriel was a diving headfirst into storms she certainly knew would follow, even if she didn’t know the details. She didn’t likely know her child would be hunted shortly after his birth, or the intricate details of the death He would suffer. But she knew He would suffer. And every step of that long, difficult journey she committed to suffering with Him.
I find myself most often drawn to Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows. The morning after we returned from a family vacation, my grandpa was taken to the hospital. He recovered quickly, was sent to a rehab center too soon, and ended up back in the hospital. I spent a lot of that time reflecting on Our Lady of Sorrows, in particular every time my grandma left to spend another day at his side. And I reflected on it every night she came home, thoroughly exhausted, totally spent, having worn herself out in love.
This is Mary at the foot of the cross. And this storm, even with all its booming thunder and frightening lightning flashes, is beautiful. Love is tried in suffering. And love that passes through such a trial can’t help but be a beacon of light and joy and hope.
My other favorite Marian title, especially because it reminds me of those stormy boat rides, is Stella Maris. Star of the Sea. St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote of her:
“If the winds of temptation arise; if you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation, look to the Star, call on Mary. If you are tossed on the waves of pride, ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the Star, call on Mary. Should anger or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look to the Star, call upon Mary.”
We look to Mary as a model of discipleship, of fidelity to God’s plan. We look to Mary as our mother, who teaches us to love by pointing with her whole life to Love Himself. In the midst of the storm, we look to Mary, who remained steadfast in the greatest storm of all time, who kept her eyes fixed on her Son through darkness and trial until His rising brought the dawn. We look to Mary, whose Immaculate Heart beat perfectly in time with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
St. Anthony of Padua wrote:
“Our Lady, Star of the Sea, we pray that You shine upon us when we are buffeted by the raging sea. Guide us to harbor, defend our going out with your watchful presence so we may be found fit to go out safely from this prison, and come joyfully to unending joy.”
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.