With the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception happening tomorrow, it seemed like a good time to begin reflecting on a book I have read to help me each season of Advent, namely, The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander. While the book is still under copyright, and hence, I cannot share it in text or audio, it is readily available and even without reading it, it is hoped these reflections about Mary will be helpful to others. We begin with the Introduction.
“When I was a small child someone for whom I had great respect told me never to do anything that Our Lady would not do; for, she said, if I did, the angels in heaven would blush.
For a short time this advice “took” in me like an inoculation, causing a positive paralysis of piety.
It was clear to me that all those things which spelt joy to me were from henceforward taboo – blackening my face with burnt cork, turning somersaults between props in the garden wall, putting two bull’s-eyes into my mouth at the same time – all that was over! But even if I faced a blank future shackled with respectability, it was still impossible to imagine our Lady doing anything that I would do, for the very simple reason that I simply could not imagine her doing anything at all.”
What do you imagine Mary’s life on earth was like? I have to admit, just like Caryll Houselander, who wrote the words above, that for a long time I could not imagine Mary as a real woman, an historical figure who really lived. Rather, the images that were too often presented to me were those that were plastic, sterile, unhuman.
Fortunately, at some point in my life I came across the book by Caryll Houselander, who helped me to imagine a more human Mary. This did not take away my sense of Mary as a saint, in fact as the saint, but rather gave me faith in the grace of God that helps believers know that with God’s grace all things are possible.
The Reed of God is Houselander’s attempt to show the real life of Mary, the Mother of God. To be sure, she is the Mother of Jesus, the divine Son of God who comes into our world as one who is fully human.
I have read this book during Advent many times. It helps me to focus on the complete yes of Mary in a way that helps me to see that my feeble attempts at saying yes to God can become more than I can imagine because of God’s tremendous grace.
This advent I thought it helpful to share this little book, or more accurately, my reflections that arise from this little book, with a wider audience. The book is still under copyright, so I cannot read it aloud. But I can encourage you to think about the book even if you cannot find the time to read it.
Yet it is a value to read it. Houselander brings the powerful story of God’s grace alive in the person of Mary, who now intercedes for us so that we can be changed more and more from people who sin (though Mary did not) into people who say yes to God (which Mary always did).
“When we are attracted to a particular saint it is usually the little human details which attract us.” Isn’t this the truth? My patron saint, Martin de Porres became first appealing to me when I learned that he did not always do what his mother wanted (he gave away money his mother gave him to buy food). The story of mice in the convent and Martin talking with them (even if it is not true), helped me, one who loves animals, to see that I could too love God just like Martin loved God’s creation.
These saints were real persons. Saint Dominic who admitted that perhaps he lingered a little too long in the company of beautiful women. Saint Catherine of Siena’s time spent in a garden. Saint Francis’ struggles with his father and the leper.
But Mary, Mother of God, is most appealing as one whose life was completely influenced and lived in the overwhelmingly generous response to always do what it was that God wanted, and in so doing, becoming completely, totally and entirely the glorious person God created her to be. And even though unlike her, I sin, she gives me the hope that in my life I too can say yes to God even in difficult circumstances.
This is because Mary is more than just one person who had a limited task. Consider what Mary had to do. “The one thing she did and does is the one thing that we all have to do, namely, to bear Christ into the world.”
This is a wonderful challenge. On the one hand, we are called to bear the Christ to others in the world. We are to engage in the external quest to witness so that others can see what type of relationship with God is possible.
At the same time, we recognize that it is the same Christ which dwells in us, and so we recognize that in some way we bear the Christ as witness for ourselves.
And so, as we journey together this Advent, let’s take some time to think about the figures of Advent, especially one as inspiring as the Blessed Mother.
Take a moment to consider the following questions:
- What comes to mind first when you think of Mary?
- How is it that a deeper understanding of Mary as a real person can bring you closer to Jesus?
- As you consider Mary as a real person, what is it you hope to gain?
Check out the commentary on other sections of The Reed of God.
It can be helpful to have the book to read. To purchase books I recommend the Pauline sisters.