The Strength Behind the Smile

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As another Marian month draws to a close, we can look back at May breakfasts and Mary altars, Rosary devotions and the crowning of Our Lady, each offered by those who know the benefits of drawing nearer to the Mother of God. Included in this busy month are the First Communions which draw great numbers of baptized Catholics back to into parishes that many have abandoned at some point for various reasons. Squeezed into long-familiar pews, they look about with equally long memories, often balancing their childhood recollections with their own justification for wandering away.

Surely, the pretty dresses and veils and songs about flowers are sentimental touches dear to children and old ladies. Can Mary handle more than the lisping prayers of little ones or the ancient sighs of those ready for heaven? Can she really know of the grave concerns of hard-working adults in the prime of staking their claim on this world?


For those who cleave to the Church in all seasons, such questions are astonishing. Despite the crowns of fresh flowers placed delicately on demure statues, the faithful know that Our Lady knew hardship in her pilgrimage to God. The stark chill of the Nativity far from the comforts of home was only one stop on her long journey from the Annunciation forward.

The dewy petals offered now are far removed from the dusty paths of her native place, which she trod alongside her Son and his disciples, who heard the familiar parables of rocky soil and roadside villains. How far removed are the sunny songs of earnest children from the proud sophistry flung at the teacher from Galilee, or the jeers of those hostile to the notion of turning the other cheek.

Most of all, isn’t the dedicated shifting of beads which recall epic struggles between light and dark a consolation to both the Mary and her faithful children? As each mystery unfolded in her very life, Our Lady relied for strength on her singular relationship with the Holy Spirit, for she walked by faith herself in uncharted territory amidst those who were unsure of both landscape and true destination. Although many dismiss those very beads as a distracting or useless talisman, they neglect the standing invitation to graft contemporary concerns onto the sturdy tree under which Mary stood as the culmination of her hope in Christ.

The Church holds the fervent hope that these familiar hymns and childhood recollections will winnow their way into the soul and draw out its best inclinations. What was taught in childhood – whether through the witness of pious grandparents, or the fidelity of faithful priests, or the comforts of homes built on love – is grounded in the truth of God’s abiding grace which is sufficient to prevail over every trial imaginable. Trust in those affections and the deeper reality they bear.

For those whose childhoods exhibited more shortcomings than strengths, it may be harder to get past the aches and disappointments, but the truth about love remains. Although mother-love may look merely sentimental and its essential bridge to fatherhood a perilous construct, the reality cannot be eradicated by these family tragedies. This Mary knows. Such disappointments began with the Fall, from which we all suffer. Although untouched by original sin, her sorrows are comprised of ours and compounded when we neglect to ask for her intercession.

Sweet songs and flowers should never mask the strength behind the smile. Mary met sin head-on so that her children might be spared. The heart of the Church is sacrificial love and blood poured out, which should never be confused with sentimental trifles.

Copyright 2009 Genevieve S. Kineke

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