I guess growing up Catholic, you get a lot of mixed messages. The Virgin Mother is the epitome of the perfect woman and yet she would not be able to be a priest in today's Catholic Church because a bunch of guys in the Vatican have decided that women can't serve that way. You have this really high bar to live up to with the Virgin Mother and if you want to be a mother, you'll have to have sex which seems very unholy. After all, we were told that Jesus and Mary led their entire lives celibate - so even thinking about sex automatically makes you unfit to be a religious leader in the Catholic Church. So as you move through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, starting with Baptism which you get as a baby and have no say in. Then you have your First Communion in which you take the body of Christ in the form of a host wafer (again another image that is hard for a nine year old to fathom). There is the First Confession in which you go into a small dark confessional and tell this unseen priest what you've done which for me was usually the same - fighting with my brothers and sisters, not always listening to my parents and the occasional lie about who had finished the last of the Farm Stores chocolate marshmallow ice cream. Sometimes I would confess to sins I hadn't committed yet (like not doing my homework and fibbing about the last of the Halloween Candy) to get absolution before I did it - sort of like banking some sinful credit. I know that God could see what I was doing but I avoided looking at Jesus on the cross as I left the confessional because he had died for the sins that I kept on doing and that did not make me a very good person - it just made me feel more guilty.
When I got pregnant with Amber, I felt a real connection to the Virgin Mother although our ways of getting pregnant were vastly different. When I held Amber for the first time, I thought that this is how Mary felt when she held her son, that sense of love that is universal and timeless. I felt really close to Mary because I could finally identify with her although I knew that I was probably not raising the direct son or daughter of God, I was still raising God's children which is still a huge responsibility. When I was pregnant with Daniel I was very happy. The pregnancy was going along well until I had to get the alpha fetoprotein (AFP) test which I felt at the time was taken too early and it came back a little low. My mid-wife saw the score and suggested that there might be something wrong with the baby and that I needed an amniocentesis for further screening. If that came back with a problem, then I might have to consider terminating the pregnancy. Now, granted, I'm a liberal and I support a woman's right to choose, but that choice was not for me. I also knew that the risks in getting an Amnio done which could harm the baby. I prayed and asked the Virgin Mother for help. I meditated and she came to me, much like you see her in the paintings, with long dark hair and blue and white robes. She took my hand and we went inside my body where I saw my baby who looked healthy and perfectly fine. I would risk the baby with an Amnio, she told me, but if I wanted another blood test, then to go ahead and get one. She told me not to worry, that all was well and that the baby would continue to grow normally. She smiled and looked luminous. She then turned into a wall of roses and disappeared. I opened my eyes and felt calm for the first time in weeks. I called the doctor's office and asked for another AFP test which came back normal. Daniel was born as a perfectly beautiful child and I knew that angels attended his birth. I held him and thanked Mary for her help. I didn't even think to ask Jesus for assistance which looking back I regret but I know he sent his mother because at that point in time I needed a woman's touch.
So now here I was in the year 2013, contemplating my failed relationship with Jesus. I sat at the kitchen table with all these suppressed feelings coming to the surface - how much I missed my friend, who became a savior who then became a victim of human nature. To this day, I have a heard time going to church and looking at the altar and seeing him outstretched in the cross, looking down, sad, broken and bloodied. I know that we have to remember that he died for our sins, but I also want to remember the guy who made the loaves and fishes feed thousands of people, the man who John the Baptist baptized. The man who could walk on water. The man who was bad ass enough to throw the money lenders out of the temple. The man who wanted to make the world a better place. It took a few days for me to realize that maybe while I didn't turn to him for help, he was guiding my life in ways I didn't realize. I've worked in non-profits for most of my adult life, with children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected. I've worked in global health to help women have healthy babies or to educate people on how to stop AIDS in developing countries. Now I work with adults with developmental disabilities. I thought of one of my favorite quotes in the bible, Matthew 25, when Matthew describes the importance of being of service to others: "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."