Mary: A study in motherhood

Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul retreat looks at Blessed Mother’s sorrowful heart

By Claire Collins

A motherhood retreat, led by the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga on March 9, featured the theme “A sword shall pierce your heart: how to bear the wounds of motherhood through our Holy Mother.”

And the retreat opened the door for mothers of all ages to hear how Mary’s sorrowful heart inspires the faithful to embrace their sufferings and love like her.

The retreat was organized by basilica parishioner Nikki Pacitti and was graciously hosted by the priests of the basilica in their rectory.

“This retreat theme came from the leadership team for the motherhood community,” Mrs. Pacitti said. “We do a weekly prayer request titled ‘Memorare Mondays.’ Every week, without fail, mothers are asking for prayers of peace, patience, and help with the anxieties of motherhood.”

The retreat opened with a Mass in the rectory chapel. Inspired by the beginning of the sixth chapter of Hosea, Father Michael Hendershott spoke about Mary’s wounds of motherhood through the image of her standing at the foot of the cross as Our Lord endured His Passion.

The associate pastor spoke of how, while the wounds of Christ on the cross are exterior and outwardly physical, Mary’s wounds were contrarily interior and unseen.

“Indeed, how true it is that mothers bear wounds, and they bear these wounds as Our Lady does: interiorly, in silence, in hiddenness,” Father Hendershott said.

This interior suffering is something in which all women can relate to Our Lady and learn from her example of how to suffer in this way.

Father Hendershott spoke of how Mary, so deeply united to her Son, witnessed the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy that for her, too, “a sword shall pierce,” at the cross when Jesus’ heart was pierced with a lance.

“When His body was pierced,” he said, “her soul, which was still united to Him in a hidden, interior way, was likewise pierced. Thus, Simeon’s prophecy was fulfilled.”

He also encouraged participants to unite their personal sufferings to Mary’s and thus allow them to bear fruit along with her and her Son. Specifically, he mentioned the wounds incurred on mothers through the experiences and sufferings of their children. He mentioned that Mary is the perfect model of what it looks like to bear these wounds, as she was able to allow her wounds to be sources of love and glory as they were healed through Christ’s victory.

After a potluck-style breakfast, women were then invited to hear about Mary and her experience with the emotion of anxiety. Sister Victoria Marie Liederbach of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville dove into St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on emotions and how they relate to will in order to demonstrate Mary’s supernatural ability to receive the hardships she endured in her life related to Jesus with grace and trust in God’s providence.

Participants in a motherhood retreat on March 9 at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga listen as Sister Victoria Marie Liederbach, OP, gives her presentation. (Photo Claire Collins)

Sister Victoria Marie used the stories of the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, the finding of the child Jesus in the temple, and the prophecy of Simeon to explain how Mary’s experience of and response to anxiety can be a model and example for all women, mothers in particular.

“Mary would feel anxiety, but it wouldn’t be the dominant emotion,” Sister Victoria Marie said when speaking about the flight into Egypt. “She would be feeling love for Jesus and Joseph, she would be feeling sorrow for people she loved and missed in Nazareth. There would be this great harmony and unity even amid the great suffering as she flees to Egypt.”

She added that ultimately Mary had to surrender her plan and her ability to make things perfect to God’s will and begin planning for her family’s life, trusting that He would take care of them, especially her Son, Jesus.

Regarding the finding of Jesus in the temple, Sister Victoria Marie said, “This is a place where Mary actually says, ‘We have been searching for you anxiously,’ so she definitely had anxiety because it’s in the Bible.” She went on to explain how Mary experienced this particular suffering, inviting participants to let her example be a model for how they can face similar trials in their own lives.

“She had faith and hope in a lot of darkness and really didn’t understand why this happened,” Sister Victoria Maria said. “She asked, ‘Jesus, why did you do that?’ She is trusting in a plan she does not fully understand. She felt anxiety, but she went toward the thing that made her anxious. God has given her this emotion in order to protect her Son. It causes her to search for her Son.”

This experience was part of the way that God was preparing Mary for what she would experience at the foot of the cross. “As Jesus gets older, it gets more complicated for Mary to love Jesus,” Sister Victoria Marie explained. “Jesus is being drawn beyond their family. The good of my family being together is not as good as Jesus’ mission, and Jesus’ good is actually a greater good than the good of the family. Mary has to experience what she understood to be the plan being rewritten.”

Sister Victoria Marie went on to share how the prophecy of Simeon invites Mary to endure a 33-year anxiety, knowing that her heart would be pierced but not knowing when or how.

“(Mary) doesn’t know the whole plan, but she has faith in God and she has hope in God. She knows that God is good, and she trusts God. She has certainty in the face of a greater uncertainty,” the Dominican Sister said.

Ultimately, though, even Jesus’ death on the cross is not enough to sway Mary’s ultimate trust in God. Sister Victoria Marie explained how Mary’s emotions, being motivated by love and not fear, would have allowed her to stand bravely at the foot of the cross, enduring her hidden and internal sufferings with great confidence and trust in God’s plan.

“Even though she has this anxiety in her life, it’s not overruling her. She would have experienced this very intense sorrow beyond what we could imagine and love for those crucifying Him. It hurts her more than it hurts us because of her clarity of reason and will … (but) you can have joy and sorrow at the same time. We’ve all had the experience of watching someone you love make an act of heroism. If we can look at the crucifix and say, ‘Wow, this is so good,’ all the more His mother,” she told the group.

Sister Victoria Marie shared about how anxiety ultimately is a part of every loving person’s life.

“Anxiety is given to us for a reason, spurring us on. Mary’s emotions were a gift to Jesus throughout her whole life. They can be part of how we love God and how we love others,” she said.

After small-group time, Amanda Roy, wife of Deacon Joe Roy, shared about her personal experience of learning to love Mary and her example of motherhood. Mrs. Roy’s openness to Mary started when a holy card with an image of Our Lady fell out of a cabinet while she was cleaning before she converted to Catholicism. The image and prayer, the Memorare, spoke so deeply to her in that moment that it left an unforgettable impression.

After her conversion to Catholicism, Mrs. Roy was able to grow deeper with Jesus and Mary through Mary’s tender love in prayer, coming to Mrs. Roy as a little child and gently teaching her about how to heal from her own wounds in motherhood.

Mrs. Roy also encouraged participants in their womanhood and motherhood, reminding them of their goodness and beauty, and that God could even use her messy life to make her who she is today.

The retreat concluded with a second time of reflection for small groups with the option for personal prayer in the rectory chapel.

“I loved hearing about the natural and proper functions of some emotions we consider bad, like fear and anxiety,” said participant Peyton Arnold, a basilica parishioner. “It was very healing to see how approaching these well can help lead us to greater holiness through imitating the Blessed Mother.”

Mrs. Pacitti, reflecting on the retreat and its effect on the community, said, “(The speakers) delivered tremendous presentations and guidance. Everyone learned in an academic way as well as had a new or additional relational encounter with Our Holy Mother at the retreat. Motherhood, biological and spiritual, is not easy. It will be full of anxieties and sorrows. As we learned from one speaker, every emotion comes from God and therefore is good, including anxiety. Moreover, God and Our Holy Mother are truly with us in each situation and season of life.

“We also have the community of women that surrounds us,” she continued. “It is a community which one must seek at this time in history/anthropology. However, it is ever present, multi-generational, and prayerful. The women who gathered at the retreat were strengthened from this community and this time spent in prayer,” she noted.

Comments 1

  1. St. Mary Athens has just this community essence as well, but apparently we’re being terminated due to current dynamics. Our beloved 8am Mass canceled as of June 1. We rejoice that you can maintain this wonderful and diverse group, and surely some of us will be joining y’all in short order. ad Mariam per Jesu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *