My little legs swinging off the edge of the pew, I lean forward and look over to see my grandmother and her sister , my great aunt, on their knees pushing the beads through their hand with their thumb and index finger as they mouthed the words to the rosary. They were always there early enough to get at least a decade of the rosary in and it was always enchanting to watch them. Mass began, kneelers went up, they sat down and the rosaries went back in their purse. And this was my earliest memory of falling in love with and wanting to adore Mary, Queen of Heaven, Mother of God.
“Totus Tuus” was St John Paul II’s apostolic motto, meaning “totally thine/yours” in Latin. He had such deep love and adoration for Mary, originating in the great writings of St. Louis de Montfort. I was born in 1989 when he(Pope John Paul II) was on the rise as one of the most important world figures and anyone who was going through their most formative years during his 26 year pontificate was known as the JP II Generation. In the post Cold War era, Pope John Paul II brought the world charisma, peace, hope, and greatness when tensions were quite high on a global scale and his diffuse was unmatched by any international leader. Though he has since passed on and amazingly enough been beatified and declared a saint by the Catholic Church, he and his motto “Totus Tuus” has been one of my guides for all seasons in my life.
Just as I remember when I first fell in love with Jesus’ mother, I vividly remember diving deep into the the life of St John Paul II when I was a freshman in college where I was fighting a mountain of anxiety and the only place I could find solace was daily mass, the rosary, and what I would discover was contemplative prayer. There are many different ways to pray but, if you break it down into three categories, the rest emerge from those three. The three traditional forms of Christian prayer are vocal, meditative and contemplative. Vocal prayer is fairly self explanatory and as is meditative, which is the category the rosary and any novena prayers fall under. However, it is contemplative prayer that beckons you to trade yourself in for a moment of solitude to sit with Christ. For me it was and still is taking the time to listen to music or sit in silence for an hour or so each day and be with Him. In our busy world, it is difficult to get enough of that. As an introvert, I definitely cannot get enough of that. But, there is more to it than just sitting alone, uninterrupted, not being asked for snacks or another glass of water if you are a parent like myself. When you have anxiety or are going through difficulties and feel alone, being able to sit with Him, feel his presence and know that nothing around you in those moments matter, that is love. It is the same feeling I get when I sit with my husband doing nothing, knowing he is simply there; what comfort that brings! It was in these quiet moments, these minutes, these hours along with my heavenly Father that I got to know Him as someone who loves to spend time with me, who loves to hear how my day is going(the good and the bad), and it was then when I realized that if I didn’t have even one person (though I have many) who understood my anxiety, fears, feelings, troubles, or even anyone to share my joys with, it didn’t matter because I had Him and He has me. Or as St John Paul II beautifully said, “Totus tuus” (Totally yours).
These quiet moments alone with Him were vital to what I would encounter in the next year. I started my sophomore year of college in another bout of anxiety spending a lot of time on the receiving end of a lot of pep talks from my brother Kevin. I was working my tail off to pay my tuition and I wasn’t going to be able to make ends meet. My dreams of attending the college that I loved so dearly were in jeopardy when after daily mass one afternoon I was asked to meet with the head of campus ministry. First of all, let me say, this person already made me anxious to be around for whatever reason I don’t know but, I vividly remember thinking “Well crap! This is not what I want to be doing with my day!” So, I nervously sat down and she said “So, I’ve been contacted by someone who would like to pay your tuition. I can’t tell you who it is unless you accept the offer but, I want you to think about this offer and pray about it and get back to me.”. I could have passed out. I wanted to. Someone wanted to pay MY tuition!? Why can’t I know who this benefactor is? Who is this? I had so many thoughts running through my mind but, all I could muster was “Wow! I’m speechless! I will definitely let you know before the week is over!”.
That week I was a nervous wreck because I wanted to know who would care about me and my education enough to pay for it. After much prayer and contemplation, I decided to go accept the offer. When I found out who was offering me the scholarship, I realized how even more amazing it was. This was a person who didn’t know me from Eve and I certainly didn’t know him but, he valued my charisma for education, faith, and the college itself. So I was able to continue my education for a few more weeks until the unthinkable happened. One morning after class I went up to my room to retrieve a hat from my fourth floor dorm room, for what reason I don’t know but, the fact that I did was important. Upon leaving the dorm and heading down the stairs, somehow I fell down the concrete steps and wound up with significant injuries to my spine, shoulder and head. Being the stubborn person that I am and being in a state of shock, I got up, walked to the nearest building and asked someone for “a bandaid”. Little did I know I needed a lot more than “a bandaid”. Days passed and I could no longer shake off the pain. I decided to go to the ER when my mom convinced me that me crying because I was having trouble breathing warranted being checked out. The ER physician referred me to an orthopedic doctor whom upon our first meeting, his words were “Had you come to me about 24 hours later and you’d have been dead or operating a wheelchair through a straw for the rest of your life young lady. Do you realize how fortunate you are to be alive? Many people don’t survive the injuries you have. They just don’t.” So, why did I? And why did I cut it that close? Remember when I said all those quiet moments I had with God were vital to what I would encounter in the coming years? Hindsight is always 20/20. I thought anxiety was a lot to deal with? Hell…I had no idea what was coming my way sophomore year, did I? Did I know I was going to need His hope? No. Did I know I was going to need His divine intervention? No. Did I know I was going to need his peace? No. Did I know I was going to need his fortitude? No. But, once I got there it all made sense and none of it mattered because I was totally His.
In the midst of all that I met the man I would eventually marry. Meeting him was the biggest surprise of all because I wasn’t searching for him like I was searching for God in those moments of contemplative prayer. Psalm 37:4 says: “Be happy with the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”. In all those moments of weakness through my recovering from my horrible accident, you’d think depression and anxiety would have befallen me but, strangely enough it was quite the opposite. I felt an overwhelming peace and happiness in God because I knew I was taken care of. And in the midst of all that, my would-be husband was there delighting in the Lord and his goodness alongside me. When you are recovering from a head injury, you spend a lot of time in darkness. So, in the darkness Chris(my husband) and I sat next to each other and though we barely could see each other, we would talk for hours about our lives and we got to know each other as friends before we really entered a romantic relationship a few months later. It felt as though in those moments, in the darkness, His light shone through in what was blossoming to become a beautiful relationship between me and my would be husband. Most people get to know each other in a way that allows them to fall in love with each other’s physical self before falling in love with each other’s heart but, it was as though the Lord knew the only way to his daughter’s heart was through His heart, so in those quiet moments in that dark room, my husband and I fell in love with each other’s souls before we ever fell in love with each other’s faces. In today’s world, that seems so backwards. But, my heavenly Father had high expectations for his daughter and had to make sure they were met.
This year, my husband and I will have been married 7 years. Not too long but, long enough to have been through quite a bit together as a couple. Together we have faced many challenges and together we have overcome them. We have given life to two beautiful sons and love loving and raising them. Many things have changed in these seven years, too. The person I deem closest to me other than my husband, my mom, has since joined a monastery where she, too, participates in a contemplative lifestyle. She is now a nun in a what is called a “cloister” which means they have little contact with the outside world. They take vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. This means that in her commitment to her contemplative lifestyle, my relationship with His mother has become even stronger. When Christ was on the cross and he looked down at his mother ,Mary and his disciple, John, he spoke the words “Son, behold your mother. Mother, behold your son.”. In that poignant moment in human history, Christ gave us, the Church and his children, His mother! Jesus, even in his dying moments cared for His mother and for us! He knew the grief of his mother and a child ! I, as a child of a mother whom I have limited contact with, take great solace in the fact that I have a heavenly mother that adores and cares about me, too! This is why, as a mother, as a daughter and as a wife, I can look at the tenets of Marianism and contemplative prayer knowing that I am never alone in all that I am and all that I do. His divinity is what breathes life into everything I am. I am totally His and the love of both a heavenly Father and Mother is beyond the divide of any concepts that our mind can grasp. It can only be experienced and in hindsight, seen. Totus tuus.