A few days ago, I received the Christmas cards that I'd ordered from this pro-life organization. Now before you think I'm that super-organized person who buys all their cards in July and has all their Christmas shopping done by Labor Day, don't. I'm far far far from that person. As a matter of fact, I'm often the person who mails gifts and cards the week after Christmas, with the comment "it's still Christmas so this REALLY isn't late."
But this time, I ordered early because the design of one card in particular really struck me. It was an image painted by Bartolome Esteban Murillo of the Holy Family with St. John the Baptist standing next to the child Jesus. I can't say I've seen many images like that, maybe because if you read the New Testament, it gives the impression that Jesus didn't actually meet John the Baptist until Jesus' baptism. However, other ancient texts and traditions suggest that Jesus and John the Baptist were together starting from a very young age. And this makes sense to me, because we know from scripture that the Blessed Mother and St. Elizabeth were related and spent time together during their pregnancies, so it seems reasonable to me that they'd raise their children together too, if circumstances allowed.
Anyhow, it was that image of seeing the Blessed Mother with two young boys, likely about six months apart, being raised together, that really hit home with me, because, of course, I find myself in that situation today.
I haven't always felt a strong connection to our Blessed Mother. I didn't grow up in a home where Marian devotion was practiced. In our church, statues of the Blessed Mother were not used for fear of promoting ideas of "idolatry" among our neighboring Protestant brothers and sisters. I was in my late twenties before I ever said a rosary, and the concept of "consecrating yourself to Mary" was completely foreign to me.
I can't say that the early years of infertility, which really tested my faith, did much to help me grow closer to our Blessed Mother either. As I spent those years praying for a child, I couldn't bring myself to ask the Blessed Mother for her intercession because, frankly, I just didn't think she could relate to my pain. After all, I thought, she was able to be a mother during her life and all the statues and portraits of her holding the Christ Child, of course, proved it. But then I lost a baby, and during those dark days of mourning, I thought about her and the pain she must have known when she lost her baby, our Lord, but still, her baby. So I asked her to help me with my struggle, and with that prayer, I began to feel peace in the days and months that followed. And I realized that there are some things that only a mother understands, and now I had found mine.
And today, I am a mother, and I find myself getting too caught up in the day-to-day struggles and challenges that come from parenting. I tell myself that nobody understands my unique situation, blessed as it is, but still difficult. And then I run across an image that reminds me that she's been there, too. She watched two little boys only a few months apart in age grow before her eyes and no doubt, it had its challenges. I know it did, because I can relate to it, and now, thanks to an image on a Christmas card, I know that she can relate to me, too. But then again, she always could, and always can, no matter what our situation. I just need to be reminded of that from time to time.