Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Assumption of Mary, and homeschooling reflections

I am reading a book by Fulton Sheen called The Cross and the Beatitudes: Lessons on Love and Forgiveness.    In it, the Archbishop, who was recently declared venerable by the Church,  talks about Mary Magdalen, the notorious sinner who became one of the most luminous saints in the New Testament.

Reflecting on one of the last things our Lord said on the Cross, "Behold your Mother," and considering it along with the the 6th beatitude, "Blessed are the pure of heart", he writes:

"Saint Augustine calls Mary Magdalen the 'arch-virgin'.   Think of it!  ... He puts her next to the Blessed Mother in virginity, Magdalen, this common prostitute of the streets!  She recovered purity, we might almost say, by receiving, in anticipation of the Eucharist, the night she bathed the feet of Our Lord with her tears.  That day she came in contact with purity, and she so lived out its implications that within a short time we find her at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday.

But who stands beside her?  It is no other than the Blessed Mother.  What a remarkable companionship!  A woman whose name a few months ago was synonymous with sin, and the Blessed Virgin!   If Mary loved Magdalen, then why cannot she love us?   If there was hope for Magdalen, then there can be hope for us.  If she recovered purity, then it can be recovered by us. "
 I think one of the reasons for the "silence of older homeschooling moms" lies in humiliation.   When you have been a mother for a quarter century or more, and have been homeschooling for that amount of time, perhaps, you are bound to have racked up quite a list of failures and of mini- or not so mini-tragedies that have beaten us down to a greater or lesser degree.      It is in the nature of the game.    On good days we might say with Thomas Edison and Michael Jordan that we have failed our way forward, but on other days, looking back at our original vision and contrasting it with our daily life, we might feel cynical or sad about the "forward" part.

St Paul can say, near the end of his remarkable life, "I have fought the good fight, I have stayed the course" but it would be almost insanity for us older homeschooling moms, still launching children into the world and sometimes still bringing up little ones, to say such a thing.

Fortunately, though, we don't have to say that.    We can hope to be able to say that in the end, but we don't have to justify ourselves.     Our Blessed Mother, whose Holy Assumption we celebrate today, and the Magdalen, who washed the Savior's feet with her tears, both received their eminence and their justification from the same Source:  the beloved Son, His Mercy, His Sacrifice. 

St Therese of Lisieux, who lived a life of heroic virtue and died in early adulthood, reflected on her lack of serious sin and considered whether it would make her love for Him less.  She wrote:

"Yes, I sense that even if I had on my conscience all the sins which can be committed, I would go, my heart broken, to repent and throw myself into the arms of Jesus, for I know how much He cherishes the prodigal child who returns to Him. It is not because the dear Lord in His provident mercy has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I am lifted up to Him by confidence and love." 
 In the earthly way of things, perhaps, our failures and tragedies would mark us, diminish us, be held against us in the final account.   But our Lord extended us mercy, and through the Eucharist and by giving us His Mother, changed it all up.  In fact, the story of the Prodigal Son and the lost lamb seem to show us that it is almost the contrary, what St Therese saw, that our very lack of basic adequacy is what inspires God's greatest care.   It is mysterious and paradoxical, but it is very clear in Scripture. 

Jean d'Elbee writes:

I am not telling you, "You believe too much in your own wretchedness." We are much more wretched than we ever realize. But I am telling you, "You do not believe enough in merciful love."

We must have confidence, not in spite of our miseries, but because of them, since it is misery which attracts mercy.

Oh, this word, mercy — misericordia — "miseris cor dare," a heart which gives itself to the miserable, a Heart which nourishes itself on miseries by consuming them. Meditate on this word.
 Even as veteran moms, who have been through various battles and have the physical and psychic scars to prove it, we can still be peaceful and hopeful, because it does not depend on us.  To take the example of this day's Solemnity, Our Mother did not assume herself.   God brought her to Him.

One more quote from Fulton Sheen:

Mary Magdalene . . . did not do what you and I would do. She did not pour out the precious perfume drop by drop as if to indicate by the slowness of the giving the generosity of the gift. She broke the vessel and gave everything, for love knows no limits. Immediately the house was filled with perfume. It was almost as if, after the death of that perfume and the breaking of the bottle, there was a resurrection. 
Broken things are precious. We eat broken bread because we share in the death of our Lord and his broken life. Broken flowers give perfume. Broken incense is used in adoration. A broken ship saved Paul and many other passengers on the way to Rome. Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them

So whether we are just starting out homeschooling, or are veterans embarking on a new year, let us remember that it is our broken selves we give to God, a "humble and contrite heart", not amazing curriculum or schoolroom decor or even wonderful liturgical year celebrations.  God says "seek ye first the kingdom of God... and all these things shall be added unto you..."

The wonderful curriculum choices and schoolroom orgainzation and creative lesson ideas are beautiful add-ons, but they aren't the essence and shouldn't be sought as such.   Those blogs you wistfully admire -- you are probably seeing the fruits of a life devoted to the Lord and faithfully brought before Him.    Seek that pearl, and the rest may well follow, if God wills it, but do not get lost in the marketplace and lose the pearl. 


  1. Willa! So insightful and powerful and beautiful! Wonderful, wonderful post! Thank you.

    1. Thanks Faith! Blessings on your homeschool year!

  2. Willa,

    A wonderful post! I will echo all of Faith's words.

    I am listening to Fulton Sheen at the moment, and I suspect the Jean d'Elbee quote came from his book "I Believe in Love" which I continually dip into.

    Yes, I have racked up a long, long list of failures in my time as a homeschooling mother. I can think of many issues still I could worry about, as things aren't perfect. If I'd done things differently would we have avoided this problem and that... But somehow it doesn't seem to matter. "we can still be peaceful and hopeful, because it does not depend on us." Yes! You have said it perfectly! There can be such joy despite the struggles and imperfections. God is indeed good.

    Yes, we could go in all the wrong directions as we seek to homeschool and mother successfully: "The wonderful curriculum choices and schoolroom orgainzation and creative lesson ideas are beautiful add-ons, but they aren't the essence and shouldn't be sought as such." I am so glad it doesn't depend on us!

    God bless you!

    1. Yes, the Jean D'Elbee quote was from I Believe in Love. That is one of my favorite books, too, Sue. I need to revisit it this year! I also need to keep revisiting that idea that things are in God's hands and seeking His will is the only way to cooperate with His plans!

  3. I love that GIFT of yours: to read something, and then be able to develop such wonderful and lovely and philosophical thoughts......and make comparisons from your past readings and experiences. I love how you find so many of those CONNECTIONS we talk about.

    Don't ever stop doing that "outloud" for the rest of us to adds so much to our spiritual life. :)

    Thank you!

    1. Thanks Chari! Yes, we do talk about a lot of these things, don't we? Sometimes I'm not conscious of the connections until I start writing, though!

    2. ...which is why YOU must write ;)


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