The story is told of an old lady who lay friendless and dying in the infirmary of the county poor farm. As she lay here looking up at the dull lifeless ceiling decorated here and there with a discolored patch of damp wallpaper, she was tempted to despair. All her good deeds of eighty-one years seemed useless for eternity; her sins were vivid and as real as living horrors about her bed. At that moment, she held up her rosary towards heaven and with a smile of helpfulness said to Our Lady: “Pull, Lady Mother, pull.” *
This wonderful little story highlights a few truths for us. First, no matter how we lived our lives, or how much good ork we have done, when we spend too much time alone with our thoughts, as this old lady had on her deathbed, we are often prone to despair of some kind. Over and over, we replay in our mind our past sins and offenses, forgetting how good God is in offering us the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Confession for when we fail or fall. The Enemy is constant in reminding us of our past when we fell, and he continues to seek our fall until our last, dying reath in this vale of tears. Whatever you might think of the Enemy, he is not lazy.
Of course, we might then think that our friends in Heaven are somehow unemployed, spending eternity plucking strings on a harp. Where’s our cheering section? Professional athletes and performers will sometimes take more note of those who jeer than those who cheer. It seems to be part of our human nature to focus on the negative. Nevertheless, the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that
“since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
So yes, we might encounter opposition, but we most assuredly have our saintly friends on our side as well, our cheering section.
And, of course, like any good cheering section, our heavenly helpers are anchored by Our Mother. Perhaps we dismiss her too easily; after all, she is Our Mother, and mothers are supposed to cheer us on, no matter how clumsy or unskilled we are. We forget, however, that she too ran the same race. She was not assumed into Heaven body and soul immediately after being conceived. She, too, lived a full earthly life. She, too, suffered, and she experienced the highs and lows that being the Mother of God and a faithful disciple of Christ entailed, along with all the other troubles that come along with simply being human. So she is not ignorant of our struggles – she ran the race and fought the good fight before us.
Now we may likewise dismiss her prayers for us as a case of “love being blind.” But love is not blind – not if it is real love. For she sees in us, as God the Father does, what she sees and loves in her Son. She loves God and loves as God loves, and therefore what God loves. She is not content to leave us in the mire and depths of despair might find ourselves in. As St. Jean-Marie Vianney said, “Only after the Last Judgment will Mary get any rest; from now until then, she is much too busy with her children.” In the meantime, she will continue to do what a good Mother does, and that is to make sure we too get safely home – to our heavenly home. She will plead, beg, and yes, perhaps even “pull,” if necessary.
* Re-printed with gracious permission from St. Meinrad Archabbey, from The Grail magazine, circa 1950.