St. Anthony Messenger magazine
St. Anthony Messenger

Mary, My Healer

April 24, 2018
Issue
Mary, My Healer

Do you want to be made well?

That is what Jesus asked the sick man at the Sheep Gate (called Bethesda in Hebrew). The man had been ill for 38 years. The blind, lame, crippled, and sick would go to the healing pool and immerse themselves—or have someone immerse them—in the waters (Jn 5:1–18). 

For a very long time, my answer to that question was no. Because I was afraid of what it would take to be made well, I preferred to stay just as I was, ignoring my pain and hiding my past. I wanted to be vindicated, excused, hidden, and even, at times, patronized for the wounds I had suffered from my mother’s mental illness. I wanted to be whole and free of the pain, and I wanted to feel normal in the way I assumed everyone else except me felt. Admitting that I needed to be healed meant admitting that I was different.

No, I did not want to be well, not in the way that Jesus meant, and not in the way I needed to be well. Pretending as though none of it had ever happened seemed to be the safer route.

 

A Strained Relationship

From early on, I was aware that my mom was somehow broken, and I had mixed feelings about it. At times, I would become angry at her behavior because I thought she should know better. Other times, I felt sorry for her because it seemed she was incapable of acting better. There were times when she seemed genuinely contrite for her actions, giving me hope that she would change her ways. Then things would turn around again, dashing my hopes. As a child, I did not understand that mental illness is an insidious thing that can disappear and reappear in the blink of an eye.

Looking back, I realize that in the Marian shrine, I had met the person who would move me closer to the pool of Bethesda. Her name is Mary. 

Even if I had tried to share my secret, I doubted that anyone would have believed me. My mother was always convinced that I was up to no good and tried to convince others of the same. I think she was projecting her own sinfulness on me, and there were many times she tattled on me to a priest or my youth leader about some fictitious or imagined sin I had committed.

Oddly, she bought clothes for me that were on the outer fringe of being modest and insisted I wear them. When I wouldn’t, she would become furious. While she frequently accused me of being sexually illicit, she herself struggled with infidelity for most of her married life. It was humiliating and confusing at the same time.

 

In Need of Healing

Unlike the man beside the pool of Bethesda, I did not want to be well. Yet the two of us did have something in common: We could not get to the healing waters on our own. When Jesus asked the sick man whether he wanted to be made well, he was measuring the man’s faith. It is much like asking, “Do you trust me?” He wanted the sick man to realize and truly feel his trust in him. I had faith in Jesus, but not the kind I needed to surrender my wounds to him.

So I hid them away and pretended that they were not there. At times, I even hid myself, and one of the places I went to hide was a small white shrine dedicated to Mary. It was a Schoenstatt-style Marian shrine, and it had been built on the playground of my elementary school. 

When I was in first grade, one of my teachers introduced me to the shrine. Despite the chaos I faced at home, I frequently got very homesick at school. One day, probably to coax me out of my tears, the gentle sister of Mary took me out of the classroom, down the hall, out onto the playground, and into the shrine. From the moment she opened the door, I felt at home.

A picture of Mary holding Jesus in her arms was enshrined above the altar. It was the exact same picture of Mary that hung above my couch at home. At that instant, I believed that the sisters had hung it there just for me (oh, the mind of a 6-year-old!) so I would no longer get homesick.

That picture would play a vital role in my life.

 

Finding Refuge

After that day, I visited the shrine as often as I could. For the most part, I just sat there. Sometimes I would do my best to say the rosary, even though I did not fully know how. But usually, I just stared up at that picture and relished the peace and quiet of the shrine.

There was a lot of conflict in my childhood home—between my parents and us siblings as well—and the shrine was void of the bickering, cursing, uneasiness, and noise. I felt safe there. I was soothed by looking into the Blessed Mother’s eyes. I loved examining every feature of her face, her hands, her veil. And I loved gazing at the baby Jesus nestled snugly in her arms. I felt protected and loved.

I was too young to understand Marian theology, but I was not too young to sense that the answer to my healing was in that shrine. More specifically, the answer to my healing was in Mary. There was no vision or sudden revelation. Instead, it was a slow, subtle, and simple knowing that she had something I needed. And I kept wanting more and more of it.

Looking back, I realize that in the Marian shrine, I had met the person who would move me closer to the pool of Bethesda. Her name is Mary. 

 

‘Yes, Lord’

Do you want to be well? Are you ready to go through the work of effecting that healing? Put yourself in the place of the sick man. See the pool, listen to the splash of its waters, and hear the rejoicing voices of the others being cured there. Look into Our Lord’s eyes and hear him speak to you.

On most of the occasions in which Jesus healed someone, the cure was a question of faith. Jesus wanted the person to recognize his faith and trust in him. That was true of the sick man at Bethesda.

Now consider the two blind men whom Jesus healed on the road near Capernaum (Mt 9:27–31). He had just left the home of the Jewish official Jairus, where he had brought the official’s 12-year-old daughter back to life. Two blind men approached him along the road, begging to be healed.

“Son of David, have pity on us!” they cried out to him.

Jesus responded, “Do you believe that I can do this?”

As with the man at Bethesda, Jesus wanted to measure the blind men’s faith. He wanted an admission of their trust in him.

The men answered, “Yes, Lord.”

Then Jesus touched their eyes and told them, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.”

Jesus is saying the same thing to you: “Let it be done according to your faith.” You will be healed if you believe that you will be healed. It takes great courage to have faith like that.

 

Fearless and Faith-Filled

Mary had the courage, and she had that kind of faith. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her at the Annunciation, she was afraid and confused. God wanted something of her that she considered to be beyond her capacity. He wanted her to become the mother of his son. Not only was that a daunting task in and of itself, but Mary was a virgin. Motherhood was physically impossible. How did she respond?

“But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.’ Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her” (Lk 1:34–38).

Mary was not to be healed, but she was about to be changed in a drastic way. She had only one question, “How can this be?” Once Gabriel assured her that it would be done by God’s power, Mary’s only concern became following God’s will. “May it be done to me according to your word.” In courageous faith and trust, Mary allowed God to transform her.

Healing from woundedness will change you in a drastic way as well. Perhaps you are afraid, as Mary was when the angel appeared to her. Certainly, there are times when you have been, and will be, confused—just as Mary was. But if you allow him to, the Lord will make you the whole and healed person you were meant to be.

But first, he wants you to admit that you want to be well.


Marge Steinhage Fenelon is a Catholic wife, mother, author, journalist, blogger, and speaker. Visit her website at margefenelon.com.
This article was adapted from her book 
Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace.


St. Anthony Messenger Magazine Subscription