Like many people, I had a grandmother who influenced my faith so thoroughly that 25 years after her death I still find guidance in what she left behind. I inherited a simple 5x7 piece of cardboard that’s one of my most precious belongings. Printed on it is an image of the Sacred Heart with which you are probably familiar. Jesus’ face flickers with light radiating from his own burning heart, the flames rising from a crown of thorns. His eyes follow you everywhere. Not in an eerie haunted-house-painting way, but in a “I see you, I’m here for you” way. A “I’m listening” way.
My Grandma May kept this picture tacked to the wall in the spare room where she lost one of her children. Her grown son had been staying with her and passed one night in his sleep; she found him in his bed. At the age of 78 she endured the most traumatic of losses. In her remaining years, when I’d go visit her, we’d dunk ‘Nilla wafers in our tea and talk. “God has been so good to me,” she’d repeat.
I have a fierce sense of justice, albeit a limited human one. Quite honestly, in my 20s, I doubted whether or not God had been good to her. But who was I to question whether this was true? She believed it, and I respected her. So in the ensuing 25 years I’ve carried her words of faith in my heart, and that framed Sacred Heart has watched over me every night. It’s that unflinching gaze of love, from Jesus, and Mary, that, like a child, I need.
Holly’s image of the Blessed Mother with Jesus, their robes and halos awash in faces of the varied colors and features of the human family, is a dazzling depiction of needs being met. We need each other, as people. We need to be seen, and heard, and listened to, by each other, and by God. Perhaps this is why she has painted the eyes of Mary and Jesus in a Forget-me-not blue. Because we are a treasured part of the family we are never ignored and we are never neglected.
It still stuns me that even with that well of loss, my grandmother trusted God with her heart. She gave me such a long-lasting example of how to live as a woman of faith. As I write this, I remember there was one more thing I got from my grandmother. I was named after her, the Irish form of Mary. Her given name was Mary, but we called her the diminutive, May.
May, the month we celebrate Mary, and all mothers. As a little girl I used to love May Day: picking wild violets, putting them in a tiny paper cone and hanging it on my front door, and ringing the bell, and running way, leaving flowers for my mother to discover. Together we can continue to celebrate Mary, and mothers, and giving to one another, ringing bells and strewing our love like leaving behind delicate flowers for others to find.
Mother Mary, there is a deep desire in all of us to help others in need. Teach me to reach beyond what I am capable of, past what is expected.