Mary is a model for life, vocations
Sister of St. Joseph Donna Del Santo takes issue with statues that portray Mary as a pale and weak woman. Mary would have been tanned and strong from the hard physical work she had to do, and the trials and tribulations she faced as the mother of Jesus would have made her emotionally tough as well, Sister Del Santo said.
“She had physical and spiritual and emotional strength that can be a guide for us,” she said.
Catholics often put Mary up on a pedestal, and as such have a hard time relating Mary’s life and experiences to their own, Sister Del Santo said. After really looking at what the Bible tells us about Mary’s life, however, we can begin to pick out similarities between what she went through and what some of today’s women face.
Sister Del Santo works part time as a nurse at the Monroe County Jail, and several female inmates recently asked her why Catholics put so much emphasis on Mary. Many feel a very real connection to Mary, Sister Del Santo explained, saying she was a young mother and a refugee whose son was called a criminal.
“I started to let them see that in some ways their lives are not so far-fetched from hers,” Sister Del Santo said. “So often we put her so far away from our own experiences that it’s hard to name her as a model.” Sister Del Santo said she also finds Mary’s example useful in her other position — vocation director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester. When working with women who are trying to discern whether they are being called toward religious life, Sister Del Santo and Sister of Mercy Kathleen Wayne often suggest looking to Mary as a role model. “Certainly Mary could be a model,” said Sister Wayne, vocations director for the Sisters of Mercy of Rochester, noting that other role models include Catherine McAuley, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila. “We look at (Mary) as trusting and saying yes to what God was asking, even though she didn’t understand it. She didn’t totally understand how God was working in her life any more than any of us do.”
Mary listened to God and was open to his plan for her, and that is what each of us is called to do, Sister Wayne said. Mary’s openness and fidelity to the call, along with her trust in God, provide a model for all Catholics, especially those considering a religious vocation. Mary’s trust in the Lord is a big part of why she makes such a good role model, Sister Del Santo said.
“I think she’s more like us than not, the difference being she had a clarity of her ‘yes’, and a relationship with God and trusted that to carry her through the unknown. It takes maybe some of us a little bit longer,” Sister Del Santo said. “When have we been asked to respond to a really hard situation and we have said ‘yes’ to the unknown? I may not know what this means, but I know my ‘yes’ will carry me.”
Sister Del Santo usually tells women to take their time with the discernment process, saying they should not “rush ahead of grace.” She imagines that when the angel Gabriel first approached her, Mary probably had to pause for a moment and think, “what are they asking me?”
Mary was not forced into her decision, but freely chose it. It’s almost like the world stopped and everything was “on hold” for a moment until Mary agreed to what God was asking of her, Sister Del Santo said. She encourages those in the discernment process to think about what events might be on hold while they make their decisions.
Those considering a vocation should think about how they can bring their best self to the task at hand as Mary did, Sister Del Santo said. They should also realize the most comfortable path may not necessarily be the right one, she added.
“Maybe what’s haunting you is what you have to pay attention to. Look at whatever is the most aggravating thing right now, rather than the most comforting, because that might be an indication of where you have to be,” Sister Del Santo said.