Photo: Terry Peloquin and iStock
Showers of Mercy
Loving Each Other as Brides of Christ
As a child I hated bridal showers, and I thought baby showers were even worse. I was not at all interested in watching a grown-up woman — who was usually a stranger, no matter how often my mother explained our blood relationship — open grown-up gifts in a room full of grown-ups for what felt like hours on end. As a young adult I still didn't enjoy them very much. I even thought that when I got engaged someday, I would ask not to have one and spare my friends and family all that trouble and boredom.
When I got a little older, I finally realized that I was missing the point about showers. We don't throw them just for fun. We throw them because another woman is about to become a wife or mother. She is entering into a sacred fellowship with other women, and we know what she will need: not just kitchen appliances and bath towels but the knowledge that the rest of us are with her on the journey. We rally to give her that knowledge wrapped wordlessly around fine china and sippy cups. This is an act of love; it is a deed of mercy.
Now, bridal and baby showers make me remember the mystery of the Visitation. With the infant God new in her womb, Mary hurried to her cousin Elizabeth. Her heart told her that the beginning of this path must be shared with another woman, and her pure love compelled her to stay near Elizabeth in the last few months of her own pregnancy. In the quiet of the hills, while the rest of the world went about its business, the two expectant mothers helped each other to savor their babies' first months on earth and to prepare for the new lives unfolding before each of them.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, known as the "Little Flower," did something similar for St. Faustina during St. Faustina's novitiate. Picture St. Faustina: Not only was she on her way to becoming a consecrated bride of Christ and learning to live the same vocation as St. Therese, but Jesus was also preparing her to enter into the fellowship of His great saints. How thankful St. Faustina must have felt when St. Therese came to her side. Saint Faustina had turned to the Little Flower after novenas to several other saints had failed to bring her comfort or relief from "interior difficulties connected with exterior ones" that she "did not know how to overcome" (Diary, 150).
On the fifth night of the novena, St. Faustina had a dream in which St. Therese spoke words of sweet encouragement to her, assuring her that "in three days the difficulty will come to a happy conclusion" (Diary, 150). Saint Faustina, eager to know whether she would enjoy God's favor and intimacy after her death, asked whether she would become a saint like Therese. The Little Flower answered, "Yes, you will be a saint as I am, but you must trust in the Lord Jesus" (Diary, 150).
Saint Therese knew that Faustina would need unshakeable faith in the Lord if she were to follow the call that the two women shared, and she crossed the boundary between heaven and earth to help her younger sister grow in that faith.
We are called to do the same for each other as we seek to be worthy of union with the Bridegroom. As experienced mothers shower a young pregnant woman with bottles, diaper bags, empathy, and wisdom, we adult Christians must pour encouragement onto the ones who are young in the world or young in the faith. May, with all its associations with marriage and motherhood, is also the perfect month for First Communions because our children enter more profoundly into their espousal to Christ. We have an obligation to support them in this new stage of their spiritual journeys.
During Mass last Sunday, the children of the parish I was visiting received their First Holy Communion. I had never seen a First Holy Communion take place during a Sunday Mass before, and it was beautifully fitting. The entire parish family — not just relatives and friends of the children — was there to surround these new communicants with its fellowship and love. This same parish always holds baptisms during Sunday Mass instead of afterwards as some parishes do.
I wondered why these Sacraments are not always celebrated in the context of Sunday Mass, and I realized that probably many congregants wouldn't want to sit through a longer Mass to watch children they didn't know being baptized or receiving the Eucharist for the first time. It's an attitude similar to my old ideas about showers. Why would anyone want to stand around and watch someone else, especially a stranger, receive gifts?
The answer, of course, is because we want to add our love to the shower of gifts that is raining onto the heads of our fellow brides of Christ. It is a true love — a motherly love that Mary can teach us — that we can offer to others after we have engaged in the perfectly feminine act: opening ourselves to God and saying "yes" to His invitation that we become channels of the mercy He wants to pour out on the whole world.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.