In summer-book-club

By Lisa Mladinich

 

It is my happy task to briefly respond to Chapter Two of Who Does He Say You Are. May I say up front that I’ve met Colleen Mitchell and that she possesses an exuberance and contagious delight in the Lord that I aspire to imitate? She embodies the paradox of a faith grown mature enough to be childlike, to be deep and penetrating but full of trust in the Lord.

Chapter two is titled You Have a Voice: Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist and is rich in historical, psychological, and cultural contexts that illuminate the agonizing social isolation reserved for barren women of St. Elizabeth’s time.

Who Was Elizabeth

Elizabeth was a refined daughter of a priestly line, well-educated, dedicated to Our Lord, and undoubtedly a rich resource waiting to be tapped in her own community. Yet, her voice, by virtue of the wrong-headed assumptions of others, was silenced for many years. Who would listen to a woman condemned by God to be childless? Was there any worse sign of disfavor? Surely she had done something to deserve so great a sadness. Others undoubtedly whispered as she passed, shaking their heads.

I can imagine her feelings and wonder if she ever felt abandoned by God. For the first fourteen years of my marriage I was infertile, too. Every monthly cycle brought fresh grief, while my bitterness grew, and my pleas to heaven seemed to fall into an abyss of silence. Was I unworthy? Would I have been a bad mother? Why did other women in our urban New York community proudly contracept and have abortions, while I longed for nothing more than to be a mother?

Not Like Elizabeth

I wasn’t like Elizabeth, though; I was immature and ignorant of Catholic moral teaching and sacramental life. My life was weighed down by the spiritual cacophony of years of unconfessed sin, which drowned out the gentle voice of God calling to my heart. I found myself down-spiraling into isolation and rage, finally hitting rock bottom in 1992. I was on my way out of the Church forever, and Jesus was no longer my God. It was then that I turned—for no reason I understood, then—to the Blessed Mother for help. I asked my mom to teach me to pray the Rosary, and from that point on, everything changed.

Mary led me, as she always does, directly back to Jesus, where I found sacramental healing, a new relationship with the Holy Spirit, and an indescribable and abiding joy. I’d been an actress and writer for years, but my creative life surged and began to have more impact. My relationships grew in love and grace, and because of an experimental ovarian surgery seven years after my conversion, I was able to become pregnant—just once—and gave birth to a precious little girl. I was almost forty, but I felt like a child again myself. I could not contain my joy. Through the Visitation of the Blessed Mother in my life, my voice was reborn, just as the arrival of Our Lady prompted an outpouring of joyful expression from St. Elizabeth.

You Have a Voice

Women’s voices can be suppressed for so many reasons, but shame is the worst and most prevalent. Those of us with only one or two children can feel the need to justify ourselves by explaining our circumstances to other Catholics, worrying that they might assume it is selfishness, not suffering, that has kept our families small. We can be wounded into silence through body shaming and age shaming—the world holding up its obsession with youth, through artificial, retouched images of women and girls and through the dehumanizing effects of pornography on our culture.

It’s essential for us to invite Mary in, to let her tend to us as she did Elizabeth, while we prepare ourselves and gather strength, to give voice to all that we are called to share, for the sake of the Kingdom.

 

To Ponder, Reflect and Discuss:

  1. Have there been times when you felt your authentic voice, your own joyful contribution to the Kingdom of God was suppressed? Ask Our Lady to enter with you into a prayerful contemplation of any circumstances that have wounded your sense of self and to help you lay it at the feet of Jesus. Through his mercy, ask for the grace of forgiveness and healing. Pray a Divine Mercy chaplet for anyone who has hurt you.
  2. Are there women in your life who could use a boost of confidence? This week, look for the best in everyone you meet, and prayerfully imbue all written correspondence—emails, social media postings—with encouraging sentiments based on a sincere appreciation for the gifts and contributions of others. St. Therese of Lisieux wrote that it was a great joy to focus on the best in others because those were the parts that were “of God.” Consider that when we look for God in each other, we increase our own resemblance to him.
  3. You are a beautiful, precious daughter of God. Ask God, this week, to show you how He sees you. Ask for the grace to embrace his vision of you, his beloved daughter. When we embrace and accept our own authentic, interior beauty—that place in our souls where Jesus dwells—we become purveyors of that beauty, and our voices can never be silenced again.

 

About the Author:

Lisa Mladinich hosts Shalom World TV’s WOMAN: Strong Faith, True Beauty and is the founder of AmazingCatechists.com. She teaches online classes for teens at HomeschoolConnectionsOnline.com; topics include authentic beauty, leadership, and writing. A bestselling, award winning author of four Catholic books, Lisa speaks around the country about conversion, authentic beauty, Marian spirituality, prayer, and teaching the Faith to children. Contact: CMG Booking

Showing 12 comments
  • Allison Gingras
    Reply

    A few years ago I almost left the Catholic Church completely over an issue with some friends and what I felt was the lack of having my concerns heard by our then Pastor. My desire was just to serve and my desire was to provide avenues that I felt would entice a deeper sense of worship in our parish. Not only were my ideas spurned but little by little my roles and responsibilities at this church were removed from me. It was devastating – and I felt small, insignificant and abandoned by God. 10 years later I see so much of what was happening was definitely for my (and my families) ultimate good. In fact, my entire ministry Reconciled To You was born out of this experience — NOW I have a voice and am blessed to contribute the Kingdom.

    • Lisa Mladinich
      Reply

      So good to hear this affirmation that the mysterious will of God acts through painful situations for our good, Allison!

      • Allison Gingras
        Reply

        Truly!!! Thank you for your open and honest reflection. I actually LAUGHED out loud when I read, “I wasn’t like Elizabeth” – but how beautiful God has (and continues to use) who you are!!

        • Lisa Mladinich
          Reply

          I’m tickled that you were tickled by it, Allison. (Lol) One of my favorite Catholic ideas is that God uses us where we are, right now. He does not wait for us to be perfect. God’s grace is sufficient! 🙂

  • Karen Sheehy
    Reply

    As I journeyed through my own infertility struggles, I half heartedly sought out the guidance of a priest. His advice: Adoption. What? “No way,” I thought. At that time, my pride and need to have a “biological” child of my own blinded me to the true meaning of motherhood. Years later, after pursuing all the medical world had to offer, I hit rock bottom and eventually turned to the Lord for answers. I went back to Confessional and humbly professed my pride. It was there, at the foot of the Cross that I found my answer, for there, I found the face of self-sacrificial love. A love that is not look prideful or self-seeking. There, I also found Mary, the true reflection of divine motherhood, for motherhood is a gift of self to another, a child in need and dependent. What if God had said to me, “Adoption, what? No way.” Where would I be, a gentile? My adoptive son Joseph is now 16 years old. He is my gift of life. He has filled our home with love, but most importantly, taught me the meaning of self-sacrifice. He has brought the message of Christ to me. I love you Joseph. Jesus, I trust in You.

  • Susan
    Reply

    Thank you, Lisa, for your reflection and sharing a bit of your journey.

    I would have liked to have known Elizabeth for I, too, have experienced the pain and grief that is the cross of infertility. My husband and I tried to conceive for seven years and then we were blessed with our ‘gift from God’ Matthew. He was to be our only child and I thank God for him. We were never to have another child but we are now blessed with two young grandchildren.

    Often I cannot see God working in my life. I am grateful for the many blessings he has bestowed upon me but I am unable to know what he wants me to do with the ‘rest’ of my life. I bear the crosses of clinical depression, anxiety, ADD, and PTSD and I struggle with knowing God’s will for me. I live every day thinking that I am not living up to what God wants of me and am just learning to place all my faith and trust in Him and his blessed Mother.

    I thank God for this summer book club, for Colleen and all woman who will share reflections and their stories of struggle and faith. May God bless each and every one of you.

    • Allison Gingras
      Reply

      Wow Susan. So many crosses yet, your faith and desire to follow God’s will is so clear in your words. I am always questioning if I am doing what God wants me to be doing. Discovering Psalm 37 – “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” has given me peace. From that I took that if I pray (and I do ) and I am inspired to try something or serve then that must be from God — since however, I am human and do sometimes miss the mark on what God is telling me. Then I fall back on Thomas Merton, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” … Thanks for joining us this Susan! So happy to have you here

  • Susan
    Reply

    Thank you, Allison, for your kind words and, most especially, for the inspiring prayer of Thomas Merton. I will copy it and pray the words often.

  • Elizabeth
    Reply

    I am so appreciative of this insight into St. Elizabeth. I never considered the heartache she experienced being childless for so long and how her voice was silenced by her culture as a result of her childlessness. It has made me more aware of those around me who suffer in silence. I pray we will all discover our inner voice when we allow God to reveal “our authentic” selves. This sounds very liberating to me.

  • Amanda Villagomez
    Reply

    I especially enjoyed seeing the connection that learning to pray the Rosary was part of your story. That has also been part of my journey to reconnecting with my Catholic faith in a more meaningful way. My journey was more about not recognizing the resources out there as an adult to better understand my faith in order to then live my faith in a more authentic way. I choose a one little word to guide my thinking each year, and one year I chose salud (from Spanish), thinking about mind, body, and soul. One of my intentions for the year was to learn to pray the Rosary fully (I knew some of the basics). I didn’t get to that intention until almost the end of the year, but it had a big impact. Mary is also the reason why I am Catholic in the first place because she is who drew my grandmother into the Church, which impacted me being a cradle Catholic.

    From the book, I love the concept of having a voice as I have been navigating building confidence in sharing my voice about the impact of better understanding my faith and that changing everything. I also appreciate Elizabeth’s witness to hope. Colleen’s book helped me to better understand and appreciate her context, based on understanding how she would have been treated in her time context.

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