How I Fell Out of My Minivan and into My Identity
There in the driver's seat of my van, I noticed scuff marks on my blue jeans from my encounter with the parking lot pavement, and I thought of how lovely my friend Teresa had looked with her colorful, flowing skirt and her neatly pressed blouse. Comparing myself with her and all the others I perceived to be true Catholic women, I sank a little lower into the seat. I wanted to say a pious prayer beseeching the Lord for assistance, but all I could come up with was:
Lord, I am failing at this whole Catholic womanhood thing!
I started the car, pulled out of the parking lot, and prayed all the way home. I even spent a few moments in silence when I got back to the house instead of rushing over to my laptop as was my habit. I begged God to show me what it meant for someone like me to be authentically Catholic.
The Search for the Modern Mary
Shortly after saying that prayer, I had an idea: I should search for a role model, specifically for an image of what the Blessed Mother would look like if she lived in the 21st century. Having a visual would give me something to cling to when I strayed off course; it would provide a clear goal as I transformed myself into a real Catholic woman.
I picked up a magazine from the stack next to the couch and flipped through, evaluating one depiction of a modern woman after another: I was fairly certain that God had given me this idea, so I figured he must have some exciting solution in store. I couldn't wait to find my image.
Nothing struck me in the magazine, so I turned to the internet and browsed everything from oil paintings to ads to clip art, all the while asking, "What would Mary look like if she lived here and now?" Would her hair be short or long? Would she wear blouses or t-shirts? Would her face reveal an expression of unbridled joy or serious contemplation? No answer came. I kept looking.
"How Gloriously Different All the Saints"
I didn't find an image that day, or the day after. In fact, my search stretched on for weeks. Meanwhile, I kept thinking about the concept of true Catholic womanhood. I took a closer look at the lives of female saints, and kept my ears perked for any Church teaching on the subject. What I discovered surprised me.
From the beginning of my conversion, I'd been aware of the call to die to self and become like Christ. In the Gospel of John we read that, "He must increase, but I must decrease (3:30, RSV)." In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him (Gal. 2:20). In Lumen Gentium (the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), we read, "All the members [of the Body of Christ] ought to be molded in the likeness of Him, until Christ be formed in them."
Here's how I understood these teachings: becoming like Christ meant becoming unlike yourself. I had a rigid idea of what a devout person looked like and assumed that all holy people were basically carbon copies of one another. But that's not what I found when I looked more closely at the lives of the saints.
For example, I discovered that while many were naturally at ease in social situations, such as the gifted administrator and teacher St. Frances Cabrini or St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who captivated everyone with her charm, some were not. Saint Frances of Rome was so introverted that she suffered a serious breakdown after the banquets and parties that accompanied her marriage!