The First Encounter

I first met Mary Help of Christians back in 2016. It was the start of my vocational search and through a series of providential events, I was led to volunteer in Don Bosco School in Cambodia, run by the Salesian Sisters of St John Bosco. There, I met her. Who would have guessed that my first encounter with the Helper of Christians would be life-changing?

One of my desires for that 7-month stint was to deepen in relationship with our Blessed Mother. I’ve always known that Mary is special; I was conceived through her intercession and she led my family to the Catholic faith. Head knowledge? Very much so. Did I have a relationship with her? Hardly. How pleasantly surprised I was to find out that the Salesian Sisters went by another name – the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. Maybe I was in the right place.

Mary entrusted the couple’s predicament to Jesus. She never doubted that Jesus would address their needs. Even though she may not have known what exactly he would do, her trustful heart knew that Jesus would not disappoint them.

A Presence with a Heart

Mary does not appear frequently in the Bible but every time she does, there is so much to learn. Let’s look at the story of the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). Right from the start, we are told that “The mother of Jesus was there” (2:1). Sounds innocuous enough but the fact is that Mary was there. She was present. Hers was not a mere passive presence but an active presence with an attentive heart, sensitive to the people around her. Mary saw the wedding couple’s need for more wine. She was present to their anxiety and helplessness and her maternal compassion moved her to intervene.

What did Mary do? “They have no wine” (2:3), she told Jesus. This was a woman fully aware of her own humanity and limitations; she did not try to work any miracles on her own. Rather, she brought the problem to Jesus. In an act of complete faith, Mary entrusted the couple’s predicament to Jesus. She never doubted that Jesus would address their needs. Even though she may not have known what exactly He would do, her trustful heart knew that Jesus would not disappoint them.

This image of Mary was made real during my stay with the Salesian Sisters. Before sunrise to after sunset, the Sisters were up and about, going beyond the mere running of their schools. Providing assistance to the family of a student whose brother was stabbed; Finding shelter for the cook whose drunkard husband gave up their rented room; Making arrangements for four siblings whose single mother died from HIV complications; the list goes on. In each situation, they perceived the people’s needs, brought their troubles to Jesus and found ways to help. The Sisters constantly amazed me. Where did they find the limitless strength and remain undaunted by the challenges? Yet, their missionary fervour is perhaps not surprising if we consider that they are daughters of the greatest helper of humankind. They were simply following in the footsteps of their Mother.

The Wedding Feast at Cana by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Sinless But Not Perfect

For some, Mary is an inspiring model. For others, she may be someone so perfect – too perfect – that they can only admire her from afar. Just like Mary at Cana. How many of us are always attentive to the needs of others and put them above our own? Who can trust God so completely as to never doubt that every positive or negative experience is always for our good? No matter how well-meaning we are, sometimes it can be discouraging to find ourselves failing in our attempts to be virtuous like Mary.

In a recent prayer moment, I felt Mary say to me: “Charlene, I may have been sinless but I was not perfect.” That caught me off guard. Mary? Imperfect? That doesn’t sound right. Yet after some pondering, I began to see light. It’s true, Mary did not sin but that did not mean that she was perfect in the sense of always knowing what to do or doing everything right. As a mother, Mary may not have always understood her son nor given him the best advice. As a wife, she may not have always managed to foresee and provide for all the needs of her husband. Mary was as human as you and I.

This revelation suddenly made sense: being sinless did not make Mary perfect. Only Christ, human as he was divine, is perfect. If our Blessed Mother, the greatest disciple of all time, was not perfect and did to have to be, neither do I! Perhaps it is fine to fail once in a while. Perhaps I need not blame myself for my persistent weaknesses. Perhaps they are invitations for me to thrust myself into the hands of Jesus all the more and allow Him to work through my imperfections.

Mary shows us that we can be faithful despite our imperfections. 

A Quiet and Constant Accompaniment

Spurred by a combination of factors, I entered the Convent after staying with the Sisters. Above all, I felt the constant accompaniment of our Blessed Mother. She was present to my heart’s longing for “something more” and perceived what I needed even before I did. Mary filled my empty jar by bringing my restless heart to Jesus, who gradually led me to my vocation – the path of life that brings greatest joy and allows me to be the best of myself. Under her watchful eye, Mary Help of Christians guided me to discover the deepest desires of my heart.

Three years from my first ‘yes’, I continue to say ‘yes’ daily in my religious formation. Some days the ‘yes’ comes easily, other days less so. But Mary shows us that we can be faithful despite our imperfections. As Pope Francis beautifully puts it, “[Mary] shared [Jesus’] suffering, yet was not overwhelmed by it… From her, we learn how to say ‘yes’ to the stubborn endurance and creativity of those who, undaunted, are ever ready to start over again.” (Christus Vivit #45)

On this Feast of Mary Help of Christians, I recommit myself to her as her daughter and invite all of you to entrust yourself to our Blessed Mother. Allow Mary to enter your lives and surely, you will see what miracles are.

Sr Charlene Chua
Novice, Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians
(Salesian Sisters of St John Bosco)

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