Day 1: Examining My Heart
O Mother of Perpetual Help
O Mother of Perpetual Help, Icon of Love
Your compassionate gaze
At our suffering, and that of Jesus,
Entrusts us to the love of the Father.
You may at times feel distant from God—alone or estranged in the world. Why? One reason is that as children, we develop a false “self,” a kind of mask, to deal with early traumas and our needs for feeling safe, calming fears or wanting affection.
Please don’t think you are a bad person for doing this. Everyone needs to develop strategies for survival. Many of these are forced on you by our culture which so prizes success, riches and power over others. The problem is that you begin to believe that this false self is your true self. What you do not realize is that you are looking at something created in your own image and likeness rather than in God’s.
Your first reflection, then, should aim at peeling away the levels of deception you have been forced to build up. Instead, take a look at the image that God created to be the real you and believe that this is “you” that God loves. If you try to picture God as one who loves you, you must be careful not to start from the image of yourself that you have built up. If you do, you will end up creating your own image of God, someone who is like you think you are: “not good enough.” But how do you get started?
The means God has given you lies in the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially if you think of her under the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. You need to start, as we all do, with the person who did not build up a false self-image but who saw the image in which God had created her and knows how to help others see it as well. After all, for years she looked upon the Image of God, Jesus her Son, so she knows it well. She will never let you down if you ask her to show you the way.
Dear Mary, help me to have the courage to show myself to your Son as I am. Help me to see Jesus as he is. I often feel tongue-tied when I try to talk to him and nothing I really want to say comes out. I have read or memorized a lot of prayers but they seldom get at the heart of what I feel. Frankly, I am afraid all he sees are my weaknesses and failures to live up to what I think he expects of me. I see him as one who always looks at me as “not good enough.” How can I just let him love me as I want him to? How were you, Mary, able to leave aside the masks you were tempted to put on? How can I know God truly loves me, forgives me and helps me make what steps I can really manage to take?
Why do I want God to be like me? To dwell on obstacles, weaknesses, sins and not see what is underneath: the “me” that God created to love and help? To believe Jesus sees me as I am and still loves me? The answer is that God gave you to me as my assurance that I am loved for whom I am. And so I ask:
Mary, help me to see myself as your Son really sees me. Burn that image deep within my heart and never let me forget it.
Help me to be always aware of your Son’s presence in my heart. I wish to live out of that awareness and be led in each moment of my life by your gentle promptings toward your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Look at yourself in the mirror. Stare into your eyes. Try to hold the gaze for a few minutes. Smile at yourself, frown, pout, show anger or distress. Fear. Make faces at yourself, whatever kind you like.
Do you like what you think you look like? What would you change if you could?
Now close your eyes. Quiet yourself. Pretend you have been dreaming and that you have now just awakened. Look inside yourself. Try to imagine yourself as God sees you. What do you see? What does God see?
Now feel Our Mother of Perpetual Help’s presence next to you as a gentle comforter and support, and—from your heart—speak to Our Lord. Don’t try to pretend. Don’t put on a mask. Just talk to God.
Let your innermost thoughts rise to the surface, and share them with our Savior. Pray again in your own words for as long as you want. Then end by saying: “Pray for me, O Mother of Perpetual Help.”