We often think of trends happening only in fashions and fads, and yet, there are real trends in ideas, even spiritual ideas.

For centuries, the name “Mary” was always among the most popular names for baby girls. But the winds have changed, and not only has the name Mary fallen out of favor, but the Virgin Mary as a role model of Christian living has declined, as well.

I am not surprised, then, when I hear some women say, “I just don’t feel a connection with Mary.” I have heard this over and over again from women, particularly in the last year since the release of my book The Marian Option. “Yes, I understand,” is always my response. For years and years, this is exactly how I felt. In my mind, I could clearly comprehend why Mary was important, and I had a deep fascination with places like Lourdes and Fatima. But in my heart, all my emotions felt cold and unengaged. And it wasn’t because I had an unloving mother — I have a wonderful mother. There was something more to it that I could never put my finger on.

Despite the coldness of my emotions, I always knew on an intellectual level that Mary was close. I kept her at the fore of my mind, consecrating myself to her and praying the Rosary daily: during long drives, long runs or before sleep at night. But no matter how much I prayed, there was always that missing piece.

I prayed for a long time about this, wishing to have that emotional spark or connection. Eventually, I resigned myself to thinking that perhaps when I was a mother I would feel and “know her from the inside” once I experienced what it was like to have a child of my own. So I waited. And waited.  

Finally, at a few weeks shy of my 36th birthday, I had my first child. And, yes, suddenly, I understood what it was like to give until you could give no more, to love with a ferocious love, and to want to suffer everything with your child just to help him or her carry burdens. I finally understood how Mary must love us.

One of the things I didn’t realize, however, was that my quest to understand Our Lady started even before I was married with children. It came to my attention that many of the things promoted by women in our culture — being outspoken, assertive, independent and ambitious — weren’t producing the kind of happiness I expected.

I started paying attention to music, poetry and movies — anywhere I could find evidence of what made for truly timeless and great women, not just those propped up by our culture. And what did I find? Remarkable and beautiful portrayals of women using interior capacities I had never thought about before: kindness, compassion, listening, anticipating the needs of others, sincerity and goodness. Getting married and having children only made me go deeper to find and live these newly discovered virtues. I marveled at the fruits — my friends got closer; my children grew contented; my husband became more loving — all because I turned from self-absorption to looking to the needs of others. Living these virtues was the missing piece of the puzzle I couldn’t see. And this is the piece that, even if I hadn’t had children, would have helped me to understand Mary from the inside because these are her virtues. We see them in Scripture: silence, obedience, kindness, meekness and tenderness. I couldn’t find comfort in Our Lady before this realization because her virtues were foreign to me. Our comfort generally resides in the familiar — and Marian values simply aren’t that for most of us.

As I was writing my book Ultimate Makeover a few years ago, it struck me that all of the women at the foot of the cross had the name Mary. It is a great symbol for all women. All of us are called to be like Mary, to be there with her at the foot of the cross and to live out spiritual motherhood. The thought came to me, “We are all called to be little Marys.” I went one step further: “I wonder what ‘little Mary’ is in Latin or Italian?” It’s “Marina.” Then, in a flash, it became clear to me that Mary really has had her hand on my shoulder, even when I felt distant from her. Despite my very blasé approach to picking a confirmation name more than 20 years prior (I just liked the name), I chose “Marina.” Today, I pray continually to be like her — to be a “little Mary”; to live her joy, her peace, her love and her kindness from the inside.

Carrie Gress writes from Virginia.