On the morning of Aug. 7, 1974, a tightrope stretched between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center, 1,350 feet above the ground. For 45 minutes, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit tread that steel cable confidently, knelt on it, lay down on it, and goaded police officers poised to arrest him on either end. He looked ahead, never down, and he carried a 50-pound, 26-foot balancing pole.
In these unusual times, we are looking for balance. The Christian life has always been an exercise in looking ahead and carrying the pole of faith to steady us. Eight hundred years ago, St. Thomas Aquinas penned the following prayer:
May my way to you, Lord, be safe, straight, and defined, not swerving between good times and setbacks, so that in good times I render you thanks and in setbacks preserve patience, so that in the former I may not be blown aloft, and in the latter not depressed. May I rejoice only in what spurs me toward you, grieve only at what draws me away from you. May I desire to please no one but you, fear to displease no one but you. May all transient things be worthless to me, on your account, and may all that is yours be dear to me, and you, my God, above all.
May is the month of the Woman who sets us the perfect example of that God-oriented balance which is virtue. As Aquinas prays to render God thanks in good times, she rendered Him the perfect praise at the moment of the Incarnation: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Luke 1:48). As Aquinas prays to preserve patience in setbacks, Mary’s patient endurance reached its fullness when she stood, hour after hour, beneath her Son’s cross (John 19:25).
Mary is our model of equilibrium; let us ask her help when we are walking today’s tightrope: working, not over-working, from home; sharing close quarters with the same people over long periods of time; worrying and grieving. Let us imitate Mary’s rich interior life of prayer — “she pondered all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51) — and her eagerness in charity — “she went in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). Perhaps you could incorporate the family Rosary into your daily schedule, or a decade of the Rosary, and offer some practical help to a person who is alone.
Remember that, beneath the tightrope of our life, Mary stands with her maternal arms outstretched, ready to catch us when we fall into the excess or defect of sin, eager to set us right with her Son. “Am I not here, who am your Mother?” she asked St. Juan Diego, distraught as his uncle lay dying. “Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.” With her beneath us, we, like Philippe Petit, can tread confidently, kneel earnestly in prayer, sleep in peace, and even maintain a sense of humor.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.