Gina Christian

“Hail Mary, full of grace,” I silently prayed — and then smothered a giggle.

Tucked between the delicate plaster fingers of the Blessed Mother statue before which I knelt was a dollar bill.

And with her serene smile and outstretched arms, Mary seemed to be saying, “Here, kid, grab a coffee. It’s on me.”

I knew that many of our devout parishioners often placed flowers or handwritten petitions in those pale pink hands; I’d even seen many supplicants lean forward to kiss them. Such tender gestures were signs of the deep, childlike trust that so many have in the mother of Christ, our mother.

But a dollar bill in the hands of heaven’s queen was so … incongruous, I thought. And germy: studies have long shown that our money is coated with microbes. Surely the Blessed Mother was above having bacteria crawling over her likeness.

Apparently not, I realized with dismay as I looked more closely at the statue. With their imploring caresses, hundreds of parishioners had left a coat of gray grime that dulled the plaster sheen.

The Blessed Mother had thoroughly unclean hands.

Then again, was that really a surprise?

My prayer unfinished, I began to reflect on what Mary’s hands must have been like when she walked the earth. As a peasant girl from a backwater town in Roman-occupied territory, Mary’s life was surely one of hard work — especially since she and her fellow Galileans were triple-taxed, with the Romans, Herod and the Temple each demanding a share of their meager subsistence income. Historians estimate that Mary spent roughly 10 hours of her day on domestic chores — fetching water, gathering firewood, cooking meals, washing clothes.

How often we in the industrialized world complain about such tasks, even with modern plumbing, convenience foods and digitally programmable appliances.

And how often we forget that millions of women in the developing world live no differently from that little Nazarene girl in whom God took flesh — even (and especially) flesh that was streaked with the sweat and the dust of a life eked out at the margins of society, among the destitute, the forgotten, the downtrodden. There were no nail salons in Nazareth; the hands that swaddled the savior were likely chapped and calloused, and loving all the more despite such hardship.

In heaven, those hands may well bear the same scars, even as Christ chose to retain the marks of his Passion. Over some 2,000 years, we’ve managed to soften — or eliminate — those cruel lines in our paintings, statues and stained glass windows.

Yet salvation cannot be sanitized, and Mary’s gentle but fierce love cannot be diluted into pious treacle. Her wholehearted submission to God’s will transformed her into a mother tiger — one who could roar the liberating words of the Magnificat throughout eternity, one who could stare down a serpent and crush his head, one who could look at a tomb and await a resurrection.

One who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty for the kingdom of God, and one who leads us to do the same.

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Gina Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.