Wife, Mother of Four and Business Owner
Mary Beth Burger is a forty-two-year-old supernumerary. She is a wife and mother of four. She is a physical therapist and owns an outpatient orthopedic physical therapy clinic in Virginia. Her oldest child, Christopher, was born blind and suffers from other handicaps, including a form of autism. She and her husband adopted their second-youngest child, who was born in Vietnam. Mary Beth joined Opus Dei in 1989. She explains how she came to know about Opus Dei:
Mary Beth Burger
"My mother is a member of Opus Dei and has been for probably thirty-plus years. She and another friend of hers had a little seventh- and eighth-grade girls club. I was part of the girls club, and they would have different activities down at one of the centers of Opus Dei from time to time, so of course we went down there together and we did activities and crafts."
She chose not to attend many Opus Dei activities during her high school years because she was busy with other things and not interested. She recalls attending a retreat or two. Her mother never pressured her to attend Opus Dei programs. As was part of her family ritual, she attended Mass every Sunday during high school. Once she got to collegeó she attended James Madison Universityóshe became active in the campus ministry outreach program. She enjoyed giving of herself to others through this program. She began to feel a need for greater Eucharistic devotion so she started to attend daily Mass and found spiritual nourishment in the Eucharist. She knew there was tremendous emphasis on the Eucharist as well as encouragement to give to others in the Christian formation programs Opus Dei offered, and this led her to start attending monthly evenings of recollection at a center of Opus Dei in Washington, D.C. At the same time, she remained active in the campus ministry outreach program.
James Madison University
"When I got to college I decided I would go to an evening of recollection at a center of Opus Dei because I liked what I heard and wanted to go further in my faith. Before then, other than going to Mass on Sundays, I really did very little to practice my faith. I adopted a grandmother at a nursing home and would go to visit her once a week or once every other week. And I did that for three years. And I also went to a place where adults with cerebral palsy lived. Once a month we did an activity with them.Ē
Mary Beth decided she had a vocation to Opus Dei after she completed physical therapy school. She explains how it happened:
I was approached and asked, ďDo you think you might have a vocation?Ē And so I prayed about that, and then I realized that I did have a vocation to Opus Dei. Everything I readóall the writings of St. JosemarŪaóeverything made sense to me and it gave meaning to everything else in my ordinary life. It gives me a sense of purpose for what Iím doing day-to-day.
What follows are some responses Mary Beth gave during an interview about her life and Opus Dei:
Q: Are you the sole proprietor of your practice? What kind of physical therapy do you specialize in?
Mary Beth: Yes, I am a sole proprietor. Outpatient orthopedics, that is, I treat patients who have back and neck problems, people who have been injured in automobile accidents, people who end up with back and neck problems from sitting behind computers all day long because they typically arenít sitting nice and tall. I treat people with shoulder problems or who have had shoulder surgeries or knee surgeries, people who have fallen on the ice fracturing their wrist.
Q: Do you find it difficult balancing your work and family?
Mary Beth: Yes, itís a challenge. Iím blessed because I have my mother-in-law in the office so she can keep an eye on things, keep a pulse on things when Iím not there, and if there are issues that come up, I can address them when needed. But sometimes it can be a challenge to juggle being a wife and a mom and owner of a practice.
Q: You mentioned earlier that Opus Deiís emphasis on Christ and the Eucharist attracted you. But what made it click for you? Can you explain concretely about the impact Opus Dei has on your day, how it gives it meaning?
Mary Beth: Well, my children are a little bit older now, but, for example, changing diapers: thinking that if youíre doing it well, youíre giving glory to God by changing a diaper. When Iím treating a patient, saying a prayer for that patient so Iím not just trying to help heal the body, but Iím looking at a person as a whole when Iím treating that person. Another example: when I am making dinner and I get frustrated with something, being able to offer that frustration up and knowing that there is fruitfulness or there is a purpose behind everything that doesnít go right. If you understand that you can offer that up; it just gives meaning and purpose to what you do.
Q: How does Opus Dei have an impact on your professional standards, your training, and the way you carry out your work, whether itís your work in the home or your physical therapy work?
Mary Beth: In order to give the most glory to God, you need to do whatever youíre doing to the best of your ability ó whether it is in the house trying to cook meals or have the house in order. Iím not the most organized person, but I try to do things the best I can and do them as well as I can. I take a lot of continuing education classes because I want to be as up-to-date as possible, because I want to be able to help the patients physically the best I can because then Iím giving more glory to God by doing the best I can be doing. Itís trying to make whatever ordinary things you do extraordinary by supernaturalizing or offering to God whatever youíre doing. Youíre trying to do them the best you can whether youíre out with the kids and at the park, or at work, and trying to be as cheerful as possible. In the morning, before they wake up and Iím doing my prayer, the first thing I pray for is patience and cheerfulness for when the kids wake up and everyone is calling at me at the same time: Mom and Mom and Mom . . . just trying to keep the cheerfulness and the patience. Also I pray to see humor in certain things so that I donít react with my Irish temper but try to react to things as best I can. When you know you are doing it for God, youíre trying to do it the best you can.
Q: The plan of life in Opus Dei is demanding. It includes prayer every day. Most people do a half-hour in the morning, half-hour in the afternoon, daily Mass, a rosary, spiritual reading, other prayers. Is that hard? How do you fit it all in?
Physical Therapy clinic
Mary Beth: Well, you have to have a nice schedule, and for me I get up earlier than the children get up. And at times that doesnít work, so you have to have a sporting spirit and smile. And if one of the kids happens to wake up when theyíre not supposed to be awake yet, you still do your prayer while youíre doing whatever youíre doing with them. And you just talk to our Lord when youíre talking to them. But I try to get up before they get up so I can do my prayer, and I also do my spiritual reading before they wake up because itís hard to find as much time during the day to fit that in, especially now that theyíre older and donít nap anymore.
Q: You invest a lot of time in mental prayer, doing your spiritual reading. What does this really do for you? Whatís the payoff?
Mary Beth: Well, it gives me focus for my day; it gives me balance. It helps keep everything I do through the day centered on God. When I donít do the different things such as prayer or my spiritual reading or the Angelus at noon, I lose that presence of God. There are days when God hasnít been up at the forefront, and those days are not as fulfilling and donít have as much meaning. Iím actually much happier when I do struggle to fit them in.
Q: So living your plan of prayer as suggested by Opus Dei makes you happier?
Mary Beth: It makes me a lot happier.
Q: And what about the impact on the people around you?
Mary Beth: It makes a big difference because when I have the presence of God, when my kids are up in the morning, if Iíve done my prayer and Iím in tune, I say okay, this is for you, Lord. Iím much happier, much more cheerful, and a much better mom to them. If something happens, instead of blowing up, I can turn it around and say, ďOkay, itís all right. Donít worry about it.Ē I react very differently and in a much better, positive manner as a mom if I keep that presence of God through the day. In the office when things are behind schedule or somethingís happened administratively that I have to deal with, if I stop and say, ďOkay, Lord, thereís a meaning, thereís a purpose behind this,Ē that changes the way I handle the situation and the way I react to the situation. Also as a wife, trying to be the best wife I can, to be happy and cheerful when my husband comes home. It makes a difference when Iíve kept that presence of God during the day. If itís a day that Iím keeping our Lord in mind, when Tom walks through the door Iím a much happier wife and greet my husband in a better way than if I am running around frantic or just not thinking of others.
Q: How do you think Opus Dei supports you as a woman? From what you say, some people might conclude, ďOh, sheís always thinking of others and maybe that means sheís a doormat and sheís letting people walk all over her.Ē
Mary Beth: No, actually Opus Dei reaffirms me. If Opus Dei looked down upon me as a woman, I wouldnít be practicing as a physical therapist as well as being a mom.
Q: So Opus Dei supports the fact that you are a working woman both at home and outside the home?
Mary Beth: Opus Dei gives you guidance to find meaning in what you do, but it doesnít tell you what to do. Women are not looked upon as lowly. Opus Dei helps you to be the
type of woman that youíre called to be, that you want to be for God.
Q: Do you ever talk to your patients about God?
Mary Beth: Yes, I do, actually. As a physical therapist I see patients two or three times a week and so I do get to know them. And depending upon the patient, just saying little things makes a big difference for them. I have one patient who is actually a very good friend of mine now. She was away from the faith, and had been away from the faith for thirty years, and we just started talking. We talked about that she was Catholic and we started talking about God. Through some of the conversations that we had, she actually came back to the faith, went to confession, and now goes to Mass almost every day. It made a big difference in her life. For others, especially Catholics, I just suggest that they offer their pain up to God, or I try to just mention in subtle ways how they can think of our Lord on the cross and try to unite their pain to his, or put a purpose to their pain by offering for someone in their family who was having a problem.
Q: And do they usually take it well when you give that advice?
Mary Beth: Yes. Well, I go on intuition as to whom I say what to. I donít say that to every Joe on the street that Iím seeing, so it all depends upon the person as to whether I think they can understand that or not. And so those that I typically talk to about suffering are patients who show the potential to understand.
Q: Do you pray about your patients? If so, how does that work?
Mary Beth: I try to. It depends upon the day. If itís a better day I do better with remembering to pray for certain people, and if it isnít then it doesnít always get done the way it should be, but then I try again. Each day is a new day.
Q: And has anyone ever been offended when youíve talked to them about suffering or God in that way?
Mary Beth: No, actually they have not. I try to do it in a very non-offensive and not-in-your-face way, and I donít talk with each patient about God because once again it depends upon the patient that I am seeing and what he or she can understand and my relationship with that person.
Q: You have one child with serious disabilities. Can you describe Christopherís disabilities?
Mary Beth: Christopher was born with microcephaly, that is, a smaller head, and he was born with severe cataracts and severe retinal damage. He is completely blind and doesnít even see light or dark. And he also has whatís called Aspergerís Syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism. When he was about two months old, we found out that he was blind. We didnít know how severe. And then when he was in kindergarten I realized, gosh thereís something else going on. And so we started doing testing and found out that he had the Aspergerís Syndrome in addition to his blindness. We also recently found out that Christopher has a learning disability.
Q: Was that difficult for you and your husband when you realized he was blind?
Mary Beth: Well, surprisingly, and probably because I had the support of Opus Dei, finding out that he was blind was not a big deal. I just thought, Okay, Lord, youíve given me this special child with special needs, and I know with your help we will be okay. This is a little extra challenge youíre sending our way. I know a lot of visually impaired people out there who, with the right help and the right resources, live a pretty decent and normal life. I remember there was a person from the Virginia Department for the Visually Impaired who told me, ďYou seem to be doing pretty well handling that your son is blind.Ē She was shocked at how well we were doing. And I said it was because I have faith and look at things supernaturally. I think that helped tremendously dealing with his disability.
Q: What do you mean supernaturally? What does that mean?
Mary Beth: That means taking everything on a human level and bringing it above nature, giving it a divine dimension. Instead of just saying, ďOh my gosh, this personís blind,Ē or ďWhat are we going to do?Ē you look at everything with Godís plan. God has a plan, and by offering and raising things up to God, you say, ďOkay, Lord, this is whatís going on,Ē or ďThis is your will.Ē God is there, and you try to be one with him in all that you do.
Q: Were you ever sad about it? Has it ever made you angry at God or question him that your son has these limitations in life?
Mary Beth: There are times when I see another boy running down the street, and I wonder what it would be like if Christopher could just be like him. So in that regard itís a cross, a challenge, because he canít do a lot that they do. But angry, no.
Q: Does your son pray?
Mary Beth: Yes, we have a time of prayer, especially at night. We pray during the meals. The children donít actually pray during the day, but they see the example of what I do. We say part of the rosary together. Some days that works well, and other days it doesnít work, to be completely honest. It all depends upon the day. Itís a challenge with Christopher to get him to offer things up. When he gets frustrated, he says, ďI donít want to offer that up!Ē But regular kids can act that way as well. Itís a challenge to get him to understand the meaning and value of suffering.
Q: So in general do you think being in Opus Dei has helped you as a mother, especially with a child who has a serious handicap?
Mary Beth: It makes me see my son as a child of God. All of us are children of God, and all of us are special blessings. But it puts a whole other slant to it when you see Christopher, and I know that heís a special gift that God has given me, and having Opus Dei has helped me to look at that very positively. If I didnít have Opus Dei, I donít know if I would be as positive in my thoughts. Iíd like to think I would be, but it has definitely helped me stay positive and strive to be a better mom. Having the Aspergerís, a learning disability, as well as blindness impacts Christopher a lot. Initially I thought, Okay, a blind child, you can help him to be independent. But when you have the Aspergerís and a learning disability on top of the vision problem, it changes how independent Christopher may become as an adult. My job is to get Christopher to be the best person he can be, to grow in Godís love and wisdom and to be the best he can be. But I take one day at a time with the grace of God and with the support and guidance of Opus Dei.
This chapter is from the book Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words (The Crossroad Publishing Company, April 1, 2009), Edited by M.T. Oates, Linda Ruf and Jenny Driver, MD
List of Contents
- 10 questions for Bishop Javier Echevarria about St Josemaria
- Dora del Hoyo and St Josemaria
- Consecrating Opus Dei to the Holy Spirit
- Christian customs: Novena to the Holy Spirit
- Sonsoles, May 1935: Why the pilgrimage?
- 100th anniversary of St Josemariaís First Holy Communion
- Translating The Man of Villa Tevere
- Wife, Mother of Four and Business Owner
- He had Cuba in his soul
- How did St Josemaria imagine St Joseph?