Happy New Year! And Happy Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God!
Today is the feast day on which we celebrate the role that Mary played in enacting God’s plan, we remember Mary’s great faith in accepting her part in the divine order, and we reflect on who Mary was — and continues to be — as a mother to Jesus and to us all. As a mother myself, this day means something special to me. It’s a day devoted to honoring an aspect of Mary that is at once cosmically significant and personally meaningful: her motherhood.
Just think of it: Mary is the mother of God. Through her, God’s saving power has been revealed, and through her, we have the ultimate example of exemplary motherhood, of how to be the best mom to our children (and our nieces and nephews and neighborhood children and friends’ children) that we can possibly be.
Something that I’ve always been struck by in the story of the Annunciation is the way in which the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” My gut response to this, each time I hear it, is “How can Mary help but be afraid? A celestial and utterly foreign being is standing in her doorway telling her that the Lord is with her! And that she is pregnant, which, for an unwed girl in first century Judea, could lead to death. How could she not feel afraid?!” Perhaps my intense reaction is grounded in the fact that, as a mother, I feel particularly susceptible to fear. In the early days of mothering, fear takes the shape of leaning over the edge of the bassinet during the middle of the night, needing assurance that my infant has not stopped breathing. Within months, it shifts to fearing that an uncut grape —or a tiny lego piece — will make its way into her mouth and down her airway, and soon after that, it transforms into a fear of tumbles from the top of slides. My children grow and change, and my fears follow suit alongside them. I think a lot of moms could relate to this. But Mary, in her Catholic Art to news that could have frightened her, reminds me that trust in God is the antidote to fear. She doesn’t seek to avoid the situations that could cause fear, but instead turns towards them with the knowledge that God is beside her and within her, accompanying her through uncharted — and frightening — territory. So, too, God is with me.
Remember when Jesus traveled with his parents, as a twelve-year-old, to Jerusalem for Passover, and proceeded to disappear for three days? Talk about fear for a parent. Jesus may have been the Son of God, but he was also human, and boy did preteen-human-Jesus give his Mother grief! Not only did Jesus’s disappearance cause his parents heartache, but his response, when they eventually found him, had the potential to as well. When Mary asks, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you,” Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” If I were Jesus’s mom, I might have been offended by this — dare I say it? — precocious statement. But Mary wasn’t. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary “treasured these things in her heart.” Mary had the wisdom and composure to keep perspective when her son said things that didn’t make sense to her. May I cultivate the same perspective in the many moments when my kids say things that don’t necessarily sit well with me!
Bring forth the best
I consider the story of the Wedding at Cana one of the greatest mothering moments of all time. Mary, seeing that the party is running low on wine, notifies Jesus of the issue, to which he responds (with some attitude, if you ask me) “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Undeterred by Jesus’s reproach, Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them, and the extraordinary miracle of turning water into wine launches Jesus’ public ministry. The focal point of the story might be the miracle of alchemy, but what most grabs my attention is the interplay between Mary and Jesus. More than any other human, Mary knew her son. She knew what he was capable of, and she trusted him to use his capabilities to do good…even when he wasn’t so sure that the time was right. By trusting her son, Mary encouraged him to bring his true self forward. May we, too, see the gifts our children have to offer the world and invite them — in the way that only a mother can — to share their gifts broadly and courageously.
Take one day, one hour at a time
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I say that it takes a village to raise a mother, and I’m grateful that Mother Mary is in my metaphorical neighborhood, providing me inspiration, guidance and wisdom, one prayer at a time.