To say that we are living in a very violent world today is an understatement. Contemporary man acts towards his neighbor with cruelty in innumerable ways. There are the several wars and violent conflicts around the world that defy any attempt at peaceful resolutions. There are the unexplainable rampant shooting rampages in the United States and Europe. Islamic fundamentalists around the world take human life at will to make a point about their religion. There is the termination of the life of millions of unborn babies in their mother’s womb under the spurious reason of freedom of choice despite the numerous choices for adoption. New human life is considered a disease to be prevented with the most radical forms of artificial contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization. Modern man appears to have taken a predatory stance towards others in matters of sexual morality as evident in the hook-up culture’s expression of promiscuity, prostitution, pornography etc.
What then has happened to that natural bond of solidarity that exists between all of mankind that led St. Paul to remind us that the “One God is the Father of all”? (Eph. 4:6). It appears that we have become deaf to the voice of the Father who calls to us like He did to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Man’s actions seem to reply like Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9) We make a similar response too when we become guilty of connivance or complacency in the face of these evils of our times. We must ask what has become of the sense of brotherhood that comes from our being created in the image and likeness of God. How can we recover this sense of brotherhood that is so written into our very nature?
I learned something about brotherhood while growing up in my native country of Nigeria. On the rare occasions that I was the first of my brothers to come into the house from playing soccer outside, soon after I exchanged greetings with my parents, my mother would ask me the same question in different ways time after time, “Where are your brothers?” I was sometimes tempted to reply like Cain, “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” But I knew better. I would tell her that they were coming right behind me. I noticed that she was most joyful when she witnessed our mutual love, concern and care for each other. I got the sense that presence of one of us brought the presence of the others to her mind and a longing to see all of us. It appeared that she was constantly counting to six anytime she saw any one of us!
I learned from this childhood experience that a sense of brotherhood comes from the awareness that we all have the same source of life, i.e. from the same mother. I knew that how I related with my siblings had to show my love and respect for the one who bore each and every one of us in her womb for nine months with all the love and sacrifice that this entails. I knew that by keeping my mother’s love for each and every one us in mind, I could go beyond self and love my siblings even when they tried my patience which was pretty often. When we fail to realize that we come from a common womb, a common life source, we have a diminished sense of brotherhood and we act in ways that wound the solidarity that we should have with each other.
This knowledge was further reinforced by the experience of my friends who came from polygamous families with more than one mother. The presence of many mothers negatively affected their sense of brotherhood and common life in the family. There was always that friction, antagonism and constant fighting between the children of different mothers. This constant infighting was rooted in the unavoidable competition and friction between the mothers as they too competed to win the attention of the father. Allegiance to their different mothers tore the siblings from each other and their having one father could not bring them to that much desired coherent unity. The absence of one-mother-only monogamous situation in the home really affected their ability to love each other and to relate with each other as brothers and sisters. In addition to the numerous cases of incest and abuses among siblings in such situations, the complete disintegration of the family at the death of the father highlight the irreplaceable need and advantage of having one mother only in the family. One can only begin to imagine the disastrous consequences on society’s sense of brotherhood when we futilely attempt to fabricate “families” of two fathers or two mothers in what is called “same-sex” marriage.
This connection between brotherhood and the sense of a common source of life becomes clearer to us when we realize that the Greek word for brother, Adelphos, literally translates, “from the same womb.” Our sense of brotherhood and the common bond between us and every human person comes from our sense of knowing that we “come from the same womb” and our relationship with that common source of life. If it is necessary for us to have a relation to the “same womb” so as to have an enduring sense of brotherhood with each and every other human being, we must seek to find that common womb, that common source of life, and stay connected to it. Without this awareness and connection to this common womb, we will be overcome by the tendency to violence and self gratification at the expense of others.
The truth is that Jesus Christ, who earnestly prayed to the Father that “we all be one” (Jn 17:21) and who died so as to “gather into one all the dispersed children of God” (Jn 11:52), established a common womb for Himself and for us in choosing to be conceived in the womb of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. The letter to the Hebrews has Jesus exclaiming to the Father on coming into the world at the moment of the Incarnation, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocaust and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will.’” (Heb 10:5-7) He rejoiced above all things in the body that He received from Mary for our salvation because it is in this truly human body that Jesus Christ became “the Head of the body, the Church,” and the “firstborn from the dead.”(Col 1:18) It is in this body that Jesus Christ, “born of a woman,” freed us from the bondage of sin and death and made us adopted children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Gal 4:4-5) By her free offering of this body to Him and the fact that by this body, Jesus Christ died to save all of mankind and to bring us to participate in the life of the Triune God, Mary is unquestionably the Mother of all mankind.
Mary’s spiritual maternity over all of humanity was thus initiated at the moment of the Annunciation when she pronounced her fiat (Lk 1:31). By this generous surrender to God, Mary consented to the Incarnation of the Eternal Word in time as well as to the spiritual regeneration of all mankind till the end of time and all the forms in which this regeneration will take, including the sacraments of the Church. She entered whole heartedly into that plan which the Father had decreed “before the foundation of the world” and which will persist and be consummated only in the “fullness of time.”(Eph 1:4,9) In the eternal divine plan, Mary is the true Mother of the God-Man Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is truly her natural and “first-born son,” (Lk 2:7) and the entire redeemed humanity are her spiritual children because we all “have been destined in love for adoption to God through Jesus Christ.” (Eph 1:5). Where else does this adoption take place but where it was initiated – the spiritual womb of Mary?
We catch glimpses of Mary’s spiritual motherhood over all mankind from that faithful day when she had pronounced her fiat. In addition, these moments depict a revelation of Jesus Christ in one way or another and also Mary’s maternal role in salvation history. Her words of greetings filled Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit, made her realize the presence of God within Mary and acknowledge Mary as the “Mother of her Lord.”(Lk 2:43) The aged Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will remind her that she will not be a passive player in the spiritual life of her children but that “a sword will pierce her heart.” (Lk 2:35) Her loving intercession for the guests at the wedding feast, her words, “Do whatever He tells you,” (Jn 2:5) and the disciples’ budding faith in Jesus after the miracle, all reflect her loving concern for all humanity, the force of her example to make Christ known and the power of her prayers for all her children to bring them into communion with Jesus Christ. She is present as the infant Church prays and waits for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14) and “she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church.” (CCC# 963)
Jesus’ words to the beloved disciple at the Cross, “Behold your mother,” (Jn 19:26) are an affirmation that Mary’s spiritual maternity that begun at the moment of the Incarnation was now being consummated by His saving death on the Cross. On a deeper level, her maternity was brought to its fruition at that painful moment because it was then that “through His flesh,” Jesus Christ “reconciled all of us with God, in His one body, through the Cross, putting all enmity to death by it.” (Eph 2:16) The family of God was born at that moment as we were reconciled with God and with one another. “Behold your mother” was more than a last gift of Jesus to us of His own mother Mary but it was a proclamation that all of humanity now have a common womb, the spiritual womb of Mary. In the womb of Mary, in her heart by faith, in His earthly labors and trials, at the Cross of Calvary, now in heavenly glory, and in the Sacraments, Jesus’ desire remains that “where He is, His servant may be with Him.” (Jn 12:26) Since “Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Heb 13:8) true God and true man, our life of union with Him and all humanity, sharing in all that He has, and being where He is, all begin and continue in the spiritual womb of Mary.
On her own part, Mary embraced her vocation as the Mother of all mankind at the foot of the Cross as she allowed the beloved disciple to “take her to His home.” (Jn 19:27) Jesus’ parting words to her brought to Mary the full weight of her role as Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the redeemed. She is to be one who love her children so intensely and weep and mourn for her sinful children. By the divine plan, she has become a fountain of pure love for us, our common womb, as well as a solid example of fraternal charity. Not even the pains of her Son on the Cross will quench the love that she had for Him and for those who abandoned Him, mocked Him, scourged Him and executed Him.
The beloved disciple must have been learnt so much about fraternal life from living with her that he will eventually write, “Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.”(1 Jn 3:14-15) In the heart of Mary, a heart filled with love and life of grace, we find both perfect love for God in a human person as well as more than enough love for the most hardened of sinners. All are welcome in the heart of this mother. Whether her spiritual children are truly devoted to her, blaspheme and insult her, or completely ignore her, Mary has nothing but a deep and profound unconditional love for all her children. By drawing close to this heart with humility and openness, we will surely catch the flames of fraternal charity and be strengthened in our sense of brotherhood with all of humanity.
I have lived and worked in three continents in the last fifteen years of my life trying to follow Jesus Christ in and through Mary to the best of my ability with the help of His grace. It is always a challenge to love one another as Jesus has loved us and to make visible the merciful love of Christ when dealing with people of different attitudes, races, beliefs, backgrounds, cultures, religions and philosophies, etc. Needless to say, it is impossible to do this without the constant grace of God and continuous self emptying on our part. I have come to realize the need that I have to be close to Mary when I have to struggle with my own selfishness and ego, or when I am tempted to hold back in any way from engaging others in a brotherly manner. With Mary I am constantly reminded of the sense of brotherhood that should govern all my actions and reactions in relation to others. I have the sense that she repeats to me the same words that my mother asked me, “Where are your brothers and sisters? Where are they spiritually, materially, emotionally, physically, etc? What are their needs? Are you reaching out to them? Are you praying for them and encouraging them?” Sadly, I fall short sometimes. But I know that this sense of brotherhood that she brings is stronger and more persistent than the pull of selfishness and ego. I am so grateful to God that I have Mary to give me these gentle reminders and little nudges to move beyond self and to be my brothers’ keeper. What a source of hope this is to me?
On August 14 we celebrated the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who was martyred in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz towards the end of World War II. He lived in a time and place of the most horrendous violence against humanity. A fellow prisoner was about to be killed by the Nazis because of another escaped prisoner. St. Maximilian stepped forward and stunned the entire camp with his words, “I will take his place,” pleading for the life of a fellow prisoner and taking his place instead. In a time and place of hatred and resentment, this saint really shows us a sense of brotherhood in his dying for a brother inmate. He was starved and euthanized some days later in a starvation block on the vigil of the feast of the Assumption of Mary.
Let us be certain, it was no mere coincidence that he was martyred on the eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption. Just as Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven after a life of heroic charity, so shall we be in heaven like her if we too live and act as people who have a bond of brotherhood with all of humanity. St. Maximilian was a truly devoted child of Mary. He completely consecrated Himself to His dear mother, depended completely on her for everything, and did everything for her whom he affectionately called The Immaculata. In return, Mary gave him that deep sense of brotherhood that is reflected in Maximilian’s favorite bible verse, “Greater love than this no man knows than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)How closely his death resembles the manner in which Christ Jesus took our place died for us too so that we might live? No doubt both Our Lord Jesus Christ and this saint reflected a relation to their common womb. St. Maximilian is a model and testimony for all of us of how we need to recognize Mary as our Mother, our common spiritual womb with Jesus Christ and with all of humanity if we are going to be people who love others as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Jesus Christ, who “is not ashamed to call us brothers,” (Heb 2:11) took on our sinful nature in the womb of Mary because He wished that we be with Him where He is so that we too “may see the glory that the Father has given Him” (Jn 17:24). He has given us a common womb, His own Mother, so that we too are spiritually born of the same womb of which He was naturally born such that we never forget the bond that binds each and every one of us to Him and to others as brothers and sisters. Our redemption in Christ did not abolish our natural solidarity with each other but perfected and elevated it by the power of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual womb of the Virgin Mary remains the arena were this regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit will take place till the end of time and the place where we will grasp our common brotherhood with Jesus Christ and with all of humanity.
At the end of our lives, we shall be judged by how we have lived and acted out of our sense of brotherhood because Jesus will say to us, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you did unto me.” (Mt 25:40) If we are going to live and act out of our sense of brotherhood here on earth and witness the perfection of our brotherly bond with Christ and with all the angels and saints in the eternal joys of heaven, let us draw close to Mary now and stay connected to her as our spiritual Mother. Jesus did so. The beloved disciple did so. St. Maximilian Kolbe did so as did many other saints. When we follow their example, we can then hope to be our brothers’ keeper in this our violent world.
Glory to Jesus!! Honor to Mary!!