How can the Virgin Mother of God, the first disciple, a member of the Holy Family, and the Mother of the Church also be my mother? How does the Blessed Mother's life affect mine? How can a simple mother like me aspire to imitate such an amazing mother?
When we think about Mary, we may recall instances in her life that we have learned which illustrate her gentleness, humility, holiness, and her selflessness. Images from our Catholic tradition and what we have learned from Scripture may come to mind. We are reminded of Mary as a little faithful Jewish girl praying with her people in Palestine for the coming of the Messiah, fulfilling God's promises. Mary also prayed for the restoration of Jerusalem as the gathering place of the chosen people. Mary was familiar with Isaiah's words that a virgin would conceive and bear a child called Immanuel — "God with us." Throughout her faithful prayers, however, Mary never imagined that she would be that virgin.
A Faithful and Generous Heart
We certainly recall the momentous occasion when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary when she was a teenager, announcing to her that she would become Jesus' mother (Luke 1:26-39). Because of her humility, Mary found it difficult to believe that it was she, a simple girl, who was chosen by God. When Mary took that blessing to her heart she responded with her courageous "yes" to God. Her determination and generous heart sent her shortly afterwards on a three day journey, on foot, pregnant and by herself, to help her cousin Elizabeth who was much older and also expecting a child. Joseph stayed behind with his work. Scripture tells us that Mary "went in haste to a Judean town in the hill country" (Luke 1:39). We can be sure that Mary prayed and reflected all throughout her journey, while the blessedness of Jesus dwelled within her. After Elizabeth's baby leaped in her womb upon Mary's arrival, the two women embraced. Elizabeth praised Mary for her great faith, and Mary responded with the words of the Magnificat, glorifying God's holiness, justice and mercy (Luke 1:46-55). She humbly expressed that all generations will call her blessed because of the great things the Lord had done in her (Luke 1:48-49).
Perhaps as we think about Mary, we may envision Joseph leading his beloved Mary on a donkey searching for a place for Mary to give birth to Jesus. In their simplicity of traveling mode, Mary was jostled around on the donkey's back, praying to be able to fulfill her mission and bring forth her Son, the Redeemer of the world. We know that the innkeeper turned the holy parents away. Joseph and Mary proceeded in haste to the stable in Bethlehem where soon afterwards Jesus' infant cries were comforted at His mother's breast as Joseph looked on, praising God. Jesus, who is our King and Savior was paradoxically born into poverty, resting in a wooden manger of hay, hardly what is expected for a King's birth. Angels sent simple shepherds to Mary and Joseph to see their holy baby. Mary "treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19)
Through the hidden years, we can imagine Mary teaching Jesus on her knee in the warmth of their humble home. As Jesus grew, Mary surely encouraged her Son to help Joseph in his trade as a carpenter. Mary's faith deepened in the cenacle of prayer that she fostered in the heart of her home, caring for her Son within their Holy Family. She must have shared with him about the Angel's words to her, about His birth in Bethlehem, and Simeon's prophesy.
The Shadow of the Cross
The shadow of the Cross fell upon Mary early in her life and during what was meant to be a joyous occasion when her baby was presented in the Temple. The aged Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be a "sign that will be opposed" and forewarned Mary that a sword of sorrow would pierce through her own soul (Luke 2:34-35). The prophetic words couldn't be escaped; Mary and her Son would have to sacrifice dearly in their Divine mission of redemption. Mary and Joseph also had to escape Herod's brutal rampage which forced them to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23). Mary was constantly being called to a deeper faith and a more perfect trust in God. She always responded with her heart which she totally open to God's will. Mary continued to grow in grace and strength.
This Jewish mother, Mary spoke up when she and Joseph had been searching for their twelve-year-old Son, Jesus for three days. Mary was relieved to have found Jesus but her heart was heavy. "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety" (Luke 2:48). When Jesus explained what He was doing, Mary immediately accepted her Son's mission.
"Do Whatever He Tells You"
"They have no wine," Mary told her Son, Jesus as He was about to start His public ministry. Mary was sympathetic that a bride and groom at Cana were without wine for their wedding and was also eager for her Son to start His work. Jesus appeared reluctant to perform His first miracle because it was not yet the "hour," and seemed to rebuke His mother. Mary confidently told the wine stewards to "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:3,5). Mary's initiative, intercession, obedience, as well as her respect for her Son's role and faith in Him ultimately nudged Jesus on. The power of a mother's love brought about Jesus' first public miracle which began His public ministry (John 2:4).
As she stood at the foot of the Cross, Mary knew that it was her Son's death that would bring life to the world. Even so, her heart was breaking. "Here is your mother," Jesus said from the Cross (John 19:26-27). He entrusted Mary to John and John to Mary. The disciple, John, really represented the whole Christian community. Mary became the mother of the whole Church at her Son's request. She became the new Eve (John 19:26). Her obedience to her call in life was being constantly fulfilled in her because she had given herself completely to the will of the Father.
At the end of Jesus' ministry on Earth, Mary devotedly watched her afflicted Son. She had walked Calvary with Him and now her mother's heart was pierced with anguish at her Son's agonizing death. She held Him close when His lifeless body was placed in her arms, crying and praying to her Father in Heaven. Her hopes would be fulfilled at Easter.
The Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation again came to her on Pentecost (Acts 1:14) where she received guidance, for herself and the Church. We can be sure that the Holy Spirit was always active in our Blessed Mother Mary's life.
The Heart of the Home
While we will never accomplish what our Blessed Mother has, or come close to her holiness, we too, as mothers are also called to holiness in the sublime role of raising our children. Our Mother Mary gives us so many attributes and virtues to emulate in our vocation as a mother. We can look to Mary and realize that her deep faith was really the foundation of her holiness. We should remember that Mary was human like us and needed to pray so that she would be unwavering in her faith, just as we mothers are called to do. Mary's faith is the same gift available to us. We can ask Mary to be a mother to us and guide us closer to her Son, Jesus.
Mothers can learn from Mary who is an example of one who listened to God and allowed the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide her. We learn from Mary that a mother's prayer is powerful. When we are asked to endure suffering or pain within our vocation, we can turn our thoughts to Mother Mary and ask her assistance and intercession. Throughout difficulties, trusting in God during particular situations within their home-life, mothers can meditate on Mary's faithful trust in our Lord and in guidance from the Holy Spirit. When we experience the deep joy in our roles as mothers, we can feel an affinity with someone who has also experienced deep joy in mothering Jesus.
Mary's marvelous "yes" to God indeed changed the entire world for all eternity. May all faithful mothers also courageously answer our Lord, "Be it done unto me according to thy word," as they strive to raise their families in a cenacle of prayer that they have fostered in the heart of their homes.