My husband is a seminary professor, and we had his classes over for a cookout recently. My daughters have grown up chasing seminarians around the halls and refectory of “Daddy’s work.” (Because of how spoiled they are when they visit, I often joke that when my youngest sees a man in a Roman collar she just assumes he exists to serve and entertain her…which he does!) At some point, as my husband and I stood around chatting with the men, our girls started playing “duck, duck, goose,” walking laps around the group of adults. The seminarians loved it and even slowed down their “goose” run around the circle so that the little girls could win.
At one point, my four-year-old tagged a seminarian, who laughingly chased her. This particular daughter is the current baby of the family, and she loves acting like a baby for extra attention. So, mid-chase, she ran to me and clung to my legs. “Mommy!” she shrieked. Then she looks at the seminarian and said, “I’m safe!”
I looked at him and teased, “Don’t mess with my kid, or you’ll see the mama bear come out!” Then, after a pause, I smiled and said, “And just think…that is how Mary responds when the devil tries to mess with you and run to her. Contemplate that!” He absolutely loved it (and hopefully will take that moment to prayer) but I have found myself taking it to prayer, too.
Learning to be a Child of Mary
As is the case for many, my relationship with my own mother was complicated when I was growing up. Consequently, I have really struggled to understand Mary, and what it means to be her daughter. When trying to understand that role, I often find myself defaulting to unhealthy patterns from my childhood that don’t apply to Mary’s love for me.
For that reason, the “month of Mary” is not necessarily one that brings me warm and fuzzy feelings. Of course I respect Mary and love her as best as I can…but I don’t understand how it is that she can unconditionally love and protect me, because of my own experiences as a daughter. I fully believe that she unconditionally loves other people (and on some level, I believe she unconditionally loves me), but it is still something I struggle to let seep into my heart. I know that I am not alone in this.
The one thing that helps me begin to understand Mary’s love for me and her spiritual children is watching my own daughters living out their daughterhood. I have worked hard to heal and develop healthy patterns of relationship with my daughters, and as a result, they are confident in their mom’s love for them. We joke that our middle daughter is the “Mary Evangelist” because as a toddler (when she was mostly just attached to me) she loved Mary more than Jesus. (She has since come around, and I doubt Jesus was offended!) To her, the image of a mother who loved her, spoiled her, defended her, and stood beside her was real and believable.
I also sometimes contemplate Mary’s maternity towards Jesus and imagine what it would be like to be a child in the home at Nazareth. I imagine that hers was a “revolving door” that welcomed and loved each little friend who tagged along home with her son. And, I imagine, she was one of those mothers that treated every child who crossed her threshold with the same love she gave her own child.
Contemplation and Acceptance
There are people who grow up with the reality of unconditional maternal love, but no mother is perfect, and many people struggle to understand Mary as a result. If this is you, you are not alone! How then, to learn what it means to be her son or daughter?
The key lies in contemplation. Contemplation is a sort of prayerful, reflective thought – a pondering of the mysteries of the faith. The rosary is one way that we can contemplate these particular truths (and if you do pray the rosary as you build this relationship with Mary, I encourage you to not worry about praying the prayers perfectly, but rather to envision yourself as a child in the arms of Mary).
We can also contemplate Mary’s maternity by praying the Scriptures. In the Scriptures, we see Mary’s maternal solicitude for others – perhaps most poignantly in the story of the wedding feast at Cana. “They have no wine!” she pleads with Jesus. Surely, she pleads the same way for each of our intentions.
But truly, the most fruitful contemplation I have, as I come to understand and live out my place as a spiritual daughter of Mary, is through watching the actions of my daughters towards me. When they are sad, when they are in pain, when they are hurt, they don’t run to their dad. They say, “I want Mommy!” It isn’t because they don’t trust their dad, or because he doesn’t comfort them when they’re sad. I think it is more about that visceral connection to their “first home.” Recently, my youngest daughter said (in a very emotional moment), “I wish I was never born!” It took me a second to realize what she meant, and so I asked her, “Wait…do you mean you wish you could still live in my tummy?” She nodded, and I scooped her up and held her close.
Mary is the Mother of the Church, and the womb of the Church is the baptismal font. When we plead in the Salve Regina that Mary be with us as we are, “…mourning and weeping in this valley of tears,” we are essentially expressing the same thing my four-year-old was expressing. We long, perhaps, for the simplicity of our newly baptized state, for the life of grace and peace that will one day be ours in heaven. And, as my littlest daughter felt when she was in her moment of distress, we want to disappear into the protection and safety of a mother.
Jesus knew this. Jesus experienced this in the arms of His mother. And, in His infinite love for us, He didn’t just tell us to go find that in our own mothers. He gave us His mother. And, although we did not grow in the womb of Mary, Jesus did. As we contemplate a resting in the arms and heart of Mary, we will find Jesus already there, waiting for us.