Saturday, June 17, 2023

A Heart Full of Maternal Love

Mary, our Merciful Mother. Where would we be without her? 

When all else is plunged into darkness, when life is confusing and overwhelming, when we don’t know what to hold onto, there remains this Mother’s love, this Heart that draws close to us and gives us maternal tenderness even when we don’t know it: when all we hear is our own cries and all we feel is our own agony. 

A mother’s care is not always appreciated or even noticed by those who benefit from it, but it changes their experience, and hopefully they can look back years later and see how a mother’s tenderness carried them through the perils (as well as the joys) of growing up. The women who gave birth to us (or adopted us with the openness of maternal commitment) have been essential to us, and they have loved us even if they themselves are flawed people—even if they may also have harmed us in some ways. There are always people who can welcome, care for, and make a difference to those who are wounded; many of these people are also women who are dedicated doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, physical therapists, caregivers, social workers, psychologists, counselors, teachers, or other professionals whose work is centered on attention to the human person. In principle (and increasingly in practice) the whole world of human achievement is open to women. Perhaps, in time, women in society may help shape ideals of achievement and success in ways that are more personalistic and communitarian, more patient and collaborative, more sustainable, less belligerent, more kind

Women are the great protagonists of hospitality, builders of environments where healing and works of mercy flourish. And now that we have reached the moment in history when women’s dignity is being recognized in its fullness, and as women rightly take up positions in every place in society, we all can have a great hope for the future: that women will bring their special “maternal” magnanimity, tenacity, and tenderness everywhere, so that this gigantic, technologically explosive, conflicted, alienating world might be “humanized” in new ways. Women will be leaders in building a civilization of love that places the gift of the dignity of the human person at the center of social life. 

This is a hope we must stir up even now, even in these difficult times of tumultuous change. We are living in the midst of a baffling, turbulent period, taken up into the ambivalent emergence of a new global epoch full of the exponential increase of human power, bringing raw new opportunities and unimaginable dangers. We need the strength of women, if the world is not to perish. The great women of our time have already begun a work that—if it is to take shape at all—may take many generations and endure many setbacks: the work of building a civilization of love. 

The Blessed Virgin Mary is always working, and she works with her maternal solicitude for the realization of the whole human vocation, which is that we become brothers and sisters of her Son. We are all her children. I have no hesitation in speaking “universally” here, because Mary is the mother of each and every one of us. She nurtures, fosters, encourages, and accompanies each one of us “in the Spirit”—in the beginning, growth, and fulfillment of our unique and personal vocation according to God’s definitive GIFT (His grace) that decides the real, ultimate meaning of existence, of every event in history, every thing, and every one of ourselves. The Word of the Father—through whom and for whom all things have been created—took flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb, through the unbounded freedom of Mary’s “yes” to God’s wise and loving plan. He was “born of the Virgin Mary.” By virtue of His humanity, He who is God—He who is the Person of God the Son, begotten by God the Father from all eternity in the Mystery of the Trinity—He assumed our human nature as His own (Christ is true God and true man); He entered our history and “took flesh” specifically by becoming Mary’s Son. She is therefore affirmed in ancient Christian tradition and teaching as “Mother of God,” Theotokos. And her motherhood accompanied her Son Jesus to the cross with a love joined to His love for us in His redeeming death which is our salvation. 

Many Protestant Christians and others are perplexed by the Catholic (and Orthodox) appreciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as our Mother. Nevertheless, the problems and misunderstandings that people have about Mary do not put her off. People sometimes refer to their difficulties by saying, “I have a ‘problem’ with Mary.” To which I am inclined to respond (without being glib or dismissive), “Don’t worry. You may have a ‘problem’ with Mary, but Mary does not have a problem with you.” Mary is a real person, with a real human heart that embraces each one of us. Her motherhood is a fact. Certainly, we wonder about this, and want to understand how it coheres with (and even springs from) the fact that Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior and the source of all redeeming grace. Catholic teaching is abundantly clear on this point (which is succinctly expressed in the Catechism, nn. 963-975). Yet, while endeavoring to explain in greater detail the role of Mary in our lives and clear up many misconceptions about what Catholics believe, we cannot deny that there is a mystery—a beautiful, gratuitous mystery—to Mary’s unique and universal “spiritual maternity.” She transfigures—and thereby also fully vindicates—the fundamental human significance of motherhood and maternal love. 

Therefore, we have no reason to fear Mary. She is the greatest of mothers. She loves and cares for all her children. What a joy it is that we can always turn to her. She is close to each one of us, and all the ardor of her Son’s redeeming, healing, and transforming love burns in her all-holy, Immaculate Heart. 

Mary is the Mother who will never fail us. She will bring us to Jesus and make us know Him more intimately. She will walk the path with Jesus even with those who don’t realize she’s doing it, and—I hope—with many many others who don’t yet realize that it is Jesus that they really seek and love through their many-faceted endeavors to adhere to the Mystery of reality and fulfill their destiny. And Mary will enlighten us along the way, in whatever we are called to accomplish and endure in this life, to live as children of the Father, as brothers and sisters of Jesus: as her children. She will show us, in simple, humble ways, how to lay the foundations for a civilization of love.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Theotokos, All-Holy, Merciful Mother, we entrust ourselves to the strength and tenderness of your Immaculate Heart.