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The Maternity of Mary

by Alfred McBride, O.Praem.

Cardinal Newman wrote a touching and remarkable comment about the impact of Mary's maternity. To Newman it was plain that Jesus was so close to Mary that he must even have physically looked like her.

He imbibed, He absorbed into his divine Person, her blood and the substance of her flesh; by becoming man of her, He received her lineaments and features, as the appropriate character in which he was to manifest Himself to mankind. The child is like the parent, and we may well suppose that by His likeness to her was manifested her relationship to Him.
    —Ian Ker, Newman on Being a Christian

Mary passed on to Jesus his physical features, as Newman strikingly attests. Her motherhood went beyond that as she formed his human character. Mary trained and educated him as any mother brings up a child. Her virtues would have an impact on him. All of us realize that our mother's influence is recognizable in us and we can reasonably conclude that Mary's influence was evident in Jesus.

Mary was more than merely the biological mother of the Lord Jesus. Mary's task in the Incarnation was not over after the event in the stable at Bethlehem. Birth was followed by education. Mary exercised a continuous formation of the young Jesus as he grew from infancy to childhood to the teen years to young manhood.

The New Testament does not tell us how this happened. There is only one brief glimpse given by Luke 2:41-52 in the narrative of the losing and finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple. Mary acts like a typical mother, with the emotions of loss and anxiety and with the maternal demand to know why her son would go off without telling her and Joseph.

It is interesting that Luke cites her words and not Joseph's. "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety" (2:48). These are words we expect a mother to say. Mary is not shy about asserting her maternal authority. It flows from her love, of course. Why should she not have worried about him? The passage closes with words about Jesus continuing to grow in wisdom and grace before God and all others.

Aside from this brief anecdote, we know nothing else about what happened between mother and son all those years. Her maternal training style, her motherly witness of virtues, her approach to parenting is not recorded for us. Nonetheless, we should not forget that it happened. Mary was indeed mother of God. But she was also a human mother of a son who had a human upbringing, however that occurred.

I share this reflection with you because I believe that just as Mary knew how to be a mother of Jesus, she knows how to be our mother, too. She raised him in a household of faith. She had the remarkable experience of forming him in a human and spiritual sense while at the same time contemplating his mystery. How this happens is not revealed to us.

This should move us to be eager to have Mary offer us her maternal care. Ask Mary, as I do, to mother us in faith, hope and love of the Lord Jesus. When your heart is anxious, turn to Mary and say, "Mary, put my heart at peace." When your mind is too busy, look to Mary and pray, "Mary, settle down my mind." When you want to grow and deepen your life, look to Mary and beg, "Mary, just as you helped Jesus grow in wisdom and grace, help me also to advance on the spiritual path which God has laid out for me."

—From the book Images of Mary


Alfred McBride, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest. A popular lecturer and writer, he has served as a high school teacher, novice master, university professor, president of the University of Albuquerque and spiritual director to Aid to the Church in Need. His books include The Story of the Church: Peak Moments From Pentecost to the Year 2000, and A Retreat With Pope John XXIII: Opening the Windows to Wisdom (St. Anthony Messenger Press).


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