Mother of total life
The natural impulse to look beyond ourselves when confronted by our limitations is at the root of the mystery of the motherhood of Mary. From the first moments on earth, a baby searches the face of his or her mother.
We cannot understand ourselves and be ourselves if we have only ourselves for reference. To be truly ourselves, we need someone else. This conviction is a recurrent theme in the earlier writings of Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:
[Alone] we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. Mary, mother and model of the Church, is given to us to be our way of belonging. In the gift of Mary’s motherhood, the Christian welcomes the mother of God “into his own home.” Christ personally hands over his mother to each individual on Calvary in the person of the beloved disciple.
The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived
as accepted that it becomes also acceptable.
Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist…If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: “It is good that you exist”—must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love. For it is the way of love to will the other’s existence and, at the same time, to bring that existence forth again. The key to the I lies with the you (Principles of Catholic Theology, pp. 79-80).
St. Thérèse of Lisieux understood uncannily how this truth applies to our relationship with the mother of God:
With regard to the Blessed Virgin, A mother is so much more than a “birth-giver.” “Motherhood,” writes Pope John Paul II, “is a relationship of person to person: a mother is not only mother of the body or of the physical creature born of her womb, but of the person she begets....Mary is the Theotokos [God-bearer or mother of God] not only because she conceived and gave birth to the Son of God, but also because she accompanied him in his human growth.”
I must confide to you one of my simple ways with her: I surprise myself at times by saying to her: “But good Blessed Virgin, I find
I am more blessed than you, for
I have you for a mother, and you
do not have a Blessed Virgin to love....It is true you are the mother of Jesus, but this Jesus you have given entirely to us...and he, on the cross, he gave you to us as mother. Thus we are richer than you since we possess Jesus and since you are ours also (General Correspondence).
A poignant—and very sad—example of this understanding of motherhood appeared in a magazine article some years ago about a young man named Nick Beavers. Nick was born to a wealthy, socialite family. From his high school days Nick led a prodigal lifestyle abusing alcohol and drugs to the point of addiction. He made several attempts at rehabilitation programs. In 1994, at the age of 30, Nick learned that his mother was terminally ill with cancer. From a rehab center in Minneapolis, Nick wrote a letter to his mother (which, tragically, he never sent):
Dear Ma, It seems like years since I last wrote you. You’ve gotten very sick, I’ve relapsed and now I’m deep in recovery again—as I pray you are. And I do pray....Because of my many pathetic charades, you couldn’t have known how much I needed you. But I’m telling you now, without you I would not be alive. How hard it was for me to return your constant undying love....I will withstand my disease and whatever else befalls me, because you are my mother. But most of all, I love you and will one day love myself, because you are my mother. Love, Nick (New York Magazine, July 24, 1995).No matter how lost we are, no matter how conflicted, no matter how troubled, we are hopeful in the knowledge that we have been given a mother who loves us with a constant, undying love. We can withstand whatever befalls us because Mary is our mother.
Why do mothers possess the ability to raise us up from the most abysmal darkness? Because there is nothing abstract about a mother’s love; in the love of a mother we are given a face that emboldens us to deal with whatever imperils us. At the most excruciating moment of his Passion, Christ commands us to behold his mother as our mother. In doing so, he reveals to us how crucial our own recourse to her is for our lives. In our relationship with the mother of God, the Christ we seek becomes concrete.
A mother’s mediation
Since we are not immaculately conceived and we exhibit the effects of original sin (not to mention our actual sins!), we are unworthy to receive the Son of God immediately from the hands of the Father. We are raised to the perfection proper to the children of God through the purity and maternal mediation of the mother of God. Mary mediates by elevating us who are impure and fallen creatures to the dignity of her immaculate being through loving us. Mary’s maternal mediation makes us worthy of the kind of union with Jesus that Mary experienced at the Annunciation. Mary imparts her unique excellence, her moral perfection, her holiness to us as her children.
The mother of God removes all our excuses for not going to God. If we feel unworthy, if we are wracked with guilt, if we are overwhelmed by our nothingness, if the circumstances of our lives seem to conspire against our happiness, Mary the mother of God presents us to God the Father as if we were her only Son.
This maternal mediation asks something of our humility and our freedom. Through our Marian devotion, says St. Louis de Montfort, “we offer and consecrate all that we are and all that we possess to the Blessed Virgin, in order that, through her mediation, our Lord may receive the glory and the gratitude which we owe him” (True Devotion). By means of this gesture we acknowledge a truth that resounds unequivocally in Marian theology throughout the ages: “After God, Mary is the origin, mother, and generous giver of all the gifts that are granted to us; for to her has the kingdom of mercy been handed over, and through her hands God gives and has decided to give whatever grace he bestows on us” (Bl. Dionysius the Carthusian, +1471).
To be totally human we need a mother to love us who is the mother of God. Jesus knew this when, from the cross, he gave his mother into the keeping of the beloved disciple and, in doing so, gave her to the Church for all time. In turn, whenever Mary loves us, she gives us Jesus.