Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10; Psalm 40:7-11; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38
Everyone knows the bond between a mother and her baby is special and that there is nothing in the world quite like it. But recently I came across some research that taught me things about it I didn’t know and that gave me new perspectives on the Blessed Mother.
First, there is a physical basis to the phenomenon scientists call the “maternal instinct,” or others know as “Mommy brain.” Others like my older son who as a young child once inspected the back of his mother’s head, searching for the eyes hidden there. He wasn’t far wrong. During pregnancy a woman’s brain actually changes; areas related to the protection and nurturing of her baby develop as never before. This is nature’s way of attuning a mother to the needs and well-being of her children.
It was no different for the Blessed Mother. From the moment the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her (Luke 1:35), Mary began to develop the maternal instinct toward God himself. She alone among all women was to know the singular joy and tremendous responsibility of nurturing the Son of God; of protecting him from and preparing him for the world he came to save; of feeding him who thirsted for souls; and of providing a home for him who sought nowhere to lay his head except upon her breast, first as a helpless babe and then as a lifeless son taken down from the cross.
It was from the cross that Christ raised Mary’s maternal instinct from the natural to the spiritual. With his words, Woman, behold your son (John 19:26) he gave her motherhood of his disciples, of all those like her who hear the word of God and do it (Luke 11:28). He made the bond complete when he told the Beloved Disciple, Behold, your mother (John 19:27), for in imitation of her Son we too have nowhere else to lay our heads. As her spiritual children we trust her, as he did, to see to our well-being and protection.
The second thing I learned about the bond between mothers and babies is that children learn to recognize their mother’s voice in the womb and even prefer the language she speaks to any other they hear. By the time he was born, Mary’s voice was already very familiar to Jesus. And of course he prefers her language, for she speaks the language of total and selfless love. This is why we ask the Blessed Mother to speak to Jesus on our behalf; hers is the voice he heard from the time he was old enough to hear anything at all, the voice he could not refuse at Cana. Once again in imitation of him, Mary’s is the voice we too must not refuse, that says to us what it said to the servers at the wedding feast at Cana: Do whatever he tells you (John 2:5).
Finally, I learned that perhaps the most important aspect of the bond between mother and baby is responsiveness. From the womb, mothers instinctively respond to the needs of their babies, giving from their own bodies whatever they have to give. This continues into childhood. Studies have shown that children thrive when their mothers respond to them in ways that foster growth and security; these especially include support and encouragement in difficult or stressful times. As Scripture makes clear, our Lord was no stranger to difficulty or stress, from his birth in a stable and flight into Egypt to his suffering and death on the cross. But Scripture also makes clear that Mary was with him at each of those times; in fact, she is the only one in all of Scripture to be present from his conception to his ascension. As such, Mary is the epitome of the supporting and encouraging mother.
One phrase in the readings perfectly summarizes the bond between Mary and her Son: I come to do your will (Psalm 40:8-9; Hebrews 10:7). For Mary this meant motherhood born of a love for God so deep that she, as Augustine once said, would conceive Christ in her heart before her womb. For Jesus it meant the Incarnation; a love so deep that he would take his own creation’s flesh and offer it back to his Father for the redemption of all who would accept him. Their obedience sets the pattern for us for we too are called to the same kind of obedience; to conceive Christ in our hearts; to offer to the Father the gift of ourselves in total dedication to Him; to love as Jesus and Mary loved. Without grace this is not possible, but this is the great hope of the Solemnity of the Annunciation, when the angel reminds us as he told the Fullness of Grace: nothing will be impossible for God (Luke 1:37).