Acts 1:12-14; John 19:25-34
If my mother said one thing to me consistently from the time I can remember, it was that she loved me. She said it all the time. When she felt the need to go beyond that, she’d say, “You will never know how much I love you until you have children of your own.”
To me, that’s a way of saying that the deepest love cannot be described, it can only be experienced. That may be true, but perhaps science has begun to come close. I came across a recent study that tried to capture the bond between a mother and her children neurologically. In one part, a group of mothers were shown images of people under stress and asked to imagine themselves in that situation. Various brain responses were recorded. Next, they were asked to imagine their children in those same situations and were again measured. The responses of many of these women were nearly identical in both cases; in other words, mothers tended to feel what their child was going through as if they themselves were going through it. As far as they were concerned, they and their child were one.
In light of this, let us pause and reflect on the scene in our gospel reading today. Notice that John, unlike the other evangelists, places Mary right at the cross, not at a distance from it. Our instinctive reaction is to imagine what she felt watching her child suffer so. What mother would not suffer at such a moment, let alone the Blessed Mother? Despite the pain, despite the abandonment of nearly everyone else, Mary remained at his side. Over and above this consider her lifelong, steadfast faithfulness. The gospels make it clear: Mary is the only person to be with Jesus at every pivotal moment of his life from conception to death. She is his mother, but she is his disciple first. Her life is a testament to the advice she herself gave to the wedding stewards at Cana: Do whatever he tells you (John 2:5).
Knowing that, her Son gives his mother more to do. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” (John 19:26). Note the high regard Jesus has for Mary. He speaks when he sees her; he speaks first to her; most importantly, he expands her role as mother to now include the ideal or Beloved Disciple. In the words of theologian Fr. Raymond Brown, this is Christ’s “ last-willed … act of empowerment that both reveals and makes come about a new relationship.”1
That new relationship is Mary as mother of the Church, for Christ has raised her from being mother of the head to mother also of his Mystical Body. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church proclaims from ancient times that she was born from the wounded side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross.2
Mary understood this and, as in all things, obeyed her Lord. That is why in the first reading we find her with the Church – the disciples in the upper room – in prayer. Mary has the most marvelous intercessory role; obedient daughter of the Father, mother of his only Son, and spouse of the Holy Spirit. She is in the perfect position to intercede for the Church.
Someone once said that the word ‘mother’ isn’t a noun as much as it’s a verb. So today, on the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, consider how Mary’s role from the beginning has been to ‘mother’ people to God by being a model of prayer, discipleship, and unconditional love. And operating on the principle that we will never know how much our Mother loves us until we have children of our own, we must remember that Mary’s model of motherhood is meant to be imitated; we too are called to ‘mother’ people into the Church.
If we don’t know where to start learning from her, begin with the rosary. From the joyful mysteries alone we learn humility, love of neighbor, poverty of spirit, obedience, and piety. Every major event in her life a mystery, every mystery with its own fruit, every fruit centered on Christ. That is the key; Mary teaches us through the rosary what she teaches through her life; that bringing people to the Church is nothing more or less than bringing them to her Son and allowing him to stir within them the flame of divine love which truly cannot be described but only experienced, and in which we are truly one.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
1Brown, Fr. R.E., SS (1994). The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.. p 1021.
2Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, On Psalm 127, 4. Cited in https://catholicfamilynews.com/blog/2020/05/31/pentecost-reminder-the-church-was-born-on-good-friday/