By Ben Smith, Director of the Family and Life Office
It is a great coincidence that Mother’s Day happens to occur in May at a time when we are celebrating the role of Our Lady. While Mary lived in a very different society to our own there are a number of things that she can teach mothers as well as women and men in general.
Imagine the scene of a teenage girl in her bedroom being greeted by a radiant angel. Most people would have fainted if this happened to them. But that was not all. The angel then asked her if she would bear a child who would be the saviour of the world. Mary responded to the Angel Gabriel with great composure via a simple question about the scientific possibility of this request. Once she was reassured by the Angel Gabriel that God would make this possible she gave her consent gladly as a handmaid of the Lord. This event shows us that whenever something unexpected occurs in our lives, for instance a pregnancy, we should be composed and ponder its deeper meaning. We can seek understanding through prayer by asking God questions. Ultimately, if we know that God is leading us down a new path then we should not be afraid to accept the will of God. But this new journey doesn’t have to be a lonely one.
One temptation that people experience when they are in a state of shock is that they withdraw into themselves. However Mary’s response to her surprising news was to make a long and arduous journey by foot of around 100 miles to visit her cousin, St Elizabeth, who herself was experiencing a miraculous pregnancy. When the two of them greeted each other, the child in St Elizabeth’s womb (St John the Baptist) leapt for joy. Mary’s obedience to God had led her down a path that was full of unexpected blessings. The presence of Christ in Mary’s womb was already working miracles. The presence of life in the womb of any woman is a miracle of life. I recently saw a 3D ultrasound video of a baby in the womb of an old friend. These images of a baby moving around in the womb gave me immense joy as my friend had been able to overcome previous health concerns that she would have trouble having children.
Aside from the miracle of the St John the Baptist’s leap, Mary choose to stay with St Elizabeth for three months to serve her in the last trimester of her pregnancy. This action exemplifies the meaning of the Magnificat prayer that Mary proclaimed to St Elizabeth. One of the key elements of this prayer is that Mary’s lowliness and humility is the source of her greatness and strength. In our modern world, women feel that they need to assert themselves and climb the corporate ladder to be great. Mary’s gift of self to her cousin and her obedience to God contrasts with this popular view. The capacity of women to be selfless in their marriages, families and workplaces can be taken for granted and abused. It is imperative for men in their roles as grandfathers, fathers, husbands, son or co-workers learn from this selflessness so that they can be more focussed on people rather than things.
While Mary is the ultimate example of humility and obedience she was no doormat. The wedding at Cana showed a side to Mary that is often overlooked. When the wedding had run out of wine, Mary understood the embarrassment that this would cause to the hosts. She effectively told Jesus to remedy this situation by working his first miracle in public. Jesus resisted her request by saying that his “hour had not yet come.” But she would not take no for an answer and told the servants to “do whatever he tells you.” Mary’s action at Cana began her Son’s public ministry and set him on the path to Calvary. She played a unique part in initiating her Son’s vocation. All mothers have a special role in shaping the direction their children take in terms of their vocation whether it is in religious life, the married life or in the single life. St John Paul II also taught in Mulieris Dignitatem that wives have a special role in helping their husband’s discover their role as strong loving fathers.
In this month of May, let us call to mind some of the things that Mary as Mother of the Church can teach all mothers. Her obedience to the will of God took her on a journey from a small relatively unknown town to being the most famous woman in history. This journey involved great service to those in her family. Lastly her leadership in initiating Jesus’ public ministry show women their special role in helping their husbands and children discover their vocations to be a gift of self to others.