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Part 6: Mary's Unique Maternal Relationship with the Son of God
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jun 19, 2015)
The following is the sixth part of our Mary 101 series.
Mary's official ecclesiastical title "The Mother of God" is more than just a helpful way to sum up the mystery of the Incarnation. It also tells us something very important about Mary herself; it tells us of her unique relationship with God. In short, the divine Son of God on earth was her own son. She gave life to Him in her own womb, gave birth to Him, and nourished Him from her own breast. She cared for Him in His time of weakness and littleness, and knew His tears and smiles better than anyone else ever could. Blessed John Henry Newman loved to meditate on the unique closeness of Mary's relationship with her son and all the spiritual blessings she must have received from Him as a result:
Now, consider that Mary loved her Divine Son with an unutterable love; and consider too she had him all to herself for thirty years. Do we not see that as she was full of grace before she conceived him in her womb, she must have had a vast incomprehensible sanctity when she had lived close to God for thirty years? — a sanctity of an angelical order, reflecting back the attributes of God with a fullness and exactness of which no saint upon earth, or hermit or holy virgin, can even remind us. ...
The Word and Wisdom of God once dwelt in her, and then, after his birth of her, was carried in her arms and seated in her lap in his first years. Thus, being as it were the human throne of him who reigns in heaven, she is called the Seat of Wisdom. ...
For if such close and continued intimacy with her Son created in her a sanctity inconceivably great, must not also the knowledge which she gained during those many years from his conversation of present, past, and future have been so large, and so profound, and so diversified, and so thorough, that, though she was a poor woman without human advantages, she must have excelled ... in her theological knowledge the greatest of theologians, and in her prophetic discernment the most favored of prophets.
What was the grand theme of conversation between her and her Son but the nature, the attributes, the providence, and the works of Almighty God? Would not our Lord be ever glorifying the Father who sent him? Would he not unfold to her the solemn, eternal decrees, and the purposes and the will of God? ...
Moses had the privilege [of speaking to God directly] only now and then, from time to time. But Mary for thirty continuous years saw and heard him, being able to ask him any question which she wished explained, and knowing that the answers she received were from the eternal God, who neither deceives nor can be deceived. ...
So it was with Mary. For thirty years she was blessed with the continual presence of her Son — nay, she had him in subjection. But the time came when that war called for him for which he had come upon the earth. Certainly he came, not simply to be the Son of Mary, but to be the Savior of Man, and therefore at length he parted from her. She knew then what it was to be the mother of a soldier. He left her side; she saw him no longer; she tried in vain to get near him [see Mk 3:31-35]. He had for years lived in her embrace, and after that, at least in her dwelling — but now, in his own words, "The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head." And then, when years had run out, she heard of his arrest, his mock trial, and his Passion.
At last she got near him — when and where? — on the way to Calvary, and when he had been lifted up on the cross. And at length she held him again in her arms; yes — when he was dead. (Newman, pp. 93-95, and 104)
Clearly, by reason of her unique closeness to Jesus, from Bethlehem to Calvary, the Blessed Virgin Mary must have attained a supreme beauty and sanctity of spirit, a depth of faith and love in her heart that is truly unfathomable.
Of course, someone might object to Newman's meditation here by arguing that just because Mary was the Mother of Jesus, it does not automatically follow that she became especially holy through her thirty years of close contact with Him. After all, remember the woman in the gospels who cried out to Jesus from the crowd, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts you sucked!" Jesus replied, "Blessed, rather, are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!" (Lk 11:27-28).
Our Lord surely did not intend, however, to denigrate His mother by this statement. Nor is it likely that St. Luke would contradict what he wrote earlier in his gospel about Mary as supremely "blessed" among all women (Lk 1:28, 42, 48). The Greek word translated "rather" in Jesus' saying here in Luke 11 is the word menoun, which in this context means not "on the contrary," but "even more," in other words: "even more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it." The Protestant Biblical scholar Margaret Thrall gives this same interpretation of the words of Jesus in her book Greek Particles in the New Testament, as if Jesus intended to express Himself like this:
"What you have said is true as far as it goes. But the blessedness of Mary does not consist simply of the fact of her relationship towards myself, but (menoun) in the fact that she shares in the blessedness of those who hear the word of God and keep it, and it is in this that true blessedness lies" (Cited in Father Mateo, Refuting the Attack on Mary. El Cajon, CA: Catholic Answers, 1999, pp. 74-75).
As we shall see later in this series, even before she was told by the angel that she would be the Mother of the Messiah, Mary was already well prepared by the Holy Spirit to fulfill her vocation as Mother of God. St. Gregory Nazianzen in the fourth century wrote that Mary was "pre-purified" before the coming of the angel. She was already "blessed" in a unique way by God. That is why when the angel Gabriel first spoke to her, he called her "full of grace" (Lk 1:28). Commenting on these words of the angel, St. Sophronius in the 7th century summed up the angel's meaning: "No one has been purified in advance as you." In short, when Mary, the New Eve, received the Christ Child in her womb at the Annunciation, her heart was already overflowing with grace, and ready to surrender her life completely to the Lord — since she was so well prepared for her vocation by grace, therefore she must have cooperated with divine grace to an eminent degree through her many years of maternal loving care and close companionship with her son.
What better example can be found in all of Scripture of someone who (to borrow our Lord's phrase) "heard the Word of God and kept it"? Mary, the New Eve, totally surrendered her life to God's Word, spoken by the angel, when she replied to him: "Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). Surely, Jesus was well aware of this fact when He said, "Even more blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!" (Lk 11:28). Mary's blessed motherhood was more than just a physical closeness to Him: it was a lifelong dedication to her son, the Word made flesh, and to His plan of merciful love for the world. And total, lifelong dedication to God is what true sanctity, true "blessedness" is all about!
O sweet Mother of God,
I model my life on You;
You are for me the bright dawn;
In You I lose myself, enraptured.
O Mother, Immaculate Virgin.
In You the divine ray is reflected,
Midst storms, 'tis You who teach me to love the Lord,
O my shield and defense from the foe.
(St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Diary, 1232)
Questions for Discussion for Parts Five and Six
1. How does Mary's title "The Mother of God" sum up the truth of the doctrine of the Incarnation?
2. Imagine Mary looking after Jesus as a little boy: how might she have grown in faith and love by being so close to Him?
3. Imagine Mary dwelling with Jesus in Nazareth when He was grown up, until the time came for Him to start His ministry of preaching and healing in Galilee: how might she have grown even further in faith and love by having such a close relationship with Him for so many years? How can we grow in the love of Jesus by serving Him daily with love, even in small things?
Suggestions for Further Reading
• Read Catechism of the Catholic Church, entries 496-497
• Read Scott Hahn, Hail, Holy Queen, the section entitled "Fetal Attraction," pp. 99-102.