The gospel reading (John 19:25-34) for this day, June 1 — the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church — brought this thought vividly to my mind: Jesus gave us Mary as our Mother in what arguably was the worst and most painful moment of his human life. And I found that this thought had special meaning for me on at least three different levels.
First, even in that worst of human moments — facing death, suffering horrible pain, and knowing that nearly everyone he loved had abandoned him — Jesus’ focus was on those he loved. He gave his beloved mother to his beloved people knowing that she was the best and most gracious mother we could ever hope for, and knowing that she, as the best and most gracious and loving mother, needed children to mother. Jesus didn’t stop at dying on the cross to redeem us from sin. Oh, no. He held on to give us a wonderful gift. He saw to it that in our greatest time of need, we would always have a Mother to love and care for us.
There is something so poignant in this moment, in Jesus assuring that the mother he loved would have children to love and nurture, and in Jesus providing for all of us to be her children. If we’ve experienced a mother’s love, either by giving or receiving it, we have some glimmering of what that means, and we can trust that it is far greater than our own tiny experience. If we have not experienced it for ourselves, for whatever reason, in the earthly realm, we can find in this Gospel moment an assurance that this love is ours not just for the asking, but for the needing.
Second, the idea that Jesus made this great gift to us in the worst moment of his own life surely tells us that he means for us to call upon the mother he has given us in the worst moments of our own life. A mother is always there for her children, of course. A mother always loves her children. In the good times, if we are aware and fortunate, we wrap it around us and bask in its light and comfort. In times of difficulty, she is ready to wrap us up in the light and comfort of her love. What a sad state of affairs when we are not willing to allow or accept her help! It reminds me of a time of crisis in my own life, when things had gotten just about as bad as things can get, and my own mom reached out to help me. I hadn’t asked; in fact, I felt I had no reason to expect help, and when she reached out to offer, I even resisted the idea. I had decided I was on my own and would have to struggle through as best I could, and how here was this offer. And the only response that came to me was to say that I couldn’t accept her offer because I had no way to repay her. My mom said the most wonderful thing to me, then: “Some day, probably more than once, you will find someone in need of help, and when you help them without expecting to be repaid, you will be repaying me. Let’s just do this.”
In our worst times, Mary is with us as our mother, with open arms and open heart, giving us what we need and asking only that we be as generous with our love for others as she is with her love for us. She actively desires for us to reach out to her in these worst moments, because after being the perfect mother to the Son of God, she needs to be the perfect mother to the children Jesus gave her in his own worst moment.
Third, I am struck with wonder at the response of “the disciple there whom he loved” when Jesus made this great gift from the cross. His response is so simple and so profoundly beautiful: “…from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” The simple beauty and completeness of that statement just captivates my heart.
He took her into his home. She became, then, a vital part of his daily life, a presence that affected every decision and every action of every day. Isn’t that true when we take someone into our home? We begin to think about how our own actions will affect that person, and we become aware of how their actions impact us. In the reality of daily life, sometimes this awareness can chafe on both sides of the situation. But isn’t it true that when we undertake this inclusion in the spirit of love, it’s less likely to chafe and more likely to enrich? Likewise, we receive the gift of Mary as our mother, and take her into our “home” — both our earthly home and the home of our spirit and soul — in a spirit of love and gratitude, and it changes us. We begin to think of our actions in the light of her presence and her love for us. We begin to turn to her in our greatest needs, to lean on her as our mother — because that is what Jesus wanted us to do when he gave her to us in that worst of his earthly moments.
Finally, I want to always remember the simple words of the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, which tell us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was with the disciples when they returned to the upper room. We aren’t given much detail about her interactions with them, but given what we know about Jesus’ gift of his mother from the cross, we can guess that she most wonderfully and lovingly exercised her motherly role, and that they in turn were changed by her love.
Mary, dear mother of us all, you are precious among the gifts your son gave to his people. Pray for us that we might be deeply and truly changed by your love so that we become the people that your son calls us to be. As we grow in your love, let us become channels of love for those we encounter each day. Amen.
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