Every mother has a story. Every mother came from somewhere, and where she came from affects how she raises her children and interacts with her husband. One mother, however, the mother of all of us, has a story that I think is awe-inspiring. The volumes that are written and could be written about our blessed mother, the Theotokos, the God-bearer and the Christ-Bearer, are countless. She’s not just some lady that got lucky. No, we know that God was waiting for the day that ‘the time had fully come’ before He entered into the world.
One of these things that made the time right, was the presence and existence of a woman so pure, so loving, so much like the image and likeness of Himself, that could be found worthy to contain the limitless inside of herself. Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever thought about what it means to say that God – Who is limitless and uncontainable and uncircumscript (i.e. can’t be defined by any perimeter) said, if I had to choose one woman from the beginning of time until the end of it, it would be this woman?
I’m baffled by her. Saint Mary didn’t start off as this noblewoman who was crazy rich and loved by all the people. Rather someone chose for her to be dedicated to the temple. Tradition tells us that she was given to the temple at the age of three. She didn’t get a vote on this matter. But from such a young age she was immersed in the Church – the people of God – and thus understood the life of the Church, the ways of God, and found herself being attuned to the language of God. Most of us today are upset when our parents force us to go to Church, instead of finding out how to grow in there. She didn’t.
On top of this, her service in the church was in menial tasks. The small stuff. The coffee girl/guy. She’s the one the big shots hire so they can do their big stuff. She took on the jobs that nobody was watching, and it was this incredible humility, this lack of desire to be in the spotlight, that had our God’s eyes on her. He works best with those who are lowly, because they are not self-absorbed. This willingness to say “okay” to everyone without a fight, without pride, without feeling above things, is why our God who sees the hidden things rewards openly. The little girl of the temple would become the mother of God and of the whole entire world. The little girl who was nothing extraordinary in the eyes of the people, is now known in every nation.
But! if she did not have this humility, do you think she could have said to Archangel Gabriel, “be it done unto me according to your word”? This is baffling. Whatever you say, let it be, I say yes. She even clarified politely with the angel what it meant, “You do know that I have not done anything sexually, right?” She’s clarifying that this is something that typically does not make sense, but so reverently. The angel affirms that he understands, and she just says, “okay”. She doesn’t say, “This does not make sense. This is insane.” She just says, “Let your word be done.” As if to say, “Whatever God says is going to happen, and who am I to argue?” She’s just so not full of herself nor is she thinking of the world. Even Joseph is troubled by this and thinks of breaking off the relationship, but our Mother accepts. Our God says, “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. This purity of hers – her single focused mind, the purity of her trust and vision of God, her lack of the taint of sins, her purity from self-love, all these are why why she could so intimately see God. This purity is what our God prized and in a pure way, was conceived in her.
Okay, so she finds out she’s the chosen one. She is the mom every mom wanted to be – the mother of the Messiah. So, she got an upgrade. She’s now the top mom. Think to yourself, if you found out that you were the one in 12 billion (making up a random number of the eligible women in all history to have a child), who was chosen by God to be the most exalted with the highest possible honour – what would be your first reaction? I think the humblest people would probably quietly be excited and run to tell at least their family and friends. Those are the most humble. The normal person would be excited and wonder “what does this mean? what do I get? what are the perks?”. What is Saint Mary’s reaction? She prays to God, thanks Him, tells Him that she understand what an honour this, and then gets up and thinks, “My elderly cousin must be needing help since she’s pregnant while so old, I think I ought to go help her.” Who does that? The First Lady of the whole world, when finding out her role, says, “I will go help people who need it.” It’s incredible. How many of us serve in our need. She’s pregnant and has needs too, but in her need, in her time where she should have been served herself, she was serving others.
I will speak of two more things because I never intended this one to be this long. Bear with me.
She never speaks of her needs, but she brings the needs of others to her Son. Look at the wedding at Cana of Galilee. She says it so simply, “they have no wine”. She knows her Son, she trusts Him. She just states the issue and goes straight to Him. Other than this, she is always in the background. Do you not think, as a mother, that she did not wish to have access to her Son the way others did? Do you not think as a mother that she had the need of care and nurturing? She had lost her guardian (Joseph), and then her son to His ministry. Other people were having their needs addressed by Him daily. He was healing people, teaching people, casting out demons – He was at their feet. Yet, we see no time where the blessed Mother of all of us says, “I want this” or “I need this”. Not only is she not asking, but she is putting up with hearing people talk badly of her kid. Not everyone loved Jesus. Many people had only negative things or extremely terrible things to say about her son. She does not express how she feels or what she wants or needs in all of this. In fact, even at the point of her son’s death, it’s not even her that says to Jesus, “Who will take care of me?” She is not thinking of herself. This self-abandonment and humility is astounding. It’s our Lord who assigns her Saint John and vice versa. She is entirely and completely selfless.
The last thing, because to me it is the most moving thing in her, is her ability to endure pain. When our Lady fulfilled the law and took her son to the temple, she was told,
“Behold, this child is set for the fall* and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
She knew He was going to be controversial, she knew He was going to be hated, she knew in her heart, her son would suffer. She was told directly, a sword will pierce through your own soul also. Many mothers experience pain. Many mothers have suffered loss. Not many mothers willingly and knowingly say Amen, let it be so – to knowing that they might lose their children. Saint Mary raised a son, knowing that she was going to suffer. It’s one thing to live life normally and suddenly experience pain or loss, it’s another to watch a healthy child grow and know that you are going to have a deep pain, that your child would be hated, that your child would suffer, or that your child would die. Having that foreknowledge of what would happen changes the meaning of every interaction, because you know where everything is headed. Imagine sitting with a friend knowing you might not ever see him again, versus sitting with a friend and finding out the next day that that meeting with him was your last. Right away, most of us think about what we would have said to him or her, or what we would have done with our time together and other such things. Now think of what it was like for Saint Mary to know the pain that was coming, and to still deny herself every single day of His life! She was swaddling a baby in the manger, knowing this. She was watching Him learn to walk knowing this. She was cuddling Him and playing with Him knowing this. She watched Him leave the house for this. Instead of saying, “You’re my son and I know that you are going to suffer and that I will suffer too, so I want to spend all the time in the world with you that I can“, she accepts and supports the son who is not with her, but with the people. She watches from a distance and denies herself and her own pain and sorrow and grief, for the sake of the whole world. She watches to the very end, in spite of the pain of grief truly piercing her heart daily. What a mother!
If you have not already, try and cultivate a relationship with the mother of all, the new Eve, the door of Paradise – the one around whom the Cherubim and Seraphim fly. All of these honours are hers because of her virtue, her exemplary life and conduct, and her deep love – yes, her self-denial. Celebrate her feast with joy, ponder on her life, and ask her to enter your life as a mother. Her aid is one that changes lives, her companionship brings comfort, and her motherhood is a fortress.
The whole creation rejoices with you, proclaiming and saying, Hail to you o full of grace, the Lord is with you!
Most Holy Theotokos, pray for us!