As I write this, the Church is celebrating Mary, Mother of the Church on June 6. The tremendous gift that Our Lady is for the Catholic Church and for all humanity is something we can all ponder deeply, taking up the model that she gives us as she “ponders all these things in her heart.” I feel a tremendous responsibility to share the great image of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, especially in our diocese, because so many of God’s beloved children do not know her and even reject the idea of knowing and venerating her. I am very compassionate toward those who do not embrace Our Blessed Mother because the gift that she is truly is astounding and easily disbelieved. How could a woman, a true flesh-and-blood woman, be the Mother of God? Like so many aspects of our Catholic faith it can easily seem impossible and even wrong to believe that a mere woman could give birth to God’s Divine Son, and not only give birth to him, but nurture and support him through every moment of his Incarnation.
Many have likely studied the theologically significant term theotokos. This Greek term literally means “God bearer” and the Council of Ephesus declared this in 431 AD. As I reflect on this great mystery in the context of our year of the Immaculate Virgin Mary and the Eucharist here in the Diocese of Tyler, I feel the urge to move beyond the wondrous truth that this young maiden, a virgin, gave birth to Jesus of Nazareth. Certainly the birth of the Son of God by a woman is enough to examine for many pages, but I encourage us all to let our imaginations embrace the reality that Mary of Nazareth not only gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, but she truly mothered him throughout his incarnation. It is important to also express the reality that the Immaculate Virgin Mary continues to mother Jesus even as she continues to mother his Church.
In order to consider further the question of how Mary was truly mother to her Son, Jesus, throughout his 33 years and beyond, I turn to one of my favorite passages in the Gospel of Luke. Luke 1:39-56 captures the Visitation, when Mary goes to her cousin Elizabeth, as both of these women are with child. This inspiring encounter between Mary and Elizabeth includes the leap of John the Baptist in the womb of his mother in the presence of his Lord and the joyful canticle of the Magnificat spoken by Mary. But my focus for our present reflection is on Mary’s motherly instinct for the child Jesus newly conceived in her womb. She cares for her newly conceived Son by setting out in haste to visit her relative who is also with child. Mary instinctively knows that she and Elizabeth both need each other’s support as they nurture the lives of their children. I find something truly beautiful about Mary’s visit. It is what we would describe in modern terms as good prenatal care.
Science has come to understand that the nine months during which a child grows in the womb of his mother are a critical time for healthy development. Mary’s nurturing love in these earliest days of the life of the Incarnate Word in her womb reflects the care and tender love that she will offer him throughout his life on this earth and into our present day. Mary truly serves as the Mother of the Son of God for all time and her motherly care extends to all of us as the mystical body of her Son, the Church.
May all of us draw closer to the Immaculate Virgin Mary in our own journey through this life and come to an ever deeper understanding of what the Lord’s word from the cross means for all of us: “Behold your Mother.”