Although I’ve been Catholic and praying the Hail Mary all my life, it’s only in the past few years that I’ve come to a more profound and personal appreciation of Mother Mary.
It started in college, during a season of Advent. I participated in a “Busy Student Retreat,” which involved spiritual direction, small group prayer meetings, as well as a bunch of material for individual meditation and prayer. I think it was in a reflection on the Annunciation (when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her of the birth of Jesus, Luke 1:26-38) that I realized how integral Mary was in Jesus’ life, and how essential he was to hers. She was the first person to know that Jesus—the Incarnation of God—would dwell on earth so soon. But she had to accept her role, she had to say “yes” for everything to happen as planned. This young woman had incredible faith, unshakable trust, and a fountain of love—all virtues I’d like to possess myself.
Another thing I love about Mary is that during the Annunciation she asked Gabriel how the conception would be possible, seeing as she was a virgin. She accepted the message pretty much instantly, but she still sought to better understand what was going to happen. He told her the Holy Spirit would have a role in the conception, and she didn’t push for more information or for some other answer that she might have wanted to hear. She accepted the news with complete and humble faith.
And then what really amazes me is that Mary was not to play just any role in the life of Jesus, the savior of the world, she was to be his mother. After she gave birth, she would be the one (with Joseph, of course) to comfort him when he got scared at night, to make his lunch every day, to teach him about the customs of their society and the traditions of their Jewish culture.
I’m reminded of the scene in The Passion of the Christ when Jesus and Mary are laughing and joking together as they set the table for a meal (I think that’s what they’re doing, if I remember correctly). While these two people had extremely significant roles in the history of salvation, they were also mother and son and had a special kind of relationship like no other in the world.
I wonder sometimes if when Mary worried about Jesus getting hurt or sick or lost, she worried about her son or about the Son of God who had been left to her care. As I think about it now, though, all our children are gifts from God. I know, as much as I can at this point, that there is so much beyond our control as the people around us grow and change. Now I think maybe it’s more difficult to separate “my son” from “God’s son entrusted to my care” than I first assumed. Another lesson learned from Mary’s gentle motherhood and exemplary love.
Mary’s life changed in an instant, and it was never again what she had expected it to be. But she embraced that with an open mind and a loving heart. If I can follow her example in even my more minor roles as a mother—patiently washing dishes, making meals when I’m exhausted, feeding children in the middle of the night—I believe I will be one step closer to the happy, peaceful woman she was, and a little bit closer to her son, my God, as well.
As a Christian, as a Catholic, as a woman, and now especially as a mother, I strive for the kind of trust and humility Mary had, and I’m grateful for her prayers and for the example she offers.