May is also the month we honor Mary with special prayers, songs and processions. Mary reminds us that, through the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus became a member of a family who grew up with the care of his mother.
The series of editorials this month have all been about Mary. As we complete this series, I would like to take a closer look at the images and stories of Mary as the mother of Jesus.
The birth narratives present us with a teenage Mary riding a donkey in her ninth month of pregnancy. She gives birth in a not-so-sanitary environment of a stable, without medical care. Mary, the new mother, pray for us.
Later, we meet Mary as the mother of a 12 year old, when she and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for the annual festival. As many a mother of a junior high child has experienced, she worries when he is not where he should have been. Likely, she rejoices when she finds him in the temple listening to the elders, but she probably also was annoyed that he went off without telling his parents where he would be. I can picture Mary, perhaps sternly, directing him back home, and I find it curious that we don’t hear any stories about Jesus for about 18 more years after that. Mary, the mother of a teenager, pray for us.
At the beginning of his public ministry, Mary and Jesus are together in St. John’s account of the wedding feast at Cana. The party runs out of wine and Mary points this out to Jesus, who indicates that he does not believe that it is the proper time to be open about his divinity. His Mother says otherwise, however, instructing the waiter to “do whatever he tells you,” and Jesus begins his public ministry. Mary, the mother of a young adult who is just getting started, pray for us.
The story of the crucifixion of Jesus positions Mary at the foot of the cross. Parents who have lost a child to a tragic death know the immense heartache and pain Mary must have experienced. Yet she stays by his side, seemingly without concern for her own safety. Jesus, with the love of a son for his mother, entrusts her to the care of his beloved disciple. Mary, the grieving mother who has lost her son, pray for us.
I appreciate the common images of a younger Mary holding the baby Jesus as well as the radiant images of Our Lady of Guadalupe or Our Lady of Fatima. Yet, these stories from Scripture have opened my eyes to a less common and perhaps more accessible depiction of Mary. Of all the images I have ever seen, the one which has impacted me the most is a statue that depicts Mary as an older woman.
The life expectancy in first century Israel was such that Mary as a woman in her mid-40s, with a son in his early 30s, was a senior citizen of her time. So I have come to love and honor Mary as a nurturing mother with a grandmother’s face inviting children and adults alike to come and be with her.
Most images of Mary, Seat of Wisdom depict a younger Mary with Jesus the child, as a sign that she holds in her lap the source of Eternal Wisdom. Yet this statue of Mary as a senior citizen, (seen with this teaching editorial) arms outstretched, invites all of us to her maternal embrace and comfort. Through her, we can come to know what it means to say “yes” to God, to be a disciple, and to know Jesus. This Jewish mother not only loves her son but loves us as well. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
Dr. Brian B. Reynolds is chief administrative officer and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Louisville.