What is the one thing about your mother you would treasure forever in your heart? Is it a photograph or a piece of jewelry, the memory of her voice or her lingering scent? Is it an expensive heirloom or some trinket with sentimental value? I have some of the above, mostly photographs and memories, nothing of real value to anyone else. But the truly valuable treasures I know I have received from my mom are the ones I have incorporated into my life and my faith. My mom taught me to pray and to love the things of God. She wasn’t into a lot of external religious devotions, which is why I’m not either. She taught me quiet simplicity, dedication and perseverance. She left the major task of discipline at home to my dad, but she did not miss the opportunity to get her two cents in, with kindness and conviction sparingly but effectively.
For the longest time, whenever I thought of my mom who is alive and well by the way, there would only be one distinct image that came to my mind. It was not the look in her eyes or the way she smiled, not that she taught in the public school system for over 25 years or that she raised seven children, not an image of her standing next to my dad or attending to household tasks. Whenever I thought of my mom, the one distinct image that came to mind did not even include her. I imagined instead a steaming plate of spaghetti.
At most every special event growing up: birthdays, graduations, Christmas, Easter, family gatherings, picnics, parties … mom would prepare spaghetti. It never occurred to me that we were not Italian, or that the only spaghetti I had ever had was unknown to the rest of the human race, and they did not know what they were missing. The day I realized my mom’s sauce was unique in all the world, that ordinary dining experience I had always taken for granted transformed into something extraordinary.
Having a mother is not a unique experience. We all have mothers, even different kinds at different times of life: birth mothers and adoptive mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers and mothers-in-law, mothers at home, mothers at school, mothers at work, even mothers on the playground. What makes that one person I call “mom” unique and special is that she is mine. And even though I share her with my siblings, my mother is mine in a uniquely special way. She will never be mother to anyone else as she is mother to me.
Today we honor the woman whom God chose to be mother of his Son. The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD declared the Virgin Mary to be Theo-tokos (God-bearer). It declared that the one true God came among us as a true human being, born of a human mother. This woman was mother not only of the human nature of Jesus Christ, but of his whole entire person, both human and divine. The woman who became mother of the child Jesus was also mother of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. God is truly human and divine in Jesus Christ, and Mary is truly his mother.
The connection between Jesus and Mary is significant and essential to both of them. Without her, he could not have taken on a nature like ours to save us from our sins. Without him, she would not have been a mother. But true, God could have chosen a different woman to be the mother of his Son, and Mary could have had other children without divine intervention. Yet God brought about the fulfillment of his divine plan in exactly the way that he did, and that significant and essential connection between Jesus and Mary is like no other. Last week we celebrated his arrival in human history as a child of a human mother. Today we celebrate her role as mother of God’s only Son. The honor we bestow upon the woman who gave God a share of our nature and nurtured the Holy Child to maturity derives reason and significance from the person of her Son. Since the Son is important to us, and the mother is important to the Son, then the mother is important to us. For this very reason, our devotion to the virgin mother must draw us to her Son. Anything else brings neither her nor her Son any honor whatsoever. It potentially turns into a display of our piety for its own sake, that we might impress one another by what we do, and then call it devotion. It is rather an empty show. It lacks the essential element that gives it meaning and purpose — that it lead us to the Son. But when we honor her fittingly, we honor him fittingly as well who looked upon her lowliness in his mercy, blessing her before all generations.
Like any true son or daughter, Jesus would honor his mother for those specific qualities that shaped his young life, putting him on the road to maturity. He would remember her words of inspiration and encouragement, her eyes, her smile, her scent. He would remember her quirks (I’m sure she had a few. She was human like you and me after all.), her preferences, her home management style. He would remember her lullabies and her stories, her favorite chair, her favorite shoes, her favorite time of year. And if she made spaghetti sauce or beef stew or chicken and dumplings, he would remember exactly how it was supposed to taste. It would be to him a most unique dining experience only because she was his mother, and he her son.
As today we honor the woman whom the Son of God grew up to call “mom,” we acknowledge her unique role in his upbringing. It was she who taught him how to pray and how to love the things of God. It was from her he would know the compassion of God. She would teach him to love the poor, the weak, the children and the oppressed. So if we desire to honor her along with her Son, we must understand how she is mother to us, and how her presence and guidance points the way to her Son. A few years ago, I finally wrote down my mom’s spaghetti sauce recipe. It will always remind me of her, although she continues to modify it just a little every time she makes it. That just tells me her recipe is a work in progress. And it is part of who I am, as my mother is and will always be part of me.
What significance does Mary have for you personally? What blessings have you received through her that in turn have become part of who you are? And how do you share your unique experience of her motherhood with those around you? When I was in the sixth grade, I pledged to pray the rosary everyday for the rest of my life. I can’t say I have done so faithfully. But I know that my devotion to the mother of God today extends beyond the rosary. More important still is that my devotion to her Son is my highest priority, as it should be. Devotion to the mother of God should lead us to Jesus. For unless we are first and foremost disciples of her Son, we cannot possibly profess devotion to her. Mary devoted her whole life to teaching Jesus to know and love God, and to serve God’s people. She does the same for us, that we might know and love God, and serve God’s people as disciples of her Son.