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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XVIII No. 4
Christmastide 2003 - Epiphany 2004
Sons and Mothers
As we live our faith our natural loves are taken up into
and made the tuned and obedient instrument of Love Himself.
by Rita Joseph
My five sons were all home together recently for a brief two weeks. How the time flew! First the joy of the long-awaited homecoming -- perhaps heaven is like that wonderful first moment across the threshold -- the exhilaration, the hugs, the laughter, the profound thankfulness. Of course, there will surely be two great differences -- that moment in heaven will last forever -- and it will be without the shadow of the next goodbye. But how that shadow hovered each day of their stay -- while I cooked their favorite dishes, and mended and laundered their clothes, laughed at their nonsense, and rejoiced with them over their successes, commiserated over their disappointments, and mulled and muddled over their problems, chastising them for the wrong things they had done and praising them for what they were getting right. And then came the inevitable good-byes, ending as always in tears -- my tears -- as soon as they were out of sight. And as always when in distress, I turned to our Blessed Mother -- Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to Jesus, her Divine Son.
"Do not cry..." Jesus Said
One thing I've learned over the years -- Jesus responds so warmly to a mother in tears! He comforts mothers in a special way -- often in a very practical way. When He was here on earth, remember how He responded to the widow of Naim? "The Lord was moved with pity on seeing her and said to her, 'Do not cry', then He stepped forward and touched the litter; at this the bearers halted. He said, 'Young man, I bid you get up'. The dead man sat up and began to speak. Then Jesus gave him back to his mother" (Lk 7:13-15).
Was Jesus thinking of His own mother, seeing ahead to her terrible grief at the foot of the Cross? How hard for Jesus that all His life with Mary, He was burdened with the fore-knowledge of what sorrow she would have to endure. He knew also that He could not take it from her. From her first fiat, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord... be it done unto me according to thy word" (Lk 1:38), there could be no turning back. She was to drink of the same cup that He would drink, the cup that so appalled Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, that He prayed: "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by" (Lk 22:42).
But just as the Father could not spare His beloved Son from the terrible justice of His sacrifice on the Cross, (a justice that was made necessary by our sins and our Father's love for us even in our sinfulness), neither could Jesus spare His mother from the profound suffering required on her part in this great work of redemption. As Simeon warned her with her month-old little son in her arms: "... and thine own soul shall be pierced with a sword" (Lk 2:35).
No one who has ever on the Pieta could ever doubt Mary's capacity to love and to pity and to help us always -- Mary, that stricken mother immobilized by inimitable depths of love and sorrow, holding for some few tender moments in her arms the long-tortured body of her Son taken down from the Cross.
What a hard road Mother and Son had to travel to Calvary. Each one knew what was destined -- they both knew their Isaiah. And yet how bravely each embarked on that road -- Mary with her ardent young heart singing the greatness of the Lord because He had remembered His promise, His covenant of mercy with His people; the young twelve-year-old Jesus, eager to begin, listening and asking questions in the Temple, astonishing the teachers there with His understanding and His answers.
But Mother and Son face setbacks. Mary finds herself rejected initially by Joseph. Then when her time comes for her baby to be born, she finds herself homeless, a stranger in Bethlehem. "She gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:7). Then the visit of the Magi, and hurried escape from the murderous Herod, and now mother and Son, with Joseph, are refugees in Egypt. And even when Herod dies, the shadow of fear for her Son persists -- they return to Israel, but not to their familiar Judea, where Herod's son Archelaus is reigning -- rather they must settle in the safer obscurity of Nazareth, in Galilee. And in the blessed ordinariness of that humble home, Mary ponders in her heart all these things that had come to pass, and everything that has been foretold of her Son that is yet to come. And "The child grew in size and strength, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him" (Lk 2:40).
And then, at age twelve, Jesus was lost. Which mother among us hasn't known -- even if only momentarily -- the gut-wrenching panic of a child lost? Mary, searching with Joseph for the boy Jesus, must have suffered an agony of anxiety. This Son of hers, destined to suffer for the redemption of the sins of the whole world, was now missing. Could His hour have come so soon? This Son who already once had escaped a violent death ordered by ruthless authorities -- was He again in danger? Was He already discovered, injured, even dead? And then the blessed relief of finding Him safe in the Temple. "Son, why have you done this to us? You see, in sorrow your father and I have been searching for you" (Lk 2:48). How many mothers all through the years have uttered this same cry, over similar traumas: "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been anxious for you"?
"Do you not know...?"
But this young Jesus, the immensity of His mission already troubling Him, tells His Mother, "Did you not know I must be about My Father's business?" Yet, we are told, they did not understand what He said to them. Nevertheless, "He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them; and His mother kept all these things carefully in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before men" (Lk 2:51-52).
Though the boy Jesus obeyed His mother, the grave responsibility of His great redemptive mission must have weighed ever heavier with each year as His "hour" approached. Later, He was to say: "I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze" (Lk 12:49).
And the signal for Jesus to begin His public ministry came from His Mother at the wedding at Cana. True, she had not understood when Jesus was twelve, but she had kept and pondered these things in her heart, until with one momentous directive, she turned to her Son and said: "They have no more wine". Jesus replied: "...My hour has not yet come". But His Mother instructed the servants: "Do whatever He tells you" (Lk 2:3-4). Quietly, firmly, obediently, as the handmaid of the Lord, she sends her beloved Son Jesus forward on His public ministry, which she knows has to end in His death. At a word from His Mother, Jesus changed the water into wine, and revealed His true identity, His ultimate mission. "Jesus performed this first of His signs at Cana in Galilee. Thus did He reveal His glory, and His disciples believed in Him" (Lk 2:11).
From that day on, the blessed ordinariness of His home life in Nazareth was at an end. Less than three years later, as the time approached when He was to be taken from this world, Jesus embarked on His final journey to Jerusalem, His cri de coeur: "The foxes have lairs, the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Lk 9:58).
How this must have hurt His mother. No longer was she able to give Him a safe home, she who had been for nine months the trustworthy Ark of the New Covenant. Mary had carried with such love this long awaited Messiah, first as an embryo, then as a fetus, safely nourished and cherished in her womb; Mary who had wrapped the newborn Jesus in swaddling clothes and made a home for Him in a manger; Mary, who had fled with Him to Egypt to keep Him safe from Herod's merciless slaughter; Mary who, together with Joseph had provided a home for Jesus in Nazareth, a home that for nearly three decades remained a refuge of peace and love and security. And now her Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem with "nowhere to lay His head".
Dear Mary, Jesus' Mother, our Mother, help me to face the future with some of your courage. Help me to know when I must let go. Help me to accept that there are roads that my sons each must travel on their own, roads that I can't travel, burdens that I can't help them carry, hurts that I can't make better, crosses that I can't take from them or for them.
Our Father in Heaven, I give my sons to you -- into your keeping -- knowing that that You love them even more than I do, trusting that You will keep them close to You and never let them be parted from You. Jesus, Lord, You know about human love better than anyone -- You know the hard knot of joy and sorrow, hope and fear that accompanies each new stage of what each one of our family is called to do in the Father's service. You promised us Lord, that You would not leave us orphans. Send us the Holy Spirit. Teach us, dear Lord, to love as You love, to forgive as You forgive, to endure as You endured, and to please the Father as You pleased Him. Truly, You are the Way, the Truth and the Life -- You are everything worth loving, worth having, worth wanting, worth knowing, worth being. You are our meaning, Lord, You are our strength, our confidence, our courage, You are our hope, our best and last hope. You are our way home.
Rita Joseph has represented family concerns at UN conferences, and writes and lectures on social issues especially concerning women and families, and has made a special study of the Holy Father's writings on family and on women. She has previously lectured at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Melbourne. Rita and her husband live in Canberra, Australia.
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