How is Mary our mother? Consider what happened to Sr. Denise, one of the sisters in my community. She shared with me:
“A few years ago, my mom passed away suddenly. It was a difficult time for me, for we had been very close. Moreover, there had not been any time to say goodbye. In the following days, I experienced not only the deep pain of grief, but a stark emptiness. My mom was gone, and I felt very alone. One day, as I was helping to clean her apartment, I found her rosary tucked into the side pocket of the recliner. That night, as I prayed the rosary, I held her beads in my hands. All of a sudden, a powerful feeling of Mary’s presence came over me, and I felt cradled like a child in her arms. And there, with Mary holding me, I sensed the presence of my mom. This brought tears to my eyes, peace to my mind, and comfort to my heart. It was almost as though Our Lady was telling me that she, my mother, is with me, and that my mom is still with me too. Now, every time I pray the rosary, I remember that moment, and I remember that Mary is very close to me—and so is my Mom. The Rosary gives me strength and courage and reminds me every day that Mary will never leave me, and neither will my mom.”
Because Mary is our mother she is always with us. We have heard from our earliest years in religion class that Mary is our mother. We hear it in homilies and meditations and conferences, too. In fact, we may have heard it so often that we take it for granted and don’t think about it that much. Then there are those special times that we have a closer experience of Mary’s presence, as Sr. Denise did after her mother’s death.
But how do we know that Mary is our mother? This truth came to us from Jesus on the cross. As Jesus was suffering and nearing his death, he looked down and saw his mother standing there along with Saint John, the much beloved disciple:
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (Jn 19:26-27).
Although we identify the beloved disciple with John, he is never actually named in the fourth Gospel. Some Scripture scholars say that this is because he is meant to represent every disciple, down through the ages. So when Jesus tells his beloved disciple that Mary is his mother, he is really telling all of us that she is our mother. Jesus is inviting us to take Mary into our spiritual home, our life of faith.
As our country celebrates Mothers’ Day, we can reflect on how motherly Our Blessed Mother is to all of us. This is beautifully illustrated by the story of Saint Juan Diego in Mexico. Mary’s special tenderness toward him can help us to grow closer to Mary ourselves.
Juan Diego was making his long trip to Mass on the cold morning of December 9, 1531, which at that time was the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Suddenly he heard some beautiful music. Looking to see where it came from, Juan found himself at the top of Tepeyac Hill, near Mexico City. He was startled to see a beautiful young woman standing there. She looked like a morena, that is, one of his own people. In his own language, Nahuatl, she called him by name, using a nickname that showed great affection: “Juanito,” she said, “Juan Dieguito, where are you going?”
Hardly knowing what to make of it all, Juan’s words tumbled out, “I am on my way to Mass.” As if to answer his unspoken question, the lady continued, “Know and understand, dearest of my children, that I am the ever-holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life, Mother of the Creator of heaven and earth.”
Mary, the Mother of God? Juan thought. How is it possible that she should come to me? Who am I? I am no one of importance! Despite his own estimation of himself, the Virgin Mary entrusted him with a great task. She told Juan that she wanted a church to be built there on that spot. Why? Mary herself told him that she wanted to “show forth all my love, compassion, assistance, and defense because I am your loving Mother: yours, and all who are with you, and of all who live in this land, and of all who love me, call to me, and trust in me. I will hear their cries and will give remedy to their sorrows and sufferings.”
Then the beautiful Lady told Juan to bring her message to the bishop. Juan did as she asked. The bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, was skeptical, however, and found it hard to believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary had really appeared to the humble man before him. Though he spoke kindly to Juan Diego, he was not convinced.
Downhearted, Juan Diego left the bishop’s residence. He again saw the Lady when he passed by Tepeyac and in dismay reported that he had not succeeded.
But the Lady, not to be daunted, repeated her commission. Juan Diego had to go back to the bishop. So he did. After being made to wait a long time, he was finally allowed to see the bishop again, who asked Juan to bring him back some sign so that he could know for certain that the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to him. So Juan went back home, wondering where all this would lead.
In the meantime, however, his uncle had fallen sick. Juan was in a hurry to go and get a priest to bring him the sacraments, so he took a detour to avoid seeing the Lady. But the Lady appeared to him anyway. Calling him “my little son,” she asked him where he was going. When he told her, the Lady reassured him that his uncle would recover. With a look of great love, Mary smiled at him and gently chided him for his doubts, “Do not let anything afflict you, and do not be afraid of any illness, or accident, or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else?”
After those comforting words, Mary told Juan to gather the flowers he would find at the top of the hill and bring them to her. Flowers in December? he wondered, but he obediently did as she asked. When he arrived at the top of the hill, he couldn’t believe what he saw: beautiful Castilian roses at the peak of their bloom! He gathered as many as he could hold and brought them to the Lady, who lovingly arranged them in his tilma. She then told him to bring them to the bishop.
When Juan Diego returned to the bishop’s residence, he again had to wait. Finally, when he was able to meet the bishop, Juan opened his cloak and the beautiful roses spilled out. The bishop and others in the room were astounded at what they saw: an image of the Lady imprinted on Juan’s tilma. This image, of course, is the amazing icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of Mexico and loving Mother of all people. The bishop believed Juan and soon after started to build a church at Tepeyac Hill. It has grown into one of the most popular shrines to Mary in the whole world.
Mary has the same tenderness for us as she did for Juan Diego. Even though she may not appear to us, her special presence is always with us. We may at times experience that presence through a stronger connection. But even if we don’t feel anything, we know by faith that Mary is always there, at our side. We can turn to her anytime for her special help. As we celebrate Mothers’ Day, let’s not forget our loving and tender spiritual mother, Mary the Mother of God.
by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP
Picture by Creatólicos