I hope those of you who are women had a blessed and happy Mother’s Day. Each of us, as women, are called to be mother. Some have been called to be a biological mother or an adoptive mother, but each of us, by virtue of our femininity has been called to be “spiritual mother.” Perhaps that is why I spent a good portion of my Mother’s Day thinking about our Blessed Mother. She is the pre-eminent and most exalted icon of spiritual maternity. In her we see the realization of the feminine ideal, the perfect woman, who identifies every woman’s call and mission.
St. Luke’s Gospel portrays this so clearly. In Chapter 1, verses 26-45, we see Mary living out the fundamental call of womanhood — to bring life to the world, a call that is not dependent upon physical motherhood, though Mary surely experienced this, but a call that “births” eternal life in the souls of those with whom she comes in contact.
Read the above passage from St. Luke’s Gospel and see what happens when Mary enters the home of Zachariah and Elizabeth. Note that St. Luke doesn’t tell us what Mary’s greeting was, rather he tells us what happened when Mary spoke — the Baptist leapt for joy in the womb of his mother and Elizabeth proclaimed with her lips that the child Mary carried was her Lord.
Theologians tell us that the leap of John the Baptist was his assent to Jesus and his assent to all this would mean. And Elizabeth’s proclamation was her verbal acknowledgment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in her life. In a word, salvation came into the home of Zachariah because Our Lady carried within her the One who is Salvation. This is spiritual maternity. This is spiritual motherhood. And this is the call God has entrusted to every woman in every age and in every state in life.
Because Mary is the Mother of the Word Made Flesh, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Savior, Redeemer, and Messiah, she is our spiritual mother. As St. Louis De Montfort reminds us in his Treatise on True Devotion to Mary:
“If Jesus Christ is the Head of men, is born in her, then the predestinate, who are the members of that Head, ought also to be born in her, by a necessary consequence. One and the same mother does not bring forth into the world the head without the members, or the members without the head; for this would be a monster of nature. So, in like manner, in the order of grace, the head and the members are born of one and the same Mother and if a member of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ — that is to say, one of the predestinate — were born of any other mother than Mary, who has produced the Head, he would not be one of the predestinate, nor a member of Jesus Christ, but simply a monster in the order of grace” (no. 32).
While this understanding of Mary’s motherhood had a slow development theologically, it was nonetheless part of the sensus fidelium — it was in the mind, heart, and devotion of Christians — from the inception of the Church. In fact, one of the earliest prayers ever found and historically preserved was a prayer to Our Lady asking for her intercession. It dates back to 250 AD and is called the Sub Tuum Praesidium:
“We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God;
Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen”
This prayer causes us to note that as early as the 3rd Century, the faithful already referred to Our Blessed Lady as “Mother of God,” Theotokos in Greek, which means “God-bearer.” This understanding of her role in the life of Christ and in our life, too, stems from the words of Jesus when from the Cross he instructs “Woman, behold thy son. Son behold thy mother” (John 19:36-37).
The Church has always taught that through Jesus’ entrustment of His Mother to St. John and St. John to His Mother, Jesus was entrusting each one of us to her and her to each one of us as well. In other words, Jesus gave His Mother to us and gave us to His Mother. In a very real sense, this preserves the divine order — just as God determined the Word made flesh would come via the woman (Gen. 3:15, Gal. 4:4), so too will all return to Him by the same means — through His Mother.
Lumen Gentium (Constitution on the Church), a document from Vatican II, speaks to this clearly and with precision:
“She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the Temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls wherefore she is our Mother in the order of grace (no. 61) … This Motherhood of Mary in the order of grace, which began with the consent she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the Cross, lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation” (no. 62).
This section of Lumen Gentium does not end with Mary’s intercession only, however. It goes on to say that Mary’s maternal love makes her “care for the brothers and sisters of her Son who still journey on earth…” Indeed, she is our spiritual mother who is always bringing her Son to us and us to her Son. This should bring us great comfort and consolation in all the vicissitudes of life. And, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, this spiritual truth does precisely what Lumen Gentium says it should — move(s) us to love this Mother with a filial love (no. 67).
As women, and especially as women of grace, we seek to follow our Mother’s lead. By virtue of our femininity and through the grace of Baptism we have been given life at this moment in the history of man to “birth” Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus. We do this each time we consciously seek to cooperate with the grace offered us at every moment of our day, to accept the contradictions and reversals of life with trust and faith, to embrace difficulties and trials with surrender and confidence in God, to be a conduit of God’s own life in all of the various occupations that take up the moments and hours of our lives.
But we do this not alone. We do this with the help of Our Heavenly Mother, clothed with the sun, who procures for us the grace we need through her maternal beatitude and, through enduring example and love, leads us in the way we should go.
May we stand with our Blessed Mother and, with joy and hope, move forward in our call and mission. Thus will we live out to the full our call to motherhood.