It is All About Relationships

Celebrating Mother’s Day and the month of May reminded me of an experience I had in the summer of 1996. I was invited to be a part of an inter-denominational clergy trip to Israel sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. During the journey, we visited Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites as well as memorials of deep significance to the Jewish people.

At each of the Christian sites, one of the Catholic or Protestant ministers was asked to offer a prayer. I was assigned the reflection at the Church of the Annunciation. Aware that at the time many who were not Catholic had very negative understandings of our devotion to Mary as well as being conscious that I was the only Catholic woman in the group (of clergy), I prepared carefully for what I would say. How do I explain the Blessed Virgin Mary in this situation? Theologically, I knew that the basis of our devotion to Mary has always been her relationship to Jesus Christ, so that is what I focused on and, thankfully, whatever I said seemed to make sense, to even resonate with those who heard.

These memories have drawn me to reflect on my relationship with Our Lady. Like all other relationships, my own with Mary has changed over the years. What might that mean at this point in my life? Certainly Mary’s relationship with Jesus grew and changed from the moment of acceptance of Him into her life and her body at the Annunciation, to her carrying Him and sharing His Presence with Elizabeth and the unborn John at the Visitation. Very close to His arrival in this world, she must have been concerned throughout the arduous journey to Bethlehem and distraught when there was no place for Him to be born. His birth certainly was a time of pain into joy, and then she was protective of His life as they fled into Egypt. What must it have been for her to take Jesus to be circumcised and to be told that a sword would pierce her heart? Yet how much delight must Jesus have brought to their home in Nazareth as He grew in wisdom, age and grace? As a teenager, He separated from His parents and caused them great concern. To their dismay, He only said: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” As a mother, how did she hear those words? What was it like at the wedding feast of friends when there was a shortage of wine? When she told Jesus about the need, He commented that “His time had not yet come.” His actions contradicted His words: he worked His first miracle at her request.

What did she make of Jesus’ remarks when she and her other children visited Jesus during His preaching and healing ministry? Jesus was told of their presence and then said: “Who is my mother and sister and brother? It is the one who hears the Word of God and keeps it.” Did she feel that their relationship was being denied by her son? Did Mary come to realize later that He was telling all who would listen, that the relationship that He had with his Mother and immediate family was the model for their relationship with God? How many of Jesus’ words did she have to treasure in her heart in order to understand them much more deeply later?

Mary’s relationship with her son brought her to the Last Supper and ultimately to the road of Calvary and the Crucifixion. As this child whom she has loved so deeply is suffering the most painful psychological and physical experience anyone could imagine, what does He do? Jesus looks to His mother and in an amazing act of love, provides for her care after His death: “Woman, behold your son.” And to His faithful disciple, the disciple whom He loved, Jesus said: ”Behold your Mother.” After His death and burial, I cannot imagine that Jesus’ first visit wasn’t to His Mother, even though the Gospels have no record of this. Mary was also there with the disciples in the upper room when Jesus met them all again and she was certainly at the Ascension. Theirs was a relationship that spanned from crib to crucifixion and beyond.

As I reflect on my evolving relationship with Our Lady, and as I ponder the many events which the Gospels portray of Mother and Son, I see more clearly that events in my life that have been shared with Mary have brought me into a deeper understanding of her Son. I know that I am not alone in this experience. Mary’s maternal relationship with Jesus continues to give birth to and to nurture all of our relationships with her Son. She is truly the Mother of the Church, the Mother of all of the People of God.

In the musical Les Miserables, we hear the following:

“To love another person is to see the Face of God.”

Through our relationship with her, Mary gently and patiently teaches us to love deeply as she reveals to us the Face of her Son, the very Face of God.

Sister Anne Marie Diederich