One of my young son’s favorite books is the P.D. Eastman classic Are You My Mother? In this story, baby bird becomes separated from his mother and frantically goes in search of her. Along the way, he asks many creatures and even inanimate objects if they’re his mother, but none of them are. Finally, when hope is just about lost, baby bird is reunited with his mother, who was out catching worms for their breakfast.
Sometimes this children’s book gets me to reflect on all the “mothers” in my life. I think primarily of my own mother, as well as my deceased godmother and grandmothers. I also think of my wife Maureen, who in our house is affectionately known as “Mommy.” And in recent years, my oldest daughter has joined the ranks of motherhood. I also call to mind the heroic birth mothers of my adopted children, and the faithful godmothers whose prayers and goodness help our children to grow in the love of Christ.
As I consider the matter further, I have to include the Grandmammy of them all: Eve, whom Scripture describes as “the mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20). And despite contemporary confusion regarding the family and gender roles, it’s true that all women are maternal at the heart of their being. I have been the recipient of the maternal love and nurture of women since my earliest school days, including in a special way the tender care shown me through the years by religious sisters.
The above list is formidable, and I’m profoundly grateful for all the “mothers” in my life. But there’s another mother who stands above them all, the masterpiece of God’s creation: the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Just as Christ is the New Adam, the source of new life for all those who were dead in sin, so from apostolic times Mary has been called the New Eve, the mother of all those who are alive in Christ. She truly is our spiritual mother, our mother in the order of grace (see Catechism, no. 968).
Here we must strenuously avoid the temptation to equate “spiritual” with “abstract” or “less than real.” Mary’s motherhood is more real than flesh-and-blood motherhood, not less. And by its nature it’s relational, calling us to a filial love of our Blessed Mother.
This truth was not lost on the first generation of Protestant reformers, who maintained some devotion to Mary. For example, Martin Luther once wrote that “the veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.” Only over time did this devotion subside as the Reformers further distanced themselves–and the Bible–from the living tradition of the Church, especially the sacred liturgy.
Thus Marian apologetics is very important today as we strive to demonstrate with clarity and reverence the biblical and traditional bases for our Marian beliefs. But ultimately, mothers are to be loved and honored, not merely proven and recognized.
I remember many years ago hearing a story about Gerry Faust, a devout Catholic man who coached the Notre Dame football team in the early 80s. He was visiting the home of a top recruit. Everything seemed to be going well, but then when the recruit’s mother entered the room, he treated her disrespectfully. That was all Coach Faust needed to see. He refused to offer the young man a scholarship. Despite the recruit’s obvious athletic ability, he had a significant character flaw. Coach Faust was wise enough to know that how we treat our mother speaks volumes as to what kind of person we are.
When it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we communicate what we really believe through our loving mother-son, mother-daughter relationships with her. It’s one thing to talk a good game and trot out Scripture verses and conciliar decrees. It’s quite another to live the Fourth Commandment’s injunction to honor our spiritual mother.
This Mother’s Day–and every day–let’s lovingly remember Mary our mother, whom all generations call “blessed” (Lk. 1:48).