Our spiritual mother’s role is historically unique
Mary of Nazareth is rightly recalled and uniquely honored as both virgin and mother.
Her dual vocation to dedicate herself entirely to God, effectively symbolized by her virginity, and at the same time place herself at the service of humanity, tenderly indicated by her maternity, indicates the balance that the church and every believer must maintain in their common and personal religious lives. Christians, like Mary, are called to be both chaste and fruitful, to be respectful in their friendships and to be generous in their relationships.
Blessed Mary’s perpetual virginity, enjoyed before, during and after the birth of her son, was not a sterile refusal to embrace human relationships. In fact, Mary welcomed human relationships and responded warmly to personal encounters. Mary hastened from northern Nazareth to southern Judea to tend to her cousin Elizabeth for six months. Mary was touched by the plight of Cana’s newlyweds, inducing Jesus to perform his first miracle to relieve their embarrassment. Mary welcomed a new companionship in later life when she and St. John joined households at Jesus’ final instruction. Mary offered her prayers, support and presence to the infant church establishing itself after Pentecost. Although Mary did not “know man” at any time during her earthly journey, she was eager to reach out to her fellow men and women on any number of occasions effectively producing good fruit all during her life. Mary’s was a fruitful virginity.
Uniquely in human history, the Blessed Virgin Mary was also a mother. Dutifully responding to the invitation announced through an angel, Mary consented to bear the Son of God, Jesus Christ, while sharing parenthood with Joseph to whom she was espoused. Remaining a virgin, Mary embraced family life as mother and wife. Mary chastely entered into a close relationship with her husband Joseph, travelling ninety miles with him to register at Bethlehem, and probably walking all the way! As good wife and good mother, Mary endured exile in Egypt rather than endanger her son. Mary shared the responsibilities of Jewish family life with Joseph, presenting their infant son at the Temple for blessing and making sure that the solemn Jewish festivals were a regular part of their maturing son’s life. Mary shared maternal heartbreak with Joseph when the boy Jesus was not to be found and she rejoiced with Joseph as their son “grew in wisdom, age and grace before God and man” at home in Nazareth. In later life, Mary, now on her own, displayed great concern for her son’s ambitions, hoping along with other relatives that he was not overdoing his mission. Mary, in near solitude, stood at the foot of the Cross as her son breathed his last and then received his limp body into her loving and distraught hands. Mary’s proved to be a fertile maternity, placing herself entirely at the service of her son, her husband and her God. Hers was a uniquely chaste but abundantly fruitful motherhood.
Every Christian, like Mary, is called to chastity. Christians must be chaste, always and everywhere exercising their life-giving bodily functions in the service of God’s designs for the human race. Chastity is certainly expected from the unmarried Christian who has not made an enduring spousal commitment to stable family life. The unchaste and unstable extra-marital relationships that abound in today’s society serve neither God nor humanity. And chastity is also expected from the married Christian whose loving encounters must always be open to the transmission of life. Authentic family planning does require preparation and sacrifice. Yet such maturity can actually enhance romance, increasing longing and demanding respect.
Every Christian, like Mary, is called to fecundity. Virgin or spouse, married or unmarried, cleric or lay, the Christian must be fruitful within the church and within society. Mary was certainly alert to the needs of the world around her – the pregnant Elizabeth, the hapless newlyweds, the infant Church. And Mary was alert to her own vocational demands as good wife, good mother, good Jew.
Christians can only venerate Mary’s singularity. Her role as virgin and mother is historically unique. Yet Christians can emulate Mary’s superiority. A modest chastity and a productive charity are within the grasp of every believer.