Mary and the meaning of Mother’s Day

Jenny Uebbing

I have celebrated eight Mother’s Days so far, being on the receiving end of not quite a decade of handmade cards and hinted-at gift suggestions from “the kids” (but perhaps purchased by daddy). I struggled early on with the fact that Mother’s Day, of all days and for all its charms, was not actually a day off for mother. That I was still needed for nursing, for disciplinary action, for snuggles and for diaper changes. I expect the first couple decades of motherhood to hold to a similar pattern. “Mommy, we made this for you. And we trashed the kitchen in so doing.”

The moment I started to enjoy my motherhood more deeply was the same moment I began to realize that it wasn’t actually about me. And it is a lesson I learn anew, over and over again. There is a battle that rages in my heart from the moment I wake up to someone’s early morning cries until the final stretch of bedtime chaos. I can loosely plan for little respites of relaxation and prayer with a cup of coffee or 20 minutes of stillness if all the nap times line up accordingly, but I cannot rely on it. In short: my days are not my own, and my time belongs to others.

In giving life, I have given my own life away.

Mary had a radically different experience of motherhood from the rest of us, at least on the surface. Only one baby, and what an exemplar model at that! A saintly husband who silently supported her decisions (she was perfect, after all), a child who never so much as rolled his eyes at her in sass, and God’s assurance that her domestic toils would merit an unfathomable heavenly reward.

Mary didn’t have to worry “am I doing this right?” or “will I mess him up?” And I bet she never felt like fleeing the house at Nazareth when Joseph came back from the wood shop at night.

And yet. I look at Mary’s history-altering fiat at the Annunciation and I see that her surrender was not death by a thousand diapers. Her consent to surrender immediate, it was immense, and it was ongoing. That fervent and fruitful yes at the very outset of her motherhood would encompass the remainder of her life on earth and chart the course for her role in eternity.

And in her surrender, she opened up the course of human events to a divine interruption such as the universe had never seen.

Mary’s heart was sufficiently open to receive the full power of the Holy Spirit’s love, a force so powerful that from her virgin womb, God the child would come forth nine months later. That’s the kind of love the world’s greatest mom is made of.

And her life with Jesus, however steeped in divinity, was not without heartache and toil. I think of the anxiety of the three days she and Joseph searched for tween Jesus, having lost sight of Him on a family road trip to Jerusalem; of the radical trust and courage it took to launch Him into His ministry at Cana, knowing full well the road to Jerusalem would dead end at Calvary. And of course, it is impossible to think of Mary without calling to mind an image of Michelangelo’s Pieta, a crushed and grieving mother holding the battered, lifeless body of her beloved Son.

In short, Mary saw it all. And that makes her the perfect model for us all, no matter how few or how numerous our children, and no matter how great or how hidden our crosses.

This Mother’s Day, let’s ask Mary to show us the radical power of surrender, and the beauty of a heart fully available to live one’s vocation.

COMING UP: Pilgrimage: A journey through Church history

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“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Paul proclaims these words the end of the book of Acts, capping off the biblical narrative of the work of the Apostles. The story of salvation history doesn’t end with the death of the Apostles, however, but continues in the life of the Church, fulfilling the words of Paul. The Gentiles have accepted the Gospel and have built up the Kingdom of God on earth. This is our story and we continue it.

If you want to know how the story continues after Acts, I’ll be teaching a class through the Denver Catholic Catechetical School this year, called “Pilgrimage: A Journey through Church History.” It begins with the early Church and follows the story to today. The class explores the Church Fathers, the fall of Rome, the building of Christendom, the High Middles ages, the Reformation (perfect for the 500th anniversary this year), the expansion of the missions around the globe, the modern revolutions, and the Second Vatican Council. We’ll be looking at and discussing the most important historical sources and exploring the art of the various time periods. We’ll be entering into the Church’s story by allowing the key figures and events to guide us.

We see one turning point in the story in the year 430. St. Augustine lay dying in Hippo as the Vandals prepared to sack and conquer the city. Augustine lived at the end of an age as the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, but also at the beginning of a new Christian one, an age he helped forge. The great doctor of the Church thought through the implications of the rise of Christianity in an age of political decline and saw right into the heart of history. History, unlike the focus of our textbooks, finds its true course not in politics or economics, but through love.

Augustine posited that all mankind belonged to one of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. One city took its shape by loving God before all else and the other in a love turned inward on oneself. Augustine taught us that we live as citizens of our true homeland above even within the midst of this passing world: “The glorious city of God is my theme in this work. . . . I have undertaken its defense against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city—a city surpassingly glorious.” Augustine’s teaching laid the foundation for a new Christian civilization, Christendom, which sprang up amidst the ruins of Rome in Europe.

One young man unexpectedly began building the foundations for this new civilization. He was studying within the ruins of the decadent city of Rome in about the year 500 and fled the temptations of town to live as a hermit in the wilderness. Eventually, others flocked to him and he laid the foundations for monasticism throughout Western Europe. The monasteries provided the foundation upon which a new society was built. St. Benedict, for this work, has been recognized as a patron of Europe and a true father of Christendom. His Rule does not seek to build up the earthly city, but looking to the City of God to “hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.” And this is the key to Catholic culture and history: seeking the lasting the city helps us to live better in this life, with wisdom, courage, and hope.

We are all pilgrims, living in exile in the city of this world, and journeying toward the heavenly Jerusalem: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Heb 13:14). And yet we have to build a city on earth and looking to the past provides inspiration for this great project. This is why we should study Church history, especially as our culture goes through a period of upheaval, not unlike St. Augustine’s time. We need the witness and the legacy of the saints and doctors to guide our pilgrimage as we continue the story of the Church. Looking to the past helps us to plot out our own path on our journey to eternal life.

Class details

“Pilgrimage: A Journey Through Church History,” John Paul II Center, Denver. Tuesdays, 9:00 AM. Information Sessions: Aug 1 and Sept 5, 9:00 AM. Classes begin Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Register at: https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1968327