As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, this year affords a perfect opportunity for us to reflect on the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother. Being sinless, Mary is not only the perfect model of a disciple of Christ but also the most perfect – and in fact, the only perfect – model of a mother.
We could ponder many aspects of Our Lady’s motherhood, but two perhaps less commonly discussed stand out to me: her constant availability, joined with her willingness to “let go.” Mary was always available to her Son, even in a unique way before His conception. At the Annunciation and always, she received Him with great joy and love. There to comfort and console, always ready to welcome Him and care for Him, she accepted Him even when it meant not understanding Him or being separated from Him in His human nature.
We could easily idealize Mary’s “letting go” of Jesus, a painful but necessary process for all mothers – both physical and spiritual. After all, Mary, being continuously in a state of grace, was never really without her Son. But as the most perfect mother, she would have felt more, not less, keenly the cross of a mother’s appropriate detachment. When her 12-year-old Son remained behind in the Temple for three days, she endured not only the pain of the separation and desperation but also confusion from her lack of understanding of His explanation for His behavior. At that moment, she had to let Him be His separate self – the Son of His Father, not just the son of Joseph (Luke 2:41-52).
Of course, the ultimate moment of letting go for Mary must have occurred at the crucifixion and death of her Son on Calvary. But while she was present with her Son throughout His suffering, she did not try to prevent it. She was not a mother who tried to do everything for her Child. She did not seek to take His sufferings away from Him by putting them on herself, but rather suffered with Him. Available to support Him with her love and devotion, she allowed Him to fulfill His own role, to accomplish the Father’s will in His life, even when it meant that she would “lose” Him.
A retreat priest once commented on the statue of the Holy Family in our Motherhouse chapel. Mary’s arm is extended, with open hand, toward the Child Jesus, who stands holding a small cross. The priest told us that this statue made him think of “letting go.” Mary stands behind Jesus, letting Him walk from her, almost as a mother watches her child take his first steps, but this Child’s steps lead ultimately to the Way of the Cross. Father made the point that we, too, must experience moments of letting go during the sorrows of our lives.
Aug. 27, although trumped by the Sunday celebration this year, is typically the feast of St. Monica, followed the next day by the feast of her son, St. Augustine. Prior to his conversion, Augustine was following a non-Christian religion and living a sinful life. Concerned for his salvation, Monica frequently pleaded with him, along with many tears. One day, a priest told her that she should, “Speak more to God about your son, than to your son about God.”
This changed Monica’s whole perspective, and she prayed so earnestly for him that he converted, and she is today the patroness of mothers. Her motherhood as well was not only one of being present to her son, but also of letting go so that
God could take center stage in her relationship with her child. May we all, as Christians, follow the examples of Our Lady
and St. Monica by being present and available to those we love, while also being ready to detach from our desires for them to allow God to be at work.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.