There’s a couple I’ve known for many years – I’ll call them Fred and Jane. They met each other not long after the untimely deaths of their first spouses. Jane had children with her first husband, and Fred also had children, including a young son with severe disabilities. I remember a conversation with Jane when she told me about the time she first met Fred’s family. While others might have been daunted at the prospect of becoming part of a family with someone with significant special needs, Jane told me that when she met Fred’s son Jimmy she immediately fell in love with him. Fred and Jane got married and this little boy who never knew his natural mother received a mother in Jane who was intensely devoted to him and cared for him as if he were her own. His struggles, his helplessness, moved her heart. And still, all these many years later, whenever she speaks his name she always refers to him as “my Jimmy.”
Today the Church celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title “Mother of the Church.” The gospel for this feast is John 19:25-34, where Our Lord is hanging on the cross and He sees Our Lady and the Beloved Disciple standing nearby. To His mother, Jesus says: “Woman, behold, your son.” Then to the disciple He says: “Behold, your mother.” In this moment Our Lady became Our Mother. When we think about the motherhood of Mary, we must remember that she has only one natural child, Jesus. But in this saddest and most painful of moments, she receives the disciple as her son. Traditionally, we identify the Apostle John as the disciple who took the Blessed Mother into his care. The gospel doesn’t name him, however, and we understand him to represent all of the members of the Church. Though we are not her natural-born children, we are her children by grace. And we become so through our baptism into the Church.
A good mother will say that she loves all her children. But there is a special place in a mother’s heart for the child that has struggles – the child who can’t seem to get things right, who suffers because of the unkindness of others, who has a hard time fitting in. We think of the mother who loses sleep with worry over her child who is lost, who has gone astray, who is in trouble. We think of the concern the mother has for the child who is sick and the compassion she has for the one whose heart has been broken. We think of the mother who is ferocious in her defense of the child who is threatened or attacked.
When the Our Lady looks at us, this is what she sees – little ones who are helpless, who have great struggles in the world. Her heart is deeply moved with love, and she is completely devoted to us. She looks to console us when we are sad, to encourage us when we are down, to protect us when we are under attack. Her heart breaks for the broken-hearted, and she weeps for her children who find themselves lost and in trouble.
Fred’s family received a great gift when Jane came into their lives. Her witness helps us to understand better the great gift that we received from Our Lord on the cross, when He shared Mary with us and made her the Mother of the Church.