There are times when I’ll be at a family gathering, the adults sitting at the dining room table and the kids playing somewhere (everywhere) else, and inevitably one of the children will come over and bury himself/herself in the side of his/her mother or father. It could be for a multitude of reasons. It could be the kid is unhappy because someone was mean. It could be frustration at not getting her way. It could be to make a secret request to do something special. It could be because he saw something on TV that scared him. It could also be just a random moment in which the child is moved with affection. But it’s always this gesture of pressing into the side of their mother or father.
It reminds me of the moment in the Last Supper (Jn 13:21-25), where Jesus announces to those gathered that one among them would betray Him. Surprised and disturbed, Simon Peter signaled to the Beloved Apostle, whom the passage says “was reclining next to Him,” to ask Our Lord which of them it was that would betray Him. Some translations describe the posture of the Beloved Apostle as “leaning on Jesus’ bosom.” Like a little child, John the Beloved Disciple, felt free enough in his love for Christ to bury himself in the side of Jesus. There, expressing his love for the Lord he asked the question that troubled his heart: “Who is it, Lord?”
It is the same disciple, John, who was standing with the Blessed Mother below the Cross of Christ on Calvary. As He was dying, Jesus said to Mary: “Behold, your son.” And to John: “Behold, your mother.” We’ve all seen this moment depicted in art and in film. Often, we see John put his arm around Our Lady in a gesture of protection. But we might also imagine it the other way around, with Blessed Mother putting her arm around the suffering John, as he mourned with her the death of Our Lord. Like a child who finds refuge in the side of his mother when he is sad, perhaps John found such a place on the bosom of Mary. There he would have found a heart that beat in a familiar way, with a familiar sound, and a familiar rhythm as the Heart he listened to as he leaned against the side of Christ in the Upper Room – the Heart that Christ received from His Mother.
At a certain point in our lives we stop pressing ourselves into the sides of our mothers and fathers. As adolescence complicates us, we leave that gesture behind, mistaking child-likeness for childishness. But a large part of the spiritual life is learning how to do that again – to approach with child-like freedom, finding refuge next to the side of Christ, near the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Mother.