I remember reading a biography of St. Maximilian Kolbe in which those who knew him during his life described him as having a “motherly heart.” It sounded like a strange way to describe him, but, based on their accounts, to be in the presence of Kolbe was to be consoled, such that, whatever burdens you were carrying around within you were lifted away – even the terrible burden of life in a concentration camp. Perhaps it’s not such a strange thing to describe Kolbe’s heart as “motherly,” since he was so devoted to the Blessed Mother. Through his intense devotion to her, his way of being must have taken on the character of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and so it could be said that this man loved with a motherly heart.
In the gospel for today, Our Lord laments over Jerusalem, crying out: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” He continues, saying: “How many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!” Here, He is revealing two things to us. First, by expressing His sadness and His frustration with those whom He loves, He reveals the permissive will of God. He does not force anyone to love Him. Indeed, He allows the children of Jerusalem (and us) to refuse Him, even as it breaks His heart. Second, He reveals the tender love of God, likening His desire to care for His precious little ones to that of a mother hen who gathers her baby chicks under the protection of her wings.
Perhaps this tragic dynamic sounds familiar, for it is a common situation, where a parent’s love is rejected by a child who struggles. The parent wants to protect and ease the suffering of the child, but for some reason the child refuses and even resents the parent’s interference. The deep heartbreak of the parent, who wonders where things went wrong and feels completely helpless as he or she watches the child dig in and continue down a path that gets worse and worse, is something that the Lord reveals to be part of His experience too. He weeps over individual rebellion, and how self-destructive it is. At the same time, Our Lord also weeps over collective rebellion – the rebellion of a whole people, a whole society, a whole nation, a whole world, who are determined to figure things out on their own, rejecting the call to conversion in favor of schemes and “solutions” that end up making things worse, increasing the suffering and sadness of its members, especially the poor and the weak.
Our Lord’s likening of His concern for Jerusalem to the concern of a mother hen for her chicks might surprise us, like the description of Kolbe as having a “motherly heart” surprised me. Then again, no one’s devotion to the Blessed Mother could exceed the love that her Son has for her. She is His greatest creature, and it was she who gave Him the human heart – the Sacred Heart – with which He loves us. Those who entrust themselves and their loved ones to Our Lady inevitably will find themselves brought closer to Our Lord. Those who entrust themselves to Our Lord will find Our Lady there, offering us refuge, consoling us with her motherly heart.