It’s crystal clear, the skies windswept and bluer than blue, here in the Bay Area this Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, Mary’s month of May. The proximity of the two celebrations each year always touches me, for it is a time to consider the very center of human life, the miracle of birth.
Mothers, like our mother Mary, have strong ties to their children. In some sense, after the season in the womb, after the dramatic entrance into our world, after the great first gasp of air, the cord is never cut, but holds fast throughout life. Some cords are stronger than others, some ties are formed in spite of little desire or intention, some are never formed through tragic circumstances. Some mothers early on have the sword of love pierce their hearts; some know that piercing later. Mothers who adopt, God bless them, may not have given birth, but in their hearts they did, and they swaddle that baby close, cheek against breast, nearly one flesh. Love is like that. It weaves a strong cord, entwining, holding, feeding, eyeing, singing.
We know that our mother Mary, the new Eve, grinds her heal on the ancient serpent, Satan, destroying him. She gives birth to the Son of God, incarnate in her womb. She loves, she suffers, and she watches her son die a cruel and humiliating death. She is full of grace and blessed among women. She prays for us just as we ask her to. She has appeared to many of her children through the centuries, sending them fountains and wells of healing waters. She loves us so; she is our mother.
As a mother I for a time housed my child within me. My body was his home, his very life blood. It is easy to think that he was literally a part of me, so close were we, but that is the great mysterious miracle. For the child was separate, a genetically unique human being, unique in all past, present, and future time, fully known only by God. When labor is accomplished, and the unborn is born, mothers know they have been part of the greatest miracle on earth. Gather any group of mothers together and mention the birth of a baby, and each will remember what happened to her on that day. She will recall the hugely important part she played in this great drama, for it is seared in her memory. Mothers tell their stories to one another as though reciting heroic ballads upon which the world depends – all history, all humanity, all love. The hours and minutes of giving birth are alive, fresh and real, eager to be shared.
The anguish and the pain are forgotten in the joy of new life. Circumstances may not have been perfect – perhaps the mother was alone. Perhaps she didn’t want the child. Perhaps she thought her life would be ruined or simply changed. Perhaps she gave birth in a back room, or in a cave, or in a stable. But with the telling, each mother chooses the joyous bits to remember. The infant placed in her arms. “Hello,” she says. “What shall I name you?” Then, “I love you… don’t worry, it will be all right.” She vows to protect that child forever; to feed, clothe, and teach this son or daughter to become loving and responsible. Of course her life is changed. How could it not be? She will never be the same. But she has no regrets. She is a mother now. She has learned how to love.
But most of all mothers remember how close we were at that moment to the heart of life, the beating heart of God, in this stunning miracle, how in that place at that time in each of our lives we touched eternity.
Today, as we drove to church this morning, my thoughts returned to a moment nearly forty-two years ago in Grace Hospital in Vancouver, Canada. My son was born, big and strong and healthy and a little pinched around the head. He was bald. He squinted up at me as I held him in the crook of my arm, neatly wrapped in cotton flannel. Today he is bigger and stronger and still healthy, a father of two. He shall always be my little boy, even at six foot three, and I shall always love him, always worry about him, always want to shelter him from life’s sufferings such a part of love. That’s what mothers do.
So on this Third Sunday of Easter when the preacher spoke of Mother Church holding us in her womb, gathering us all together, protected by her seamless cloak woven from the golden threads of sacraments, I understood what he was saying perhaps better than he did. The Church is many things – an ark in the sea of life, the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, Mother to her faithful children. I thought of icons depicting the Madonna holding the Church within her cloak, for Mary was the first Christian tabernacle, her body the home of God’s Son, and today, the home of His Body, the Church, the Body of Christ.
The images danced in my mind, weaving, joining, coming together again. Words cannot fully explain what is unexplainable. Mysteries are mysterious. But image and symbol and story and art and song can connect the dots of God’s love for us so that we begin to see a shape, an outline, for we recognize reality when we see it. And the Church nourishes and protects us just as mothers nourish and protect their unborn. The Church teaches us and shows us the way, just as mothers do their born children. We need only say yes to her.
And when we do say yes, when we listen to her and worship within her and remain faithful to her, suddenly we see. We are no longer squinting; our eyes are opened. The skies are bluer than blue, the air windswept and crystal clear.