One evening, I was visiting with a wonderful young woman who was about to be married. We were chatting about the wedding and her and her fiancé’s plans for the future. It all sounded so joyful and hopeful.
Then, out of nowhere, she confessed to me that she was terrified to have children. My heart sank more and more as I listened to her concerns. It wasn’t pregnancy and childbirth that scared her; rather, it was motherhood itself. She was afraid that she’d be unable to be a good mother because she’d lacked a positive mothering experience while growing up. She assumed that, because her mother had struggled with motherhood she would, too.
Although the kind of mothers our moms were does affect the kind of mothers we will be — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the individual — it isn’t a life sentence. In other words, we can replace what is lacking and learn how to counteract and compensate for negative mothering experiences.
Those of us who have terrific moms can learn how to enhance the fine qualities we’ve inherited from them. The way to do that is by looking to Mary as example of motherhood and by allowing her to be our Mother.
We tend to forget that Mary is a real woman, a real wife and a real mother who walked on this earth, doing all of the things we do, or will do, as moms. She cooked meals, mended clothing, did laundry, washed dishes, changed diapers, sang lullabies, worried about the choices her child was making, kibitzed with other women, served her husband and child, and went to bed exhausted after a long day of hard work. Mary isn’t a statue and she isn’t an untouchable goddess. She was and is a mother — Jesus’ mother in an actual way, and our mother in a divine way.
Mother to all
When Mary said “yes” to becoming the mother of God’s Son, she also said “yes” to becoming our mother, since we are united with Jesus in the Mystical Body. What’s more, her acceptance of this motherhood continues throughout Eternity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
“Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. ‘In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.’
“This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation ... Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix” (Nos. 968 and 969).
What a tremendous help God has given us for our own motherhood. Mary exemplifies virtue — acceptance, patience, trust, obedience, endurance, courage, strength, hope, faith and joy — in a completely tangible way. We can see that in the various scenes from Scripture. Gabriel’s request must have seemed outrageous to her (at least initially), yet she accepted it as God’s will, and then trustfully, obediently carried it out. She faced the shame of unwed motherhood and the disappointment of her betrothed.
She was asked to travel a dangerous route in order to assist her elderly and miraculously pregnant cousin. She was told to embark on an uncertain journey to Egypt. Yet, she endured these situations with courage and strength.
She watched as her Son was condemned, tortured and violently murdered without losing hope in God’s promise. Finally, her profound faith was rewarded at the Resurrection and her joy made complete at Pentecost. Mary’s life experiences are interwoven with her virtue.
With Mary as model, we have a sure guide for our own motherhood. With Mary as our Mother, we have a sure advocate for the intercession and graces we need to be the mothers we truly yearn to be — regardless of our experiences — and the mothers we truly can be. We only need to open our hearts to her and ask her to lead the way.
Marge Fenelon is the author of “Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom” (Ave Maria, $14.95).