At the beginning of these 33 days of preparation to entrust ourselves into the loving hands of Mary, we first take a step back in order, as it were, to get “a running start.” For the first week, we will be preparing the ground for the following three weeks; therefore, the name of Mary will not be mentioned extensively in this first week, though her spiritual presence, as you will see, shall be deeply present, permeating our reflections.
In order to understand the beautiful role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation, in the life of faith of each one of us, we must first look at two things: 1) the mystery of woman herself in creation, and her role in revealing the face of Love; 2) the original experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and how this experience was fractured because of sin. These two are indeed deeply related to one another, for it is precisely in our relationship with a woman—with our mother—that we come closest to experiencing this original purity of contact with Love that Adam and Eve knew in the Garden.
So let us begin by asking: what is our most fundamental human experience, the one on which all of our other experiences of life are based? It is the experience of being totally and unconditionally loved…indeed, of receiving one’s very existence as a gift of love from another. This is the unique mystery revealed by the mother, and through her, by the father whose gift she receives and brings forth.
The world has been born from Love and returns to love, and it is enveloped in the arms of Love. This is particularly true for each one of us, for every unique human person created in the image and likeness of God. Despite the claims of our contemporary world, we do not enter into the world and the human community as isolated and autonomous individuals. We do not enter the world in such a way that everyone else remains “outside” of and arbitrary to us, and matters to us only insofar as we wish to let them in. Rather, we are born from the very heart of community, from within the context of the coming-together of persons in love. We owe our very being, our very life to other persons—to our parents. And not only that, but we awaken to self-consciousness, not from enclosed within ourselves, but precisely from the love that we receive from the outside, from the look and the smile of another.
Let us reflect for a moment on the most basic and foundational experience that each one of us has as a little child, as an infant in the arms of our mother. A little child shortly after birth has not yet awakened to a full self-consciousness, that is, to a consciousness of her own “I” as separate from the world around her and from the “You” of other persons. Of course, she lives these relationships already—as she did even in the womb—and implicitly experiences this relationality that marks her whole existence. But there comes a point when the full light of personal awareness dawns upon her, or rather awakens within her. As we said, this comes about precisely through the presence of another, through the love that she receives from another.
The mother holds her child in her arms, close to her bosom, and smiles upon her. At some point, this child, looking into the loving eyes of her mother and receiving her smile, spontaneously smiles back. What is happening here? The little child is having a profound intuition which proves to be the foundation for all of the experiences of the rest of her life. This is her “original experience” that sets the context for everything else that follows. What is she experiencing? In this moment of encounter, she awakens to full personal awareness, and her experience is: You… Me… and the love between us.
This is what the child experiences in this moment of recognition. She awakens to the beauty and mystery of the other person, of her mother, who is for her a source of love, of security, and of peace. And precisely from her recognition of the other, she becomes fully aware of herself: of her own unique “I.” In a profound sense, her own “I” is a gift to her from another; she receives herself as a gift from the love of another person. Therefore, she belongs to herself only because she first belongs to another; she is her own only because she is a gift.
Further, this mutual relationship of “You” and “I” is entirely sealed with the joy of communion, in an intimacy that is utterly safe and secure. The child feels protected by her mother; she feels herself, indeed, to be entirely enveloped in the arms of Love, which her mother manifests and symbolizes for her. Because she experiences her own personal identity, not in isolation, but precisely in the context of loving relationship, of intimacy, she feels no need to close herself off from the other, to protect her own “individuality” from the other. Rather, she feels that she comes from communion, and thus wants to return to communion ever more deeply.
In this encounter between mother and child, the child is profoundly dependent on her mother for everything, especially at first. Nonetheless, this dependence is not a threat to the individuality of the child, but rather the very “space” in which this individuality grows and matures in safety. In a word, the little child’s own unique and unrepeatable identity is not threatened by the identity of her mother. They are both distinct, and yet they are one; they are united. Indeed, it is precisely because they are two, two different persons, that they can be united in the deepest way, not by being absorbed into each other and losing their individuality, but by sharing themselves with one another, by belonging to one another in love and trust. This sharing exists at such an intimate level in the relationship between mother and child that the child even lives within her mother for more than nine months. Further, this living within the womb of another is not only a matter of location, for the child is dependent on her mother in every way for her own life, sustenance, and growth. The womb is the place of all-enveloping and sheltering love, the place where the vulnerable and defenseless child is protected, cared for, and allowed to grow and develop in her own unique and sacred life.
Even when the child is brought forth into the world through the labor-pains of her mother (which again is an expression of the giving and sharing of oneself), she is still dependent upon her mother. Yes, she still indeed drinks of the being and the body of her mother for a long time after birth. Here we see the beautiful interchange of persons that lies at the origin of our human experience in this world. The child receives all from her mother, from her mother’s generosity and love; and the mother in turn receives from the child. First of all, her very willingness to carry her child and to bring her into the world is an act of love and generosity. Therefore, in order to give herself to her child, she must first be willing to accept the child. And she continues to accept her, and receives from her child just as the child receives from her. Often times what she receives is “morning sickness” or aches in the lower back, but on a deeper level she receives the joy of this new, precious life growing within her. She receives the child’s first kicks, her movements in the womb. Then the mother receives the first encounter after birth, and the long days of care and nurture in which she is touched and enriched, challenged and transformed by this life, by this precious and beloved person, for whom she cares and gives herself.
In summary, we see in this most basic human relationship a glimpse of the deep meaning of Jesus’ words: “Abide in me, and I in you” (Jn 15). The mother and child live with, and in a deep way, for one another. And because of this deep sharing, they also live in one another, if not physically, then spiritually, emotionally, personally. They carry one another in the heart.
You… Me… and the love between us, the love that unites us together…
– Even though this “original experience” is too early in my life to be explicitly remembered, do I find myself able to “reconnect” with it through prayer and reflection?
– What obstacles may there be in me to recognizing that I have come as a gift of love from another, and that union with others is not a threat to my individuality, but rather a help to me in being truly free and happy?