Notre Dame Cathedral during Christmas

Yesterday we saw that, just as our natural human life is sheltered from its earliest days within the love of a mother, so the same is true in our spiritual life. Indeed, there is a direct correlation between these two forms of life—natural and spiritual—as we tried to grasp during the first week of reflections. Our fundamental experience of love as a child sets the stage for the rest of our life by giving us the context in which to situate every future experience. This context is that of love and intimacy, of experiencing one’s own existence flowing as a gift from another and sheltered within the all-enfolding love of another. Such an awareness, in turn, awakens a spirit of gratitude and the desire to give oneself in return.

Therefore, just as we have a mother in the natural sphere, God has also given us a mother in the supernatural sphere. Indeed, if our experience of motherly love in the natural sphere is broken and obscured—through neglect, abuse, or absence—God desires to heal our hearts through offering us a heavenly mother. This mother, Mary and the Church, gives us the love that we thirst for, the love that we so desperately need—and in doing so reveals the “maternal” love of our heavenly Father himself.

But what is this mother like? This, in part, was the purpose of the second week: to “get a feel” for the beauty of Mary, our spiritual mother. We saw that she is, most deeply, the one who is aware that she is cradled ceaselessly in the arms of perfect Love, and who within this Love surrenders herself totally. We saw that she is (and knows herself to be) a beloved child, and through the confidence that this childlikeness awakens, she opens herself also to be a spouse of God, the divine Bridegroom; finally, through her filial and spousal relationship with God, she becomes transparent as a mother to the outpouring of his healing, consoling, and transforming light.

In this, Mary is the model for each one of us, who have also been created to experience, profoundly, these relationships of filial, spousal, and parental love. Indeed, we said that Mary is more than merely a model; she opens in herself the very “space” in which the life of each one of us can unfold in communion with God. This is because her “Yes,” though profoundly personal and utterly intimate, is not a merely private consent, but bears in itself the “Yes” of all believer throughout history. Indeed, it opens the way for our own “Yes” to be pronounced, since through it she welcomes the overshadowing grace of the Holy Spirit and lets Christ himself become incarnate within the world. In a word, through the marriage of humanity and divinity that occurs within Mary’s virginal womb, not only is the Son of God made a Son of man, but the universal Church herself dawns in her full mystery for the first time within our world.

Mary herself is, in an ineffable way, both an individual woman and the innermost mystery of the universal Church, Virgin Bride of Christ and Mother of all the faithful. This is something that cannot be adequately defined in concepts or explained in words. Rather, it is something that can only be gazed upon in contemplation and experienced in life. The French poet, Paul Claudel, had such an experience. When he was still young, and rebelling against his earlier Catholic faith, he had an encounter with the “unique twofold mother” who is both Mary and the Church:

There was…the young man of twenty-five who once followed the Office in Notre Dame with a mind still crammed with objections and a heart full of repulsion. One Christmas Eve, during the singing of the Magnificat, the whole faith of the Church burst in upon him. From then onward he came again and again to the old cathedral to take his theology course—his teacher being “the Holy Virgin herself, patient and majestic”. With his face “pressed against the grille of the choir” he watched the Church living, and through that sight, which leaves the minds of so many in an apathetic inertia, he understood all. For, as he explained, “when Paul spoke to me, and Augustine made things clear to me, and Gregory broke bread for me with antiphon and response, the eyes of Mary above me were there to explain it all to me.” The “maternal and reassuring majesty” that enveloped him was at one and the same time that of Mary and that of the Church, and indissolubly so. All he had to do was to find his support in that unique twofold Mother, without any further making of distinctions; the Mother “who brings together in silence in her heart and reunites in one single hearth all the lines of contradiction”.i

It is touching to find in this quote the image of the “hearth,” which we have spoke of in previous reflections. Mary is the child-become-spouse, and the spouse-become-mother, who “brings together in silence in her heart and reunites in one single hearth all the lines of contradiction.” We think of how fragmented, how “scattered” our own lives are by so many things. And we yearn to get back to a place of unity and simplicity, where we can let go of our distractions, fears, and compulsions and rest in the arms of another. This is what Mary offers to us as the “twofold mother” who, as the hearth of love, draws us close to her bosom and warms us with the fire of God’s Love that burns ceaselessly within her.

She invites us, in other words, into the “silence of love” where her heart ever beats, without the need for words or explanations, in a ceaseless hymn of praise for the Blessed Trinity. This is her eternal Magnificat, which sounds throughout all the currents of history since she uttered it that first time in the land of Palestine. Indeed, Mary’s silent hymn of praise is but an echo, a response, to the perfect hymn of the Trinity’s own life of love and intimacy: the song of delight and jubilation ever resounding in the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

To conclude this reflection, let us read the words of Mary’s Magnificat, and join our hearts with this hymn of love ceaselessly sounding:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.

For behold, henceforth all generations

will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm,

he has scattered the proud

in the imagination of their hearts,

he has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and exalted those of low degree;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.

(Luke 1:46-55)

Reflection Questions:

Considering the little “review” given of the previous two weeks, what stands out to me the most so far?

Has my experience of the love of father or mother, on a natural human level, been imperfect or even broken? How can taking Mary in a special way as my mother help to heal this wound, and even to heal my relationship with the heavenly Father?

What theme strikes me most clearly from the words of Mary’s Magnificat?

i . Henri de Lubac, The Splendor of the Church, trans. Michael Mason (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 337-38. Quotations are from Paul Claudel, L’Épée et le miroir, 198-99.