Behold the Woman! Behold your Mother!
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
The Woman - Mother and Teacher
When God presented Adam with the 'woman', flesh of his flesh, i.e. bonded to him in every way, and even when that same woman, instead of being, what God wanted her to be, a 'helpmate', beguiled him into disobeying God's word thus bringing him, and his descendants, under the dominion of the Tempter, God promised out of love for man that another woman would crush the head of the serpent in the continual warfare between her, with her offspring, and him, with his offspring (Gen 2:22-23,18; 3:6,15). That woman would be symbolically recognized by Jesus both at the marriage Feast of Cana, towards the beginning of the Gospel and of his ministry, as the 'mother' who would stand by man in his hour of shame and need, and at the Cross of Calvary, towards the ending of the Gospel and of his ministry, likewise as the 'mother' who would be with his disciples in their hour of fulfillment and glory (Jn 2:1-5; 19:25-27).
It is of this woman, the Church, mother and teacher, the mystical body of Christ, that Mary, the mother of the head, is the symbol, example and inspiration, and in a mystical way, mother and teacher, as the Woman of the Word and the Mother of the Incarnate Word, as the Woman of the Cross and the Mother of the Crucified Redeemer, and as the Woman of the Spirit and the Mother of the Risen Christ, present in his praying Church, teaching us by word and example to be men and women of the Word, of the Cross and of the Spirit (Phil 3:10).
The Woman of the Word
In contrast to the first Eve, at the beginning of the old creation, whose defiant_reaction to God's Word, which she clearly understood, would set off man's ruin, the second or new Eve would respond to God's message, at the commencement of the new creation, thus: "Be it done to me according your word", even though she did not fully understand it, a response that would again in contrast initiate mankind's restoration (Gen 3:1-7; Lk 1:38). That is why Elizabeth, who first acclaimed Mary as the mother of her Lord, would then, as if to give the correct and full picture, exclaim, "The Lord has blessed you because you believed that he will keep his promise, his Word" (Lk 1:43,45). In the course of his ministry Jesus himself would twice pay indirectly the same tribute to his mother. When at the end of his discourse a woman pronounced his mother privileged to have a son like him, he implicitly considered himself rather more blessed for having a mother like her, and declared that the people who are really blessed are the ones who like her hear the Word of God and obey it (Lk 11:27,28). On another occasion when, after he had related the parable of the seed, a disciple informed him that his mother was looking out for him, he countered that all who professed to be his disciples were precious to him as his mother was, if they would like her hear the Word of God, put it into practice, and so produce abundant fruit in their lives (Lk 8:15, 17-21).
At the close of the earthly ministry of Jesus, even though the apostles were panic-stricken by his impending departure with his mission unfinished, they promptly acted upon his instruction to wait in prayer for the Promise of the Father, the Power of the Spirit, at Pentecost, that would launch God's Kingdom and bring about man's re-establishment (Acts 1:5-8,12-14). The words of Mary first articulated, at the inauguration of Jesus' ministry in Cana, must have been ringing in their ears, "Whatever he tells you, do it" (Jn 2:5). How can then anyone claim to be a disciple of Jesus and a devotee of Mary if one is not committed to read God's Word daily, especially in the beautiful lectionary of the Mass, to cherish it, ponder over it and allow it to bear fruit daily in one's life? For, as St. Augustine said, before Mary conceived Jesus the Word in her womb, she had already conceived him in her mind and heart, the Word that would like the seed bear fruit and become flesh both in her womb and in her way of life.
The Woman of the Cross
If God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us, Jesus in his turn did not spare his own Mother, but gave her to us not only as a mother, but as a victim, a patient and suffering mother, standing at the foot of the Cross with her heart pierced by a sword, and gazing at her Son nailed to the Cross with his heart pierced with a lance (Rom 8:32; Lk 2:35; Jn 19:34,37).
It was right from the very announcement of the Incarnation that Jesus let his Mother go through, and he needed her as Woman to go through, every sort of suffering women go through, as if to make up by appropriation, in the words of Paul, for what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ as Man - the torment of being suspected by the man she loved and who loved her, the humiliation of being refused lodging in one's hour of need, the anguish caused by the threat on one's son's life, the plight of being a refugee in a strange or hostile country, the agony of not knowing the fate of one's only son, the constant rumours and scandals about him allegedly breaking the law and the embarrassment triggered by well meaning relatives pressuring her to put a stop to his weird statements and activities (Mt 1:19; 2:13-14; Lk 2:48-50).
But even these were only shadows of the Cross on Calvary, with Jesus hanging on it casting its first shadow on Mary standing beside it (Jn 19:25). For it was above all the pain of seeing her son misunderstood and suspected, abandoned and betrayed, even by his own 'trusted' apostles, unjustly judged and sentenced, ridiculed and cursed, by religious and secular leaders, and handed over by the very people who benefited by his ministry to be crucified with two 'other' criminals (Jn 19:17-18). But greater than the suffering caused by man's callous indifference and heart rending denunciation (Jn 1:11), was the torture caused by God's baffling absence and apparent abandonment, "My God, my God, why have you deserted me?" (Mk 15:34). How can then one claim to be a disciple of Jesus or a devotee of Mary if one is not ready to deny oneself and take up and carry one's cross to Calvary, to stand beside that Cross with Mary and even be ready to be crucified. For if Pilate from his judgment seat of Caesar could say of the wounded Jesus to his enemies, 'Behold the Man', Jesus from the mercy seat of the Cross could say of his wounded mother to his disciples, 'Behold the Woman' (Jn 19:5, 25-27).
The Woman of the Spirit
Mary is finally not just the Woman of the Word, the commencement of her journey of faith initiated, and the Woman of the Cross, the journey itself of her faith tested, but the Woman of the Spirit, the conclusion of her journey of faith rewarded. Before the Church was born of the Spirit on Pentecost Day, Jesus was and had to be anointed with the Spirit in the Jordan, and before that Mary was and had to be overshadowed by the Spirit, by whom she conceived and bore Jesus, just as Jesus breathed forth the Spirit, giving birth to the Church at the Resurrection-Pentecost Event. For in answer to her query, the Angel declared, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and God's power will come over you, and so your child will be the Holy Son of God" (Lk 1:35). The effect of Mary's Personal Pentecost was manifest soon after, as she entered the house of Zacharias causing (no irreverence meant) a Holy Spirit epidemic. For the babe in Elizabeth's womb leaped for joy at the greeting of Mary, now filled with the Holy Spirit and pregnant with Jesus - and the baby John himself was filled with the Spirit while still in his mother's womb. Elizabeth herself and six months later her husband Zacharias, and still eight days later Simeon and Anna would prophesy by the power of the Spirit.
What transpired at the beginning of the Good News of Jesus in the homes of Mary and of Elizabeth would come about in a far more extensive and manifest way 33 years later at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostolic Church in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. For after nine days of relentless waiting and continuous prayer, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and disciples on Pentecost Day, as it had come upon Mary and upon Jesus, like a mighty wind and a consuming fire (Acts 2:1-4). But what is most significant is that Mary was there in the upper room to inspire the nascent Church, both by her testimony (Lk 1:46-55), and her example (Lk 8:21; 11:28). That is the only time she is mentioned in the Acts as if her presence was needed as much as for the birth of the Church as it was for the birth of Jesus - for the same Spirit to transform the born again Apostles and the same Power to empower the new born Church. How can then anyone claim to be a disciple of Jesus and a devotee of Mary if one is not always open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and under his constant guidance and control?
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Led by the Spirit reproduced with permission from Charisindia. Copyright © 2004 Fr. Rufus Pereira. All rights reserved. Images copyright Anne Geddes