We start the year, as we start our life, under the protection of a mother. Perhaps this is why the first day of the year is the day Catholics are to focus on Mary, The Holy Mother of God.
I had spent the last day of the year with a three-month-old child whose mother and father were working that day. A child at this age sleeps, eats, and smiles at you from her swing chair when you sing to her a nursery rhyme even though you are terribly off key. When her mother came home, there was this loving gaze from the child’s eyes, which were locked onto her mother, that was so striking that it gave me great pause, for it is rare to witness such love.
At Mass the next morning, I was gazing at the statue of Mary, my spiritual mother. My relationship with Mary is not one of mother and child, but is one based on the shared experience of motherhood. The gospel on New Year’s Day tells of when Mary is told in the manger what had been prophesied about her baby boy. Mary treasured these words and pondered them in her heart.
Mothers do a lot of pondering. Mothers think about their children, wonder about them, brood over them, and continuously mull things over about them, for they consider their children before every action taken from the moment they know they are pregnant. And for the rest of their lives, till the day they die, mothers will think of their children first before every action taken. Mother and child is the most passionate, sustaining relationship in our world.
At Mass that morning I moved my gaze from Mary to her son on the cross. The story of my faith began, my faith is rooted, with a protective mother and a loving son, but a son who, let’s be real, gave his mother a pretty hard time living most of his short life under her care, choosing (at the time) “questionable” friends, only to go to his death at 33.
Yet the Catholic priest who was delivering the homily on the day’s gospel about a mother pondering over a child has never had a child of his own. I doubt he has ever taken care of a three-month-old child for twelve hours, never mind a fourteen-year-old, or a thirty-three-year old son making his own – right or wrong- decisions. His congregation are understood as God’s children, yet he himself will never experience a child of his own. How can the man speak to a relationship about which he knows nothing? Perhaps this is why he went on and on and on about the Prince of Peace that day in his homily, but not a word about Mary, the Holy Mother of God.
There was a woman at church that day sitting in the back pew with her husband and her twin daughters who were only three days old. I was, as was most of the congregation, amazed that they were at church. If I had ever had twins, I sincerely doubt I would have gotten out of the house within the first six months. I took a long look at that young mother and understood that she must have really needed to come to church this morning. I doubt the priest got that, for if he did, he would have requested a moment of silence to pray for all new mothers on this feast of the Holy Mother of God, and then he would have ordered two of us to hold her infant daughters so she could have a moment of rest in the back pew of the church on the feast of the Holy Mother.
I left church on New Year’s morning feeling sorry for the priest, for he is missing out on an essential part of being human. God Himself sent his only Son to be among us as one of us, yet the only people eligible through the eyes of the church to lead us are ineligible to experience the immeasurable depths and profound impacts of the most enduring relationship known to humanity.