Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. On this day, the Church is called to be the Sacrament of Jesus, to be the sign of unity for the human race. At the same time, the Lord commanded His disciples to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” As the disciples went out to proclaim the Good News of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, they won more converts into their fold. But as the Lord instructed, conversion is not reducible to making converts through baptism but they must be instructed in their faith so that they can become His disciples, walking in His step.
Consequently, the Church, as mother who gives birth to new children of God at baptism, has an equal responsibility to help the newly baptized to grow and mature in the faith. Of course, discipleship is an ongoing process. There is only one teacher and that is Jesus the Christ. The Church, therefore, provides the other sacraments as means for her members to grow in faith, in union with the Lord and His Church, and most of all, to live out their Christian life according to their vocation. The sacrament of the Eucharist strengthens the bond between the disciple and Christ and the Christian community. The Sacrament of Confirmation empowers them to be witnesses of Christ. The Sacrament of Matrimony helps disciples to live out their basic and fundamental vocations as husbands and wives and parents. The Sacrament of Reconciliation forgives their sins and heals fractured relationships. The Church also nourishes the faithful through preaching and teaching the Word of God. The end product is a faithful disciple of the Lord.
But where can the Church turn to in living out her role as mother if not our Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ? Since Christ is both Head and Body of the Church, Mary too is our mother. Her role as mother of the Church was prepared by Christ, as the scripture tells us. In today’s gospel, we read that when Mary was standing at the foot of the cross, one of the last acts of our Lord was to entrust Mary to the care of His beloved disciple, John. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” In calling His own mother, “Woman” and by not addressing John by name, but calling him, “Son”, it was the intention of the evangelist to portray Mary as the Mother of the Church. Later on, in the book of Revelation, we read how the evangelist described the Church as a Woman. “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.”
Furthermore, this role was already anticipated by our Lord at the Wedding in Cana. When the couple had no wine, Mary told Jesus, “‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’” What Jesus meant, in St John’s interpretation, was that it was not yet the time for Mary or for Himself to manifest their real identity until His glorification at His passion, death and resurrection. The hour refers to the hour of His glory. So in using the term “woman” at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and then again at the end of Jesus’ ministry, St John intended this term to be understood as the call of Mary to be the mother of the Church upon the death and glorification of Jesus. Her role as mother of the Church began when Jesus died and rose from the dead.
That is why, immediately after the ascension of our Lord and before Pentecost, we see Mary gathering with the apostles in the Upper Room at prayer, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. St Luke made special mention of Mary with the apostles. “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” Hence, it is significant that Mary was present at the birth of Jesus, and also at the birth of the Church at Pentecost. She is therefore fittingly called to be both the Mother of Christ, Head and Body, which is His Church. She was there to take care of Jesus and supported Him when He was growing up. So too Mary was there with the infant Church, supporting her at the beginning of its establishment.
Consequently, if the Church wishes to find a model of motherhood, no one could be better than Mary herself. She showed herself to be not just a mother but a virginal mother. In other words, she was a mother in an exceptional and paradoxical sense. For logically, how can one be a virgin and yet a mother? Mary conceived Jesus as a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. She became mother not by her own strength or power but by the grace of God. So, too, the Church is not a man-made institution or a kind of political establishment, as some conceive the Church to be. It is our belief that the Church was born from the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we just celebrated. Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she conceived Jesus, so too, the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Church and the Church was born. It is for this reason, the Church, although human and sinful, is also divine and holy. Jesus said to Peter, “…you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The Church too must rely only on the power of God!
To be a mother, the Church must first be devoted to our Lord, just as Mary was. This is the meaning of virginal motherhood. It means total dedication to the one whom we love. She was totally dedicated to God and sought only to do His will. When the angel greeted her and informed her of God’s choice for her to be the mother of the saviour, she willingly said “yes” to her vocation after a period of discernment and clarification. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And to the servants at Cana, she told them the same thing. “Do whatever he tells you.” The Church too must be fully devoted to the Lord and place Him above everything else. This is true also for all parents. If they love their children and want them to grow up to be loving, responsible and God-fearing people, they must show the example of being faithful to God’s will in their lives so that their children will also learn how to imitate their example. By being true to their vocation as parents and as working people, they teach their children how to combine faith with life.
But it is not just doing God’s will. Indeed, if we want to be good servants of God, we must be ready to do His will at all times, even when it is difficult and we do not quite understand His will, which is often the case. But Mary did not stop doing God’s will simply because she did not understand fully what and why the Lord acted thus. Indeed, right from the start, Mary was puzzled by Jesus’ action and words at the Temple when He was twelve years old. Jesus said, “‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them.” Then we read that upon pressure from the family, Mary and her relatives went to fetch the Lord home because they thought He was mad. That is why the Church must teach her members to trust in God and obey His will even when they cannot understand some teachings of scripture and the Church. As Isaiah says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Indeed, to be a virginal mother, we must be faithful to our Lord till the end, just as Mary was faithful to her Son right to the end. In this way, the Church, which includes all those in positions of authority, especially parents and guardians, is called to imitate Mary in her devotion to God and to our fellowmen, in obedience to God’s will, and faithful in trials and suffering. Through Mary, we become true disciples of the Lord. Like St John, therefore, we must also bring Mary into our home. Devotion to Mary, the Mother of our Lord is critical in learning how to be true disciples of the Lord and mothers of those under our charge. Let us cultivate a strong devotion to Mary so that we too can be one in union with our Lord in doing God’s will.