Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. This celebration, instituted by Pope Francis in 2018, is also an extension of yesterday’s celebration of Pentecost.
In pondering the readings chosen for this feast, at first it can seem that there is little connection between the first reading and the Gospel. We go suddenly from the garden of Eden to the foot of the Cross. However, it is fitting that on the day that we honor Mary as the Mother of the Church, we look back to our first mother, Eve, “the mother of all the living.” The Genesis reading takes us to the moment after Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit. God calls out to him and confronts him about his sin, and Adam immediately deflects the blame, saying, “The woman whom you put here with me – she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” Adam blames not only Eve, but God as well: “You put her here.” When God questions Eve, she behaves in much the same way, saying, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” Both Adam and Eve admit that they ate the fruit, but both shirk any responsibility for their action.
Our first mother, Eve, the mother of humanity, failed us. Along with Adam, she brought sin into what began as a perfect world. However, this is not the end of the story. With Mary, we see a new example of motherhood, both physical and spiritual. Mary endures where Eve fell short. Therefore, side by side with the account of the fall, the liturgy places the Gospel account of Mary at the foot of the Cross, which presents almost the inverse of the events.
In Jesus and Mary we can see the “new Adam” and the “new Eve” – in a sense what Adam and Eve could have been and should have been, had they remained obedient to God. Adam and Eve almost immediately disobeyed God and broke the only rule that he gave them. Jesus the New Adam, fully human and fully divine, remains obedient to his Father up until his death, even a death as excruciating and public as death on the Cross. Mary the New Eve, faithful and resolute, gives her “yes” to God when the angel Gabriel appears to her. She continues to give her “yes” for the rest of her life. Despite the struggles and heartbreak of the road that she walks, she does not falter, but remains faithful to God to the very end. Obedience to God by the power of the Spirit is the root of Mary’s motherhood. Her simple statement, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” captures the inner attitude which God can make so abundantly fruitful. Jesus and Mary show us how we are called to follow God, even in the smallest ways – which we can do if we rely on the divine power we receive in the Holy Spirit.
There is no limit to the abundant life that God has for us. This gift is on full display in today’s Gospel, flowing from the pierced Heart of Christ on the Cross: “one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” The river of divine life did not simply fall fruitlessly to the ground; rather, it was received with perfect receptivity by the Church, represented by Mary. She in turn becomes a channel of this life for her spiritual children, beginning with the Beloved Disciple standing at her side. It was to him that Jesus announced Mary’s new identity as a spiritual mother: “Behold, your mother.” This is the Mother who was with the Apostles in the Upper Room, preparing them for the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is the same Mother whom we honor today as Mother of the Church.
There is so much in today’s world that can shake our faith, but nothing can shake the faith of Mary our Mother. Each of us who has been re-born by Baptism into the life of the Church is a beloved disciple of Jesus and a beloved child of Mary. We who are filled with the Holy Spirit and nurtured in the Heart of Mary can go forward with confidence into a troubled world, bringing to everyone the new life we have received.
When have I shirked any responsibility for my actions? What prevents me from relying on the divine power that I receive from the Holy Spirit? How do I honor Mary as my spiritual mother?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.