The first time Mary became part of my faith, I was a sleep-deprived new mother. I hadn’t grown up Catholic and converted just a year before my son joined our family. As I nursed him in a darkened room, in the middle of the night, I realized that Mary had fed Jesus just like this. I found this comforting as I looked down at my son, his long eyelashes wet with tears from calling to me in the dark, and prayed that he too would know her Son.
In 2018, Pope Francis added the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church to our Church calendar. Pope Francis hoped this devotion “might encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful.”
The Scripture reading for this memorial feast is John 19:25–34, in which Jesus calls out from the Cross, entrusting Mary to his disciple John as his mother and entrusting his disciple to Mary as her son. Pope John Paul II taught us that through this Scripture passage, we understand that “Mary is present in the Church as the Mother of Christ, and at the same time as that Mother whom Christ, in the mystery of the Redemption, gave to humanity in the person of the Apostle John.” Mary is our mother too—Mother to the Church and mother to us personally.
As a new mother, inviting Mary into my life was natural. I could relate to her so easily, but as I got to know her more, I realized I would have liked to have been in friendship with her sooner. I grew up in a Protestant church, in which so many of the models of faith put before me were men: Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, and Paul. It was difficult for me to connect with these stories, as a young girl without land or leadership. But Mary, I understood.
As a child, I longed for more faith and to sense God’s presence. Now, as an adult, I imagine Mary, the young Jewish girl waiting for the redemption of her people, and I know she would have understood. She could have been the model of faith I needed as a child, but now I look to her and say “Yes,” just as she did. She shows us how saying “Yes” to God reveals a world more magnificent than we could ever imagine. By saying “Yes” to God, Mary became the first disciple, Jesus’ first follower.
When I became a mother, I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of daily tasks I needed to do to care for my child and our home. As I washed what seemed like a never-ending pile of dishes or folded the mountain of laundry, I knew Mary was familiar with this work. She showed us how to live out a loving, vibrant faith through the simplicity of daily tasks. Yes, Mary was present at all the big moments in Jesus’ life, but she was also there in the tender, small moments. Her model of motherhood guided me to understand these small moments are precious in the life of my son and also showed me how to meet her Son in those places.
Sometimes I struggle, both with my faith in our Church and my place in it. I understand why Pope Francis added this feast day. We need to be reminded of how Mary heard the shepherds running in from the fields with the good news that they heard the angels sing that night, and she kept these things and “pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) We need the reminder of how Mary told the servers at a wedding in Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) We need our Mother to remind us of the magnificent mystery of our Church but also to move us into action.
We honor Mary as Mother of the Church on the day after Pentecost, reminding us that Mary was present with the disciples on Pentecost. Mary prayed with the first Christian community, awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit for all believers. Mary prayed with them as the Holy Spirit descended. And Mary, our dear Mother, continues to pray for us.
Image: Stained glass panel from Klinte Church, Sweden. By Gabriel Hildebrand under CC BY-SA 2.5.