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Men and Mothers

Men and Mothers

– Father. Johann G. Roten, S.M.

A Meditation on the Relationship Between Jesus and Mary

Who are my mother and brothers? This pronouncement, apparently, is full of disappointment. In reality, it is not inconsistent with a tender care for family and relatives. Jesus does not deny his natural kinship but radically subordinates it to a higher bond of brotherhood. The reign of God makes demands on the personal commitment of a disciple, which must transcend at times all natural bonds of family or ethnic grouping.

A man, a woman must leave their mother. But even if I get out of her house, she is a model for me. I may imitate her or try to avoid imitating her. Separating from the mother requires knowing the difference between you and me. I must appropriate what I will, make it my own, and leave the rest behind. So a mother is a model, even for Jesus, even for all those who are a part of that higher bond of brotherhood, to which Jesus subordinates his natural kinship. What can we, we men especially, learn therefore from her?

1) We can learn to let go. In the Gospel, there is an almost painful sense of separation between Mary and Jesus. Mary is key only to the beginning of the story; then she is on the edge, not even apparently appreciated. She does not make Him the Messiah and cannot make Him change water into wine. She can ask--and does. But she cannot do it for Him. Mary does the one thing that is hardest for another--and also the most necessary. She lets go--even watching him die in shame. Only then could he be what he was meant to be, the Messiah.

2) We can learn patience. Mary's big moment comes at the beginning of Luke's Gospel--complete with a bedlam of angels singing the Gloria--and then comes a postpartum letdown that lasts for decades. Mary gets to ponder--and do little else. Her Son surfaces at twelve for a little temple showboating and disappears into the woodwork for another twenty years. When He reappears, the village folk and apparently His family (Mary, too?) think He is out of His mind. When notified of their presence, he acts like he doesn't know them. And just when it seems like things couldn't get worse, this Jesus, this Marian project, this only-reason-she-had-for-living goes and dies.

The lesson here is that bringing God into the world is not an event that provides immediate, spontaneous gobs of ecstasy.

3) He can learn humility. In Genesis, Adam is born out of the ground. His name and ours--human--suggest the earth, the mud, the humus. Human beings are grounded. Sometimes, though, men and women (Adam was both at this stage) lose their way and need to be brought back to earth. Men, says psychotherapist Shepherd Bliss, often do this by working with matter. Chopping trees, fixing leaks, doing yard work. Such lowly tasks are necessary to happiness.

4) Mary, despite being the mother of the Messiah, is grounded in the little things of life. She is a mother in a puny nation where women got very little public credit. Yet this very lowliness is the key to her greatness--and the greatness of the nation she symbolizes. "My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit finds joy in God my savior," Mary sings, "for He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness, all ages to come shall call me blessed."

5) Men can learn from this kind of greatness--and learn to honor the little tasks, the ordinary tasks.

He can learn fertility. Mary, like the ancient goddesses she replaced, is a symbol of fertility. She is especially important to men who, lacking the gynecological parts, must give birth with their hands and their imaginations. Men go through the stages of birth--conception, labor, delivery, and nurturing--for everything from writing a symphony to building a better mousetrap. Men need to give birth to the world because that is what humans do. It is what makes humans like God. It is what Mary did--except that she somehow gave birth to God. Men need to look at the ways in which they give birth to God and what that might mean. A man can build a stool as an act of drudgery. Or he can make this stool with a sense that he is somehow bringing God, who becomes incarnate, into the world. It makes all the difference, even if the man is practicing law or raising a child instead of building a stool.

We all have to leave our mothers to become adults, to be ourselves. But somehow a mother never leaves us. So is Mary. She is there in our roots, she is present in our vision: Mary's vision of her Son to be the liberator of us all. Christian human beings need roots and wings--and it is Mary that brings them together--by letting go without leaving us.

All About Mary includes a variety of content, much of which reflects the expertise, interpretations and opinions of the individual authors and not necessarily of the Marian Library or the University of Dayton. Please share feedback or suggestions with


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