MARY, MAIDEN, MIRROR, MOTHER!

Solemnity of the Assumption into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Readings: Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab / 1 Cor 15:20-27a / Lk 1:39-56


A recent book by the feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson is entitled thus: Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints” (2003).Whilst I can make no critique, whether negative or favorable on the whole book as I have not read it yet, the title strikes me somewhat as odd at worst, or intriguing at best. For long standing Christian tradition from the very earliest decades of the Church has always accorded the endearing title of “Mother” to Mary, the mother of Christ.

I am immediately reminded of those famous words of the renowned theologian Karl Rahner who said the equivalent of what follows… “Abstractions don’t need mothers, but people do.” Whilst it is true that being the “first among the redeemed,” and being the first recipient ever of the fruits of Jesus, her Son’s passion, death and resurrection (the grace was given her at birth in anticipation of Jesus’ salvific work), Mary is truly one among us, “blessed among all women” (and men!), truly a preeminent sister among us all, brothers and sisters in Christ, through whom and in whom we have all received the grace of redemption. Mary is truly our sister.

To stop there, however, would be to deny a whole lot more about her. To see her as merely a sister to all Christians is like plucking and detaching a single petal from a flower, and being mesmerized by that lone petal, thus losing sight of the totality of the richly complex and beautiful flower. As is true for systems’ theory, when it comes to the figure of Mary, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Let us give a close look to these disparate “parts” that make up a grander and greater whole that is Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Mary was born immaculately conceived, without any stain of original sin, a singular grace accorded her in anticipation of the merits of her Son’s passion, death, and resurrection. When the angel came to her as a young maiden with the great news that announced her singular vocation to be the mother of the savior, the chosen maiden became destined not merely to be “blessed among all women.” That “abstraction” alone, even if it came from the Archangel Gabriel, would not have made her rise higher than her “handmaiden” status. Just being declared makaria (happy) would not have made her status to rise in our estimation. But the fact is, she was called to be the mother of the Savior. As the Lord’s chosen “maiden,” Mary was “makaria” (blessed). But as the Mother-to-be of the Son of God, Mary became more than just a blessed and happy maiden.

She was destined for more. Her destiny was not to be holder of an abstract title of blessedness. Her calling was to become every man’s, every woman’s, and every child’s object of his or her deepest and most intimate longing – to be mother, to be mirror, that is, to reflect the infinite love of a “good-enough” Father, who has chosen to send His only begotten Son in our midst, as brother, as Lord, as Savior.

Abstract titles alone do not make a woman motherly. Titles and honorific accolades alone do not endear the “child” in every one of us to a woman figure. But a woman, chosen to be mother of our Lord, and given to us be our mother, too, touches us deeply and enriches our personhood to the core. Latest I heard from the Gospel is, we were not given a “sister.” We were given a “mother.” “Woman, behold Thy son; son, behold thy mother.” A woman may not always strike a sensitive chord in a man’s life, but a mother’s presence always makes the heart beat faster. John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth should know, for we are told that “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb.”

I have it on the authority of “object relations” psychologists that people’s maturity and well-being depends a whole lot on the first “objects” on whom they projected their relational selves. Our psychological, social, and emotional wholeness as adults depends on the internal representations of said “object” during the crucial moments of our first 36 months of life.

Our growth trajectory, for it to be healthy and whole, that is called the separation-individuation process cannot afford to go without an “object” to relate to called a “mother.” That mother does not simply hold a biological, genetic title in relation to the child. That mother ideally ought to be a mirror to the child, someone who “mirrors” unconditional love and acceptance to the child, someone who relates to that child in a way that gives the child a secure base, and which, in turn, offers the child a “secure attachment” to a “good-enough” mother who can be depended on, from whom one can securely “detach” and temporarily “explore” the world, but to whom one can always “rapproche” and touch base with, as needed.

The Solemnity of the Assumption, I would like to think, is all about this “secure base” that the good Lord has given us, His people, His children. Assumption, is really all about Mary going up to heaven, but at the same time being here in our midst. Assumption is really all about presence. No wonder the Eastern Rite Catholics celebrate today’s feast as the “dormition” of our Lady. Mary, maiden, mother slept the sleep of death and was taken up to heaven. Assumption is all about God’s merciful and saving love, being mirrored by a woman chosen to give flesh to the “Word” incarnate, chosen thus, to relate to all whom her Son considered worthy enough of salvation.

Mary, this “good-enough” mother of all whom Christ her Son, considers as his brothers and sisters, continues to warm our hearts and fill them with happy thoughts. Like John the Baptis“our tai
nted nature’s solitary boast” (Wordsworth), the figure of this woman blessed among all women ought to make our hearts “leap for joy” as we do the equivalent of what object relations psychologists call the process of “rapprochement” – the act of drawing near and touching base to her whom her son offered to us as our own mother. “Son, behold thy mother.”

In the final analysis, it is fitting and salutary that we catholics have more than just a sister, but a Mother in Mary. And it is but right and just that we lovingly approach her not only today but every day.

For, to borrow the words of Francis Thompson, “the man in everyone of us needs a woman. The knight in everyone of us needs a lady. And the child in each and everyone of us (man or woman) needs a mother.”

Praise God, we were given not just a sister, not just a maiden, nor just a mother, but a “good-enough” mother who mirrors God’s everlasting love. This God deserves our worship and praise, for in the words of His handmaiden Mary, “the Almighty has done great things … and holy is his Name.”

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