This is the third in a series of posts on the Seven Last Words of Our Lord from the cross. There is a menu and a posting schedule at the bottom of this post.
Behold Your Mother.
IWONDER ALWAYS Why Jesus took this moment to address his Mother as “woman”. In the gasping asphyxiation of the Cross, was woman easier to say and be heard than mother? Was Attha (woman) a mishearing of Amma (mother) pronounced when one gasps? What is clear though is that in the next line he calls this woman Mother giving her to John the Beloved and through him to us.
Over the Altar of Byzantine Churches there is often an icon called Our Lady of the Sign: Mary with her arms raised in intercession while Our Lord, from within her womb as a child, raises his hands in benediction over the Altar and the unbloodied sacrifice of the Eucharist. Mary is a sign of the Whole Church, raising our hands in prayer at the altar while Christ, our God, blesses the world.
What does it mean to have Mary as our Mother, to have the Church as our Mother?
For 2,000 years each of us have wrestled with the meaning of this question. The Church Fathers are very clear: “He who does not have the Church as his mother cannot have God as his father.” (St Augustine.) Behold your mother.
How each of us hears this command to “Behold” will be predicated on our journey to her. For some our mother will look like calm statues of Our Lady of Grace that can be ignored or sat in a corner while life goes on. For some she will look like Our Lady of Guadalupe, gazing out at us with the eyes of our own people, even though our people are ignored or even oppressed by the Church. For some our Mother will stand with open arms like the Miraculous Medal, while for others she will be so angry as to cry in silence like Our Lady of La Salette. She may be a beautiful woman radiating peace like Our Lady of Lourdes, or she may reveal hell to us, like Our Lady of Fatima. Going further back – especially if we’re not from these parts – Our Mother may seem like a stern Queen or a giggling maiden.
What each of us sees in our Mother the Church, our Mother Mary, we will also see in our own hearts.
Behold your Mother, Jesus says to us. We may see a mother like one of the ancient Goddesses, or we may see a mother like a mid-century Sitcom. We may see Boadicea or we may see Olivia Hussey. We may see a strident ruler like Victoria or an outdated stereotype like Bea Arthur. What we see when we behold our mother, though, will tell us more about ourselves than about either Mary or the Church – for they are the same.
The Church is the Body of Christ, born of Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit. This is no more a metaphor, no more a symbol, than the Eucharist. Our Mother stands across time and eternity, across space and heaven and yet is here, in the in the present, in the person sitting next to you in pew and in your own heart. CS Lewis’ Uncle Screwtape lets us into the secret:
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew….
….Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants—’sons’ is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to ‘do it on their own’. And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt….
Behold your Mother. That is, Homer. Or the Church.
See, the issue is that “Our Mother” really is that blundering idiot sitting in the pew next to you, socially distant and holding to the Amen far too long at the end of every prayer or corralling six kids who will not sit still, or wearing all the wrong clothes for Mass. Did they bother to shower before coming from their overnight gig?
Behold your mother.
This is God saving the world and you have but one duty: give your life away for them as Jesus did.
Even if Mom is a bit tarted up with felt banners.