THE PERFECTION of all motherhood is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, because she is the only mother in all the world who was “made to order” by her Divine Son. No creature can create his own mother. He can paint a picture of his own mother, for, in the field of art, the artist pre-exists his product; he is a symbol of God the Creator pre-existing His creatures. All art is an imitation of the Divine Artist Who, from all eternity, possessed in His Divine mind the archetypal ideas according to which He made the world in time. The most famous painting of a mother is probably that by Whistler. Once, when complimented on its beauty, he answered: “You know how it is; one tries to make one’s mother as nice as possible.”
Our Divine Lord pre-existed His own Mother existentially, as Whistler pre-existed his mother artistically. Every bird, every flower, every tree has been made according to an idea existing in the mind of God from all eternity. When He came into the world at Bethlehem, He was unlike anyone ever born; creation was no stranger to Him. He was like a bird that might have made the nest in which he was hatched. He came into the universe as a master into His own house or as an artist into his own studio. The universe was His and the fullness thereof.
In a particular way He created His own Mother. He thought of her before she was born, as the poet thinks of his poem before it is written. He conceived her in His eternal mind before she was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Ann. In an improper sense, when she was conceived eternally in the pure mind of God, that was her first “Immaculate Conception.” In the Mass of that feast, the Church puts into her mouth the words from the Book of Proverbs, saying that from all eternity God had thought of her, even before the mountains were raised and the valleys were leveled.
The Lord made me his when first he went about his work, at the birth of time, before his creation began. Long, long ago, before earth was fashioned, I held my course. Already I lay in the womb, when the depths were not yet in being, when no springs of water had yet broken; when I was born, the mountains had not yet sunk on their firm foundations, and there were no hills; not yet had he made the earth, or the rivers, or the solid framework of the world. I was there when he built the heavens, when he fenced in the waters with a vault inviolable, when he fixed the sky overhead, and leveled the fountain-springs of the deep. I was there when he enclosed the sea within its confines, forbidding the waters to transgress their assigned limits, when he poised the foundations of the world. I was at his side, a master workman, my delight increasing with each day, as I made play before him all the while; made play in this world of dust, with the sons of Adam for my play-fellows. Listen to me, then, you that are my sons, that follow, to your happiness, in the paths I shew you; listen to the teaching that will make you wise, instead of turning away from it. Blessed are they who listen to me, keep vigil, day by day, at my threshold, watching till I open my doors. The man who wins me, wins life, drinks deep of the Lord’s favor; who fails, fails at his own bitter cost; to be my enemy is to be in love with death [Prov. 8: 22–36].
But God not only “thought” about Mary. He actually created her soul and infused it into a body, co-created by her parents. It was through her portals as the Gate of Heaven that He would come into the world. If God labored six days in preparing a paradise for man, He would spend a longer time preparing a paradise for His Divine Son. As no weeds grew in Eden, so no sin would arise in Mary, the paradise of the Incarnation. Most unbecoming it would be for the sinless Lord to come into the world through a woman afflicted with sin. A barn door cannot fittingly serve as an entrance to a castle.
God in His mercy remits original sin after our birth in the Sacrament of Baptism; it is only natural that He should grant a special privilege to His Mother and remit her original sin before she was born. This is what is meant by the Immaculate Conception: namely that, by the special grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from every stain of original sin at the first moment of her conception. She was, in the improper sense, “immaculately conceived” in the mind of God from all eternity. But in the proper sense of the word, she was immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother in time. Mary, therefore, is no afterthought in the mind of God. As Eden was the paradise of perfect delight for man, so Mary became the Eden of innocence for the Son of Man. For the simple reason that the Son of God chose her from among all women to be His Mother, it follows that she above all women is the model Mother of the world.
No mother was ever favorably known to the world except through her children. No one ever heard of the mother of Judas, but all know Mary through Jesus. The painting of Whistler’s mother bears on the back of its canvas the portrait of Whistler himself as a boy. Even in art, the child and mother are inseparable. As one cannot go to a statue of a mother holding a child and cut away the mother without destroying the child, so neither can one have Jesus without His Mother. Could you claim as a friend one who, every time he came into your home, refused to speak to your mother or treated her with cold indifference? Jesus cannot feel pleased with those who never give recognition to or show respect for His Mother. Coldness to His Mother is certainly not the best way to keep warm a friendship with Him. The unkindest cut of all would be to say that she who is the Mother of our Lord is unworthy of being our Mother.
To show her veneration is not to adore her. Only God may be adored. Mary is an abstraction of love from Love. All the myth-creations of the upward struggling of men and far-off yearnings for a mother of mothers in such crudities as Penelope, Isis, Astarte, and Diana were unconscious, prophetic witnesses to a fulfillment in Mary, whom Francis Thompson has called:
Sweet stem of that Rose,
Christ, which from the earth
Sucks our poor prayers, conveying them to Him.
Love for Mary no more derogates from Christ’s Divinity than the setting robs the jewel, or the hearth the flame, or the horizon the sun. She exists but to magnify the Lord, and that was the song of her life. Knowing her as the Tower of Ivory, He climbs up the stairs of her encircling virtues, to “kiss upon her lips a mystic rose.” Acknowledging her as the Gate of Heaven, through her portals He comes to us. He who slams the gate in the face of the Queen bars the entrance of Heaven. If the world lost the Mother, it also lost the Son. It may well be that, as the world returns to love of Mary, it will also return to a belief in the Divinity of Christ. The reason that Mary should be honored above all mothers was given by her cousin: “How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord” [Luke 1: 43]? The Angel Gabriel also gave the answer when he saluted her as “full of grace.” But her Son gave the best and perfect answer when He willed her to us from the Cross.
Mary is, first of all, the model of the family. In the Annunciation story, there appears the action of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father sends the Angel to announce that He will send His Son to be conceived in her and that this will take place through the Holy Spirit. When Mary accepts, a new society begins; a human family among human families, which is at one and the same time an ideal and an earthly trinity. In all other families there is father, mother, and child. In this family there is Child, Mother, and Father. It is the Child Who makes the family; it is the Child Who created the parents. Next to Him comes the Mother, for she alone, through the Holy Spirit, conceived the Son in her virgin womb. Finally comes Joseph, the foster father chosen by God to be protector of the group and, for that reason, protector of the Church, which is the expansion of that original family. All through the preceding ages, from the crudest wigwam where spouse lighted fire for spouse to the castle of the prince and princess, wherein the two looked down on heirs of earthly kingdoms, mankind has been looking either forward or backward to that Divine Family, in which God veiled the glory of His Divinity and became flesh through the selfless love of Mary under the strong and reverent wardship of Joseph.
That home of Nazareth, wherein the earthly trinity lived its round of mutual love and obedience, was indeed different from any other home. It had to be; otherwise it could not have been the prototype. The pattern cannot be the cloth, nor the original the copy, nor the example the thing exemplified. The Child was God’s Son. Eternally generated in the bosom of the heavenly Father, He had no earthly father, only a kindly carpenter who acted as a foster sire. Mary, the Mother, was different from all mothers, for she conceived that Son with a passionless passion of a soul, as the love of her Creator supplied the passion of a soul in the place of the passion of a creature. Passion is love in bondage; it is the spirit in us straining at the leash of the flesh; it is like an eagle made for the flights over mountain tops, yet caged within a canary’s range. For this one time in history, love, by being emptied of passion, is permitted to spread its wings and fall in love with Love. “For it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.” [Matt. 1: 20]
Because Nazareth was so different, it is since then so imitable. Because it is the light, we can see our way. Once that earthly trinity stood revealed, the family could never again be the result of a lease or a contract alone; it would be a union, a fellowship, as indissoluble as the Trinity of which it was the reflection. Nazareth tells us the kind of love that makes a home, namely, Divine Love on a pilgrimage into time from eternity.
There is but one life, because there is but one Source of life. The life in flower and plant and the life in man and woman is but the slowly smoldering spark caught up in a clay-kindled flame from the eternal fires of God. Man could not call God “Father” unless He had a Son; and we could not be sons of the Father unless from all eternity the Heavenly Father had made us “to be molded into the image of His Son” [Rom. 8: 29]. Because images become blurred, the Father sent His Son to this earth to teach us the manner of beings He had eternally meant us to be. Human generation had thus become ennobled, because it is the reflection of that eternal generation in which life flows from Life and then goes marching, in created forms, through all the kingdoms of earth, with such force and vitality that death alone can conquer it. Here is the pattern of all fatherhood, all generations, and all life-giving processes, for in it love overflows into Love! This is the beginning of the earthly family: the original of Nazareth.
Because Divine Love as a Messiah came to earth, it became natural that husband and wife should not only give themselves to one another in mutual sacrifice but also should recover themselves in the love of their children, who tie them together as father and mother as the Holy Spirit is the bond of unity between Father and Son. If human love fails, it is because it is short-circuited, not directed to a mutual incarnation of love but rather turned back upon itself, where it dies of its own too-much. Without the child as the bond of mutuality, or at least the desire for the child, passion can end in mutual slaughter. But with the child, love discovers itself to be immortal. By giving its flesh and blood as a kind of earthly eucharist, it lives on what it feeds.
Marriage must end in the family, at least in intention if not in act; for only through the family does life escape exhaustion and weariness by discovering its duality to be trinity, by seeing its love continually reborn and renown, by having its mutual self-giving transformed into receiving. Love thus defeats death, as it defeats exhaustion. It achieves a kind of immortality as self-renewal becomes self-preservation. God is eternal society; Three Persons in one Divine Nature. The family is human society; mutual self-giving, which ends in self-perfection.
Deep mystery is hidden i n the fact that Mary “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” It meant that the love that begot her child was not human love. A child is the fruit of love. But, in this one instance, the love that begot was the love of God, which is the Third Person of the Trinity. Under the sun one needs no candle. When conception takes place through Spirit love, there is no need of human love. The virgin birth did not imply that Mary conceived without love; it only meant that she conceived without passion. Birth is impossible without love. Human husband love is unnecessary if God sends His Spirit of Love. Where there is no love, there is no family.
To Mary alone was given the gift of bearing a child directly through God. But, in a lesser way, every child is born of God. The parents cannot create the soul of the child; that must come from God. Flesh cannot beget spirit. At the very beginning of the human race, Eve, in the ecstasy of the firstborn in the world, cried out: “I have been enriched by the Lord with a manchild” [Gen. 4: 1]. “By the Lord,” but using the intermediary of man, Mary, the new Eve, in the ecstasy of her firstborn could cry: “I have been enriched by the Lord with a man-child,” without the intermediary of man; because she was begetting the new Adam, the new head of the human race. As in the Trinity there are Three Persons in one Divine Nature, as in Adam there are millions of human persons in one fallen human nature, so in Christ there are millions of human persons in one regenerated human nature. “In Adam,” man with his heritage of sin can become “in Christ,” with a heritage of grace.
The Trinity as the ideal family is the model not only for the human family, but also the model for the family of nations and the human race. The Giver, the Receiver, the Gift were first reflected in Adam, Eve, and their offspring, and later at Bethlehem in Child, Mother, and Father. “Beloved, let us love one another; love springs from God; no one can love without being born of God, and knowing God” [1 John 4: 7]. Mary also reveals the beautiful relationship that ought to exist between mother and children.
There really is such a thing in the world as two hearts with but a single thought. Hearts are like vines; they intertwine and grow together. One can give his heart away, but since there is no life without a heart, one must receive another in return, or die. Deep love does not so much exist between two hearts as between one heart in two bodies. A community of interests, thoughts, desires develop as if from two mountain currents a single river flowed.
What makes parting and death so tragic to lovers is that it is not two hearts that are separating but one heart that is being broken in two. A broken heart is not the fracture of a single heart, but the rupture of two hearts once united in the rapture of a single love. In fear, one’s heart can be in one’s mouth; but in love, one’s heart is in the beloved. And since each of us has only one heart, it can be given away only once.
No two hearts in the world ever grew together like the hearts of a Mother and a Son: Jesus and Mary. “Where your treasure-house is, there your heart is, too” [Matt. 6: 21]. His treasure was His Mother, her Treasure was her Son. These two hearts, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, kept their treasures in one another and in the sovereign will of the Father. In a certain sense, there were not two hearts but one, so deep was the love for each, so at one were their wills, so united were their minds.
These two hearts, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, threw defiance to the world’s warning not to wear your heart upon your sleeve, for they wooed the world openly. Shakespeare wrote: “I will not wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at.” But the Savior, wearing His heart upon His sleeve, said: “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened;I will give you rest” [Matt. 11: 28]. The love of Jesus and Mary for mankind was so open, they left their hearts exposed to every errant dart from the bow of sinful man. Standing at the portals of every heart in the world, each could say: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” They would break down no doors; the latches are on the inside; only we can open them. Because they have wooed, they can be wounded.