Mary – A Maternal Presence

Editor: Fr. Eugene Barrette, M.S., past Superior General of the La Salette Missionaries, wrote in the May-June 1988 edition of Review for Religious (pgs. 342-352), an article on the Marian Year. This is a brief section of his article.

Untitled-1St John Under The Cross With Mary by Fr. R. Maria LuccisanoMary is model for our pilgrimage of faith, but she is more. She is an accompanying maternal presence – guiding, interceding, helping with the sensitivity that only a mother can have. And that is also a reality – she is truly a mother to each of us.

Mary as mother of the human race, again, is not just poetry. It is clearly stated and established at the foot of the cross. “Women, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” Mary as model is a great gift of the Father to us; but even more, Mary as mother is the great gift of the Father and the Son to us.


Her Motherhood is Our Gift from Christ


Again the words of Pope John Paul in 1987,


“Mary’s motherhood which becomes (humanity’s) inheritance is a gift; a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual... Of the essence of motherhood is the fact that it concerns the person. Motherhood always establishes a unique and unrepeatable relationship between two people: between mother and child and between child and mother” (Redemptoris Mater, #45).


Mary is not “out there” somewhere; she is intimately linked with you and me, whether we pay attention to that link or not. The relationship is part of our reality.

Turning and relating to Mary as our mother is not an appeal to sentimentalism. Rather it is turning to a source of life. Again Cardinal Ratzinger had a beautiful and suggestive image in his homily:


“If the Church in its everyday life does not want to be reduced merely to an arid institution or to an activism that burns itself out, it must look to Mary. Life can grow and develop only under the warmth of a maternal heart.”


Untitled-2It is there under the warmth of the mother’s heart that life first begins and grows in the womb; and it is in the light and warmth of the love of a mother’s heart that life continues to grow and be strengthened and made whole years and years after leaving the womb.


The Transforming Power of Mary’s Maternal Love


This immense maternal love Mary has for us has a transforming power. Why do we hesitate or simply neglect to reach out for and seize this maternal love? It may be just the thing that many of us and our people need to turn our lives around and become spaces open to the Spirit and be Christ-bearers.

The picture of Mary as our mother certainly is central in Mary’s apparition at La Salette. She began with the words, “Come near, my children… I have great news to tell you.” In these very opening words there is already great news: the news that we are her children, and therefore she is our mother.


Pope John Paul II on Mary at La Salette


Untitled-3While Cardinal of Crakow, the Holy Father gave a very insightful observation on the motherhood of Mary during a homily he preached on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the presence of the La Salette Missionaries in Poland. Speaking of Mary as mother of the human family, mother of the Church, he said,


“We know well that a mother who loves cries more than once... and if among the Church-approved private apparitions of Mary there was lacking this Mary in tears, our image of maternal love would somehow be incomplete. The mother who loves, sometimes weeps. Even more when a grave danger menaces her child... Her maternal tears are a special proof of love, necessary for humanity, necessary for our people today.”


How often do we ourselves draw near to those tears of love? How often do we lead our people to those tears of love?


Mary Assists Us to Rise Again


The tears that Mary’s love produces are shed in response to our own pain, our own suffering, our own danger, our own brokenness, our own sinfulness. Towards the end of Redemptoris Mater (51-52), the Holy Father refers to the lines from one of the Marian hymns after compline: “Loving Mother of the Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea, assist your people who have fallen, yet strive to rise again.”

He speaks of the great advances of recent times in human history. And yet, throughout the marvels of our journey in time and space with all the transformations we have witnessed, there remains a fundamental transformation, and that is the ongoing transformation from falling to rising, from death to life. As Pope John Paul II points out,


“…the Church sees Mary maternally present and sharing in the many complicated problems which today beset the lives of individuals, families, and nations, and she sees her helping the Christian people in the constant struggle between good and evil, to ensure that it does not fall, or, if it has fallen, that it rises again.”


This should resonate in each of us if we are sensitive to our pilgrimage of faith with its rhythms of falling and rising, with its experiences of our fragilities and infidelities, with our failings and beginnings anew. Such is our experience as individuals; such is our experience as a community, as a congregation, as a Church, as God’s people.

Untitled-4Mary’s appeal at La Salette certainly relates to our need for conversion. (Is the same thing perhaps happening today at Medjugorje?) Yet why do we shy away from this gift offered to us? Why are we so often indifferent, blasé about these obvious signs of maternal love rushing to us, children in danger, children in pain, children needing help?

Is it that we feel that we are (adults) now, grown up, and therefore no longer needing this consolation, this warmth, this encouragement, this drying of our own tears, and this loving embrace that helps us believe in our own goodness and the Spirit’s action sending us onwards in new beginnings again and again? (Every day of the year) can be the privileged occasion for us to rediscover this great gift if we have been neglecting it, or to deepen our love for it if we have not forgotten it.

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