By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Anyone who’s been stationed on a Navy ship knows that the call that comes through the ship’s speakers and immediately grabs everyone’s attention, and adrenaline, is:
“Fire! Fire! Fire!”
…because there’s nowhere to run if the fire gets out of hand. If the worst were to happen, you’d face a ditch in the drink, uncertain safety in a lifeboat, or even a very unexpected and near-death end. Thus, ALL the ship’s crew must be trained in firefighting on board, because if necessary, it is “everyone on deck” to save the ship. It is their very life.
This is, I think, why we tend to refer to a ship as “she”; she is sort of a surrogate mother. The crew is fed by her, they sleep in her “belly”, she rocks them to sleep; it becomes refuge and comfort. Residence. Many former Navy and Navy vets proudly wear ball caps and have their ship’s profile and name embroidered on them. And a photo of their old ship is sure to stir up bittersweet memories. Even after more than thirty years of treading its decks for the last time, I still look wistfully at the pictures of my old ship, now tied to the pier, a racehorse past its prime…young “foals” s straining on their leashes to navigate these seas where he had so recently and proudly reigned.
More broadly, we who live in the “belly” of New Mexico mourn as we watch almost helplessly as the wildfire consumes the beauty of “our mother” – wide expanses of blighted and blackened with no immediate relief in sight. The country’s devouring “pandemic”. But, despite her pain, like all mothers, she would rejoice to see her children come together in love and caring in this time of difficulty and trial, supporting each other with time, talents and treasures. materials to help their suffering brothers and sisters. What mother could do not rejoice in such; indeed, we priests and ministers often witness that family staying together and supporting each other in love is so often the last wish of dying matriarchs.
But, then, these examples pale in comparison to our actual human mothers – the source of our human lives. As Scripture reminds us: “…don’t forget your mother’s birth pangs. Remember that by your parents]you were born; and what can you render to them that is equivalent to what they have done to you? (Sirach 7:27-28) Who can repay the gift of life itself and the generous commitment to nurture that life? It is perhaps mainly for this reason that the commandment comes: “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12). As Saint Paul reminds us, it is the first commandment with a promise: “…that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God is giving you…”— indicating its importance and the obligation (privilege) to repay a small part of our debt.
Now, we Catholics and many other Christians venerate the memory of Jesus’ own mother: Mary. Many outside this circle confuse this with “cultism”, although it is not; she is only human, although we believe she is imbued with exceptional and particular graces to prepare her to be the Mother of God
(An aside: “Mother of God” meaning the source of Jesus’ humanity, NOT his divinity, just as from the mother comes the flesh of every other person while the soul is created by God.)
But, being the mother of Jesus, she also becomes our mother, because Saint Paul writes: “[Jesus] is the head of the body, the church…” (Colossians 1:18) and, “…we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:5) Jesus Himself prays to the Father just before His Passion: “I gave them the glory you gave me, so that they might be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, so that they might become perfectly one.” (John 17:22-23)
Thus, the head and the body being one, the mother of the head is therefore mother of the body in a divinely mysterious way – which Jesus himself affirms as he hangs near death on the cross : “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near him, he said to his mother: “Woman, here is your son!” Then he said to the disciple: “Here is your mother!” And from this hour, the disciple took her to his home. (John 19:26-27)
Well, the “beloved disciple” is not just the apostle John as is commonly believed, but all who are faithful to Jesus. The home we give to Mary, the mother given to us with the dying breath of Jesus, is our love, our honor and our reverence. After all, how can we do not love and honor this “blessed among women” (Luke 1:42) whom Jesus himself would have loved and honored as his Son? We might remember King Solomon – a weak “type” foreshadowing Jesus – honoring his own mother Bathsheba: “…the king rose to meet her and prostrated himself before her; then he sat down on his throne, and had a chair brought for [her]; and she sat down on his right. Then she said: “I have a small request to make of you; don’t deny me. And the king said to her, “Put your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.’” (1 Kings 2:19-20) Certainly, Jesus in his divinity would not be surpassed by one who is simply human! And so also our trust in the prayerful intercession of our Mother for us with her divine Son. After all, what mother doesn’t pray for her children?
As Jesus honored his mother, we must honor our own faults…neglect and forgive, for each of us has enough faults. If you want your mother to be perfect, strive to be perfect yourself through faithfulness, kindness and charity. That’s what she would have hoped. And a Happy Mother’s Day to all.
“How much I owe you?” to the mother says the son.
“For everything you taught me when I was young.
“Should I bring expensive blankets to throw on your bed?
“And a pillow to rest your weary head on.”
And the mother said, “I won’t take less than your love, sweet love.”
“No, I won’t take less than your love.
“All the comforts of the world would never suffice,
“And I won’t take less than your love.”
(Donald Schlitz and Paul Overstreet; sung by Tanya Tucker)
Editor’s Note: Reverend Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.