Throughout the month of May, Christians give heartfelt expression to Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. The fifth month comes across as a natural time to honor the First Disciple.
The weather is warming up, academic and program years are ending, solemn celebrations such as First Holy Communions, May Processions, Weddings and Graduations are in the air. It’s a festive time in the Church! And so, why not revere the one who believed and loved the Lord the best? With such a sentiment, believers turn to Mary.
This May honoring of Mary reflects her motherhood in the Church. It displays the inner familial dynamics of any community.
This focus on community, on family life, is central to our lives as human beings. Whether we like them or not, whether we enjoy their company or not, we all know that there is something important about having family members and about being together with them. We all have a deep family sense in our hearts and a desire to be with others who know us and who are known by us.
Something so fundamentally human could not be missing from the earthly life of Jesus Christ. This basic aspect of reality is plainly seen in his life and mission. Fully human, Jesus had a mother. He belonged to a family and a chosen people. His work as our redeemer is marked by this astute family sense and identity.
This communal sense might seem peculiar to many contemporary, Westerners. So much of Western civilization today is marked by the struggle to define a human being in individualistic terms. We want to be independent, autonomous and left alone.
As an extension, we see our relationship with Jesus in exclusive terms, as a type of “me and Jesus.” In this esoteric movement, our interior inclination towards family life is ignored and repressed.
In such a self-created and un-human arena, the role of Jesus’ mother, as well as of all the saints and angels, can seem like distractions and barriers to our encounter with Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ approach to us, however, is much different. As seen in the Bible and throughout the Christian tradition, the initiatives of Jesus always have a strong emphasis on relationship, on being with others, on a covenant with a people.
The Lord clearly shows us that God wants a family and it’s not just about the individual. It’s about the person as a member of God’s greater family.
In his public ministry, Jesus sought to clearly teach this lesson. On one occasion, his mother and relatives came and called to him. He was told, “Your mother and your kinsman are outside, asking for you.” He replied, “Here are my mother and my kinsman. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister, and mother.”
Some might see in this response repudiation or dismissal of his natural family. Rather than dismissing his natural family, however, the Lord Jesus is opening up his family to all who do the will of his heavenly Father. He is putting first things first and pointing us to the way in which we can also become members of his family.
Mary has this openness to the will of God and we are invited to imitate her.
Summarizing the Franciscan motto, we can say that the Lord Jesus came to heal wounds, unite what has fallen apart, and bring home those who have lost their way.
In Jesus Christ, therefore, we can see clearly the family relationship that God wants to have with us. This relationship is heightened and shines through the life of Mary of Nazareth. As the Lord mother, she becomes our mother too. As the Lord’s disciple, she models for us the way in which we can best love and serve him.
Rather than distractions and barriers, the Virgin Mary and the saints become a part of us and a gift from God to us along the way of life. In this way we see Jesus’ mother as a consolation and a help to us. We see her as our mother, too, in the family of God.
This is worth celebrating and, for the believer, it’s what the month of May and all its observances are all about.