Photo: Painting by Mitch Kruszyna
Part 18: Mother of Mercy
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 3, 2015)
The following is the eighteenth part of our Mary 101 series.
When you hear the word "mother," what do you think of? Ideally, a mother is someone who cares for her children tenderly. Our mother is someone we can run to whenever we are hurt or sad, and someone in whom we can always find understanding and compassion. Our mother is always ready to comfort us, to care for our needs, and to help us go on when life gets hard.
In his book Hail, Holy Queen, Dr. Scott Hahn outlines for us how mothers and children are literally "made for each other":
Nature keeps mother and child so close as to be almost indistinct as individuals during the first nine months of life. Their bodies are made for each other. During pregnancy, they share the same food, blood, and oxygen. After birth, nature places the child at the mother's breast for nourishment. The newborn's eyes can see only far enough to make eye contact with Mom. The newborn's ears can clearly hear the beating of a mother's heart and the high tones of the female voice. Nature has even made a woman's skin smoother than her husband's, the better to nestle with the sensitive skin of a baby. The mother, body and soul, points beyond herself to her child (Hail, Holy Queen, pp. 15-16).
Mary Immaculate is our mother of tender compassion, a mother who understands all our sorrows because her own life was full of them. The Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy's first Cenacle Formation Manual tells us:
Mary's life was full of contradictions. She carried the Son of God in her womb and had many joys, but also many sorrows. Reflecting on her sorrows, we recall the prophecy of Simeon (Lk 2:34-35), the flight into Egypt (Mt 2:13-14), the loss of Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:43-45), the meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross, the crucifixion (Jn 19:25-27), the taking down of the body of Jesus from the Cross, and the burial of Jesus. Each of these must have pierced her heart like a sharp sword, and inflicted pain that only a loving mother could understand. (Bryan and Susan Thatcher, Cenacle Formation Manual: Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy. Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2002, pp. 74-75)
Mary: Loving Mother of St. Faustina — and Ours, Too!
The greatest saints of the Church have always turned to the compassionate heart of our spiritual mother in heaven. For example, the Blessed Virgin spoke to the great Apostle of Divine Mercy, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, about her maternal tenderness several times. She told her, "Know, my daughter, that although I was raised to the dignity of the Mother of God, seven swords of pain pierced my heart" (St. Faustina's Diary, entry 786). On another occasion, Our Lady told her, "I know how much you suffer, but do not be afraid. I share with you your suffering, and I shall always do so" (entry 25). Mary, "full of grace," is the mother who understands our joys, our sorrows, and our true needs better than anyone.
Saint Maria Faustina knew all this very well. That is why she placed her complete trust in Mary right from the beginning of her life: a childlike trust that knew no bounds. In the early pages of her Diary, for example, she consecrated her whole being to Mary, entrusting her life to Mary with these words (entry 79):
O Mary, my Mother and my Lady, I offer You my soul, my body, my life and my death, and all that will follow it. I place everything in Your hands.
Later, when she went to the Shrine of Mary in Czestochowa, Poland, to pray there before the great icon of Our Lady, St. Faustina wrote (entry 260):
The Mother of God told me many things. I entrusted my perpetual vows to her. I felt that I was her child and she was my Mother. She did not refuse any of my requests.
Toward the end of St. Faustina's life, Mary encouraged her again to place complete childlike trust in her by saying to her (entry 1414): "My daughter, at God's command I am to be, in a special and exclusive way, your Mother; but I desire that you, too, in a special way, be My child."
Saint Faustina's childlike trust in Mary was especially evident in the times of great suffering. It was then, above all, that she placed herself in the arms of her Mother Mary, and entrusted herself completely to Mary's tender care and heavenly intercession. In Diary entry 315, for example, Faustina prayed:
Mother of God, Your soul was plunged into a sea of bitterness; look upon Your child and teach her to suffer and to love while suffering. Fortify my soul that pain may not break it. Mother of grace, teach me to live by [the power of] God.
As her physical and spiritual sufferings in her own life increased, St. Faustina again entrusted herself to the care of the Mother of God, and found strength through meditating on Mary's own patience and courage (entry 915):
O Mary, today [probably it was Good Friday] a terrible sword has pierced Your holy soul. Except for God, no one knows of Your suffering. Your soul does not break; it is brave because it is with Jesus. Sweet Mother, unite my soul to Jesus, because it is only then that I will be able to endure all trials and tribulations, and only in union with Jesus will my little sacrifice be pleasing to God. Sweetest Mother, continue to teach me about the interior life. May the sword of suffering never break me. O pure Virgin, pour courage into my heart and guide it.
Whether in times of sorrow or of joy, the Blessed Virgin Mary was the one St. Faustina turned to, again and again, to help her live in close union with Jesus Christ. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Mother of God often appeared to St. Faustina or spoke to her right before Holy Communion, as if Mary's special office was to prepare Faustina for receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (e.g., entries 449, 597, 608, 846, 1414). As St. Faustina wrote in entry 840:
I am spending this time with the Mother of God, and preparing myself for the solemn coming of the Lord Jesus. The Mother of God is instructing me in the interior life of the soul with Jesus; especially in Holy Communion.
This is precisely what we should expect. Jesus says to us in the book of Revelation (3:20): "Behold. I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." So, at each Holy Communion Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks — but he will not force his way in. As he said, he waits for us to "open the door" and let him in of our own free will. We may think to ourselves: "Of course I will let him in; I will welcome him and accept him as my Lord and Savior every day of my life, and at every Holy Communion." Sadly, however, it is not as easy as that! The door of the human heart is heavy with pride, the hinges rusted by our doubts, the latches chained by our fears. It is not so easy to swing such a door open, even if we want to do so. And that is another reason we have such need of Mary, our Mother of Mercy. She is always ready to help us by her prayers to open the door of our hearts to her Son.
We, too, can come to know and cherish Mary, as St. Faustina did, as our spiritual mother who intercedes for all our needs. Relating to Mary in this way was not just a special privilege given to the saints; it is open to all the People of God. Fr. Cameron humorously sums up this truth in his book Mysteries of the Virgin Mary (p. 57): "Adam was the only man in history who did not have a mother. God saw what a mess it got him into and made sure that that never happened again. As a result of Adam's sin, God would save humankind, and salvation would have a mother."
More Scriptural Roots
We have already seen in the previous articles in this series that Scripture implicitly teaches that Mary was chosen at the Annunciation to be Queen Mother of her Son's Kingdom. As our heavenly Queen, she is Advocate for the People of God and maternal intercessor for us all as we journey toward heaven. We saw this reflected, too, in the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, and the cenacle of prayer at Pentecost. The book of Revelation hints at this as well when it speaks of the heavenly "Woman clothed with the sun" who gave birth to the Messiah, and of "the rest of her offspring ... those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus" (Rev 12:17). All of these Bible passages implicitly teach us that Mary is our spiritual mother.
The Bible also tells us that Jesus explicitly bestowed this role upon Mary when he was dying on the Cross. He said to her: "Woman, behold your son," and then, turning to his beloved disciple St. John, "Son, behold your mother" (Jn 19:25-27). According to the ancient Fathers of the Church, all Christian believers were prefigured in this beloved disciple who stood beneath the Cross, and to whom Jesus said "Behold your Mother." Thus, Mary was called to be not only St. John's mother, but our mother, too, the mother of all the faithful disciples of Christ. What this means is that Christ gave her to us to be our Mother in Heaven, who ever comes to our aid by her loving intercessions on our behalf. If she is willing to intercede for us and pray for us, and thereby open the door (so to speak) to all the graces that Christ wants to shower upon us, then she is indeed our "Mother of Mercy" — for all of God's graces are acts of his Divine Mercy to weak and sinful creatures like us. In short, by her maternal intercession and compassion for us, Mary opens the floodgates to all the merciful love that God wants to pour out upon the world.
What a tremendous gift Jesus gave to every Christian from the Cross! Tim Staples explains that Mary is actually Jesus' double gift to us on our journey toward Heaven:
On the cross our Lord and Savior gifted us with two things that he knew he could never be for us: a perfect mother and a perfect disciple of Christ, in whom we can find and experience the hope that is necessary for salvation (Behold Your Mother, p.229)
[NB: in the next online course on Mary, entitled "Mary Lights the Way," we will explore in-depth how Mary is for us the model disciple of her son]
The Second Vatican Council summed up for us the mystery of Mary as our Spiritual Mother and Mother of Mercy in the document entitled Lumen Gentium (no. 62):
The motherhood of Mary in the order of grace lasts without interruption from the consent which she faithfully gave at the annunciation, and which she sustained without hesitation under the cross until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. In fact, being assumed into heaven, she has not laid aside this office of salvation, but by her manifold intercession, she continues to obtain for us the graces of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she takes care of the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home.