The roles of Mary in my life

It is interesting how quickly your image of someone can change. At least, this is what has happened with my image of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Growing up Catholic, I was aware of Mary. I would pray rosaries to her with my family. I would see statues of her in churches. I would see images of her at home. However, despite seeing and hearing of her everywhere, I did not have a true relationship with her. She was a distant mother of Jesus. With a close relationship with God, I did not understand why a close relationship with Mary was necessary. 

It is often in moments of breaking, when we face tragedies and our hearts are deeply pierced, that avenues are made for the rays of God’s light to pierce through wounds and flood into the various dark chambers of our hearts. Like the light we receive from the sun, these rays can bring a lot of comfort and healing, but like the symbolic meaning of light, these rays can also bring a lot of enlightenment. It has been through various moments of breaking that God has revealed to me the place that Mary can have in my life. My heart is still in need of a lot more breaking in order to be properly healed and reformed. Thus I still lack a lot of knowledge, but here are some of the roles of Mary that God has revealed to me so far and how I learned to accept them.

As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary

—Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)

A Mother

Biblically, the role of Mary as a mother is obvious. For 30 years, Jesus was obedient and remained in Mary’s care before He went out to preach the Gospel. It was under Mary’s authority as a mother that He performed His first miracle at the wedding of Cana. It was during His last moments on Earth that He gave His mother to all of humanity with the words, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple John, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27) However, a major obstacle to me deeply resonating with these words was my belief that my relationship with God was sufficient as it was, on my own. I could not understand why I needed Mary. Two things helped me to come to terms with why Jesus gave us His mother.

First, I spent a lot of time meditating on the truth that God intentionally uses human beings as His vessels even though He does not need us. That’s right. God doesn’t need us, and He never has. Jesus could easily come down again and evangelize the world Himself. God could easily create perfect human beings to preach His gospel, but instead, out of His sheer goodness He invites us to participate in His goodness and aid in implementing His glorious plan through grace and the workings of His Holy Spirit. Thus, in a sense, God Himself is sufficient, but He chooses to become dependent upon people in order to bring them closer to Him. 

Second, I realized that it is in Mary that Christians are introduced to the importance and beauty of motherhood. While Jesus was here, He was purposeful in calling God His father. The Father guided, protected, and provided for Jesus. Similarly for us, when we go to God the Father, we often follow the model of Jesus and seek Him as a child would their father. We call on Him when we need guidance, protection, and provision. However, in a mother, we receive nurturement and comfort. Thus, in a way, we need Mary because she reveals an aspect of God that is often overlooked. Through being filled with so much grace, she reveals the gentleness, comfort, humility, obedience, purity, wisdom, and sweetness of God. 

To clarify, we do not “need” Mary in the same way we need God. God is the only one we truly need. Even the other things we “need”––air, water, food, community––point back to God as their main source, and are only effective because of Him providing through them. Similarly, while a relationship with Mary is useful in learning about Jesus’ heart and God’s will, it also points back to our need for God. It is Mary’s perfect harmony with God that allowed her to be a good mother to Jesus and allows her to be a wonderful spiritual mother to us. 

Out of another act of her goodness, God has not only given Himself to me as a Father, but He has given me a mother in Mary. She is someone I can go to when I need a gentle presence. She is someone I can go to when I need kind, uplifting words, or a comforting hug after a hard day. She is someone I can go to for motherly advice, or to learn about womanhood. What a gift! Jesus did not have to share His mother with us, but He did. She will never eclipse God, but rather like a moon, she reflects aspects of Him and leads me even closer to Him.

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153)
The Visitation by Frans Francken

A Womb

It was while reading True Devotion to Mary by Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort that I first learned of the significance of Jesus being in Mary’s womb for 9 months. God could have easily popped Jesus into existence without a gestation period. He could have appeared out of nowhere as a grown man like some of the gods in Greek mythology, but instead, He grew in the womb of Mary for 9 months. While we often focus on how Jesus’ years preaching the gospel and His time on the cross as guides for our lives, we often forget about His time being nurtured and nourished by Mary in her womb. As Christians, we should model Jesus and place ourselves in the womb of Mary, allowing her to form us into saints so we can be united for eternity with her Son. Through such vulnerability, we allow Mary to feed us with angelic sweetness the virtues and graces we need to grow spiritually. 

Take for example a human baby. While fathers have a role in providing for their baby, the babies for the first few months of their lives are extremely dependent on their mom for their source of nutrients. Her milk keeps them alive. Even during their time in their mother’s womb, babies are extremely dependent upon whatever their mother consumes, which is why mothers taking drugs or drinking while pregnant can have such immense consequences. Now let’s go back to what we know about Mary. Upon the arrival of St. Gabriel the Archangel, we learn that Mary is “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). She was never affected by original sin and never sinned . It was this purity and overflowing well of grace that allowed her to nurture Jesus in her womb. Similarly, when we place ourselves in her womb, we can’t help but be nurtured in the best way possible. If we desire to grow closer to Jesus, what other thing would bring us closer to Him than to follow in his footsteps and be nurtured by his mother?

 Saint Augustine, surpassing himself as well as all that I have said so far, says that in order to be conformed to the image of the Son of God all the predestinate, while in the world, are hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin where they are kept, nourished, cared for and developed by this good Mother, until the day she brings them forth to glory after death, which the Church calls the birthday of the just.

Saint Louis de Montfort (1673–1716)

An Intercessor

While modern day royalty is a lot different today, we can learn a lot from past structures of royalty in the Old Testament to understand Mary’s role as an intercessor between us and our Heavenly King. While kings often had many wives, they only had one mother. This led to the mother having a very special role in guiding the decisions of her son and interceding on behalf of subjects. We can see this in 1 Kings 2:13-21, where Adonijah, knowing the power of a mother’s prayer, makes his request known to Bathsheba saying, “Please ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you” (1 Kings 2:17). Many scholars point to these verses to show the relationship between Mary and Jesus. I mean, what son refuses his mother whom he dearly loves, especially one full of grace who only follows the will of God? Similarly, Mary is a great intercessor for her adopted children on Earth. Through her relationship with Jesus, she is able to bring our petitions before Him. This is not to say that Jesus would ignore your petitions if you went directly to Him! As the Church, we all still pray for each other, even knowing that each of us could just go to Jesus directly without ever asking for others’ prayers, but we recognize the power of community and the prayers of strong, faithful believers.  Similarly, a more sure and absolute way to reach Jesus is, in addition to our own prayers, through the prayers of His mother. After all, what son would not delight over knowing that His beloved Bride trusts His mother?

Let us run to her, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.

Saint Francis de Sales (1567–1622)

A Mother-in-Law

As a woman, I have found this to be one of the easiest roles to understand. Heaven is understood as a time when we will be eternally united and espoused to Jesus. This is why there will be no need for spousal relationships with our earthly spouses in heaven (Matthew 22:30). Understanding this, the role of Mary as a mother-in-law begins to make sense. Mary is acutely aware of what her Son needs and what will comfort His heart––going back to the role of a womb, by having Jesus in her womb, Mary’s heart was connected and was synchronized with His in a way that only she could understand. Thus, out of humility, we should run to Mary and allow her to prepare us for her Son so that we may be ready to unite with Him. It is like a mother-in-law who helps her daughter-in-law prepare for marriage with her Son. She is acutely aware of the type of woman that is needed for her Son and delights over being able to find a woman to soothe her Son’s longing for love. What son would not delight in knowing that his soon-to-be wife has been working with his mother to be prepared to be a good wife to him?

Mary, give me your Heart: so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate; your Heart so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life and love Him as you love Him and serve Him in the distressing guise of the poor.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1977)
Madonna and Child by Sassoferrato

A Chest

This has been the newest role that God has revealed to me–Mary as a chest to rest my head on. After each busy day of life, I find myself just longing to rest my head. Naturally, I equate this to needing physical rest, but often what I am actually longing for is spiritual rest. It is in these times that I go to the chapel or find a quiet place to close my eyes and imagine myself as a child resting my cheek on the chest of Mary. I imagine myself breathing in when she breathes in and breathing out when she breathes out. I imagine my heart syncing to hers with each restful moment in her presence. While God calls us to fulfill certain tasks throughout the day, He also wants us to rest. You likely have seen a restless child in a stranger’s arms all of a sudden go quiet once in the arms of their mother. Historically, one of the surest ways children have found true rest and comfort has been in the arms of their mothers. There is no doubt that Jesus rested in the arms of Mary as well. Thus, let us not shy away from running to Mary when our soul longs to be in her arms. May we bring all of our anxieties and worries to her and find true rest.

So your strength is failing you? Why don’t you tell your mother about it? . . . Mother! Call her with a loud voice. She is listening to you; she sees you in danger, perhaps, and she—your holy mother Mary—offers you, along with the grace of her son, the refuge of her arms, the tenderness of her embrace . . . and you will find yourself with added strength for the new battle.

Saint Josemaria Escriva (1902–1975)

Why do these roles matter?

After reading these roles or maybe just a couple, you may be asking yourself why any of these roles matters. Just speaking from experience, my relationship with Mary has grown tremendously through understanding these roles and I would never wish to go back to the times when I did not. It is through her that I finally feel like I am a part of the complete Holy Family. While Jesus invites us to get to know Himself, more than anything, He invites us to join His Family, and through knowing His Family, we learn more about Him.

Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe (1894–1941)

Leave a Reply