The Paradox of Motherhood

theotokosThe Feast of the Solemnity of the Blessed Mother, a Holy Day of Obligation, is celebrated on January 1.  At Mass that morning, I contemplated Mary’s motherhood, as well as my own.  I have gotten into the habit of asking the Blessed Mother to wrap her mantle around my children to protect them and keep them safe from all harm.  I feel like Mary is the one to truly understand what it is to be a mother—the paradox of pain and joy.

I heard Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the radio discussing this idea; he spoke of a church in which an image of Mary, holding the baby Jesus, was placed next to the image of the pieta, the Blessed Mother with the broken physical body of her Son in her arms.  This juxtaposition of these images struck me with its paradox of extremes. There are no two images that show greater expression of a mother’s love.  This is how God truly meant for us to love as mothers.  Mothers can feel no greater love, therefore no greater joy nor pain, than in these two images. mary-baby-jesus

Most mothers say that they never knew true love until the moment they felt their child in their arms, or in their wombs.  This is why the images of Mary are so important in understanding her role as Mother of God, Theotokos, a title confirmed at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.   Images, such as that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, belly swollen with child, and the numerous other icons of the Blessed Mother holding an infant in her arms, are so very significant.  As mothers, we feel what she feels; we love the way she loves.  The immense joy of bringing forth a child is our greatest accomplishment in this life, just as, as the Theotokos, it was for Mary as well.  I look at my own children and my heart wants to burst; I love them so much it hurts.  I watched each of them as babies and thought what a grand responsibility God has given me; I feel so inadequate, but He equipped me with enough fierce and undying love to do this job, like he also gave the Blessed Mother.  Maternal love is great and fulfilling, but as a mother, there is a fine line between joy and pain.

The next image that is ever powerful is that of the pieta. The most painful invocation of Mary’s motherhood is that image of the loss of her child.  When I watched The Passion of the Christ, some of the most difficult scenes to watch were those of Mary’s pain in watching her child suffer- the images of Jesus falling as a child, juxtaposed Mary pregnantwith those of His falling with the cross.  As a mother, she loved Him so much it hurt.  How many times would we take the place of our own child’s pain?  That is the whole idea of being a mother.  There are certainly levels of pain, from our child falling and scraping his knee, to our daughter’s first broken heart, to miscarriage, and to other losses of our child.  We can join our own suffering with the Blessed Mother’s and invoke her aid in protecting our children.  She is the one who understands and brings us closer to God through that understanding.

The love with which God has bestowed mothers is a great paradox, because being a mother is pietafilled with joy and pain.  We experience an amplified joy of our children’s happiness and excruciating hurt when our children are in pain.  The great contradiction lies in that which brings us the greatest joy as mothers, also brings us the greatest suffering.  We love so much it hurts, just as it did for the Blessed Mother.  We each bear God through our own children too, and that is the blessing He gives to us through motherhood.pieta



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