On January 1, we celebrated the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. But for many in our secular society, January 1 means one thing only: New Year's Day. That makes me sad.
But what saddens me even more is that many people don’t understand the Virgin Mary at all. Frequently, at the end of my speaking engagements, I’m approached by someone who confides in me that they just “don’t get that Mary thing.” They have no real attachment to Mary, nor do they appreciate who she is and the essential role she plays in the economy of salvation. When they miss out on Mary, they miss out on someone amazing.
Based on my experiences and opinion, there are three basic reasons why people don’t get “that Mary thing.” I wrote about them in my book, Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace.
The first reason is the tendency to put Mary on a pedestal so high that we can’t reach her. Since the first century, the Church has honored and venerated Mary—and rightly so. When the Angel Gabriel appeared to her, he called her the “favored one” (see Lk 1:28).
God chose Mary from among all women from all time to be the mother of his son. Because of her special place of honor in God’s realm, she was conceived without the stain of original sin and remained sinless throughout her life. Mary does indeed deserve acclaim, but that can lead us to see her as so holy and perfect that we dare not approach.
Second is the false notion that we offend Jesus when we go to Mary in prayer. Some folks even think its idolatrous to pray to Mary at all. Let me clarify that Catholics do not worship Mary—worship is for God alone. Rather, we venerate her. That means we honor her holiness and acknowledge her closeness to God.
Why do we do this? Because our Lord urged us to as he hung dying on the Cross. Catholics believe that when the dying Jesus told John the Apostle, “behold, your mother” and Mary “behold, your son,” the apostle stood for all mankind. Our Lord was entrusting Mary to John, and subsequently all of us, and John in the place of all of us, to Mary. At that moment the savior decreed that Mary should become mother to all the world and the world should become her children. How can it be offensive to honor the one our Lord loved so dearly—his own mother?
Finally, our experiences on the natural level influence our relationships on the supernatural level. If we’ve struggled with our relationship with our natural, adoptive, or foster mother, we’ll tend to struggle in our relationship with our spiritual mother, Mary.
“If we have had a negative mothering experience on the human level, it is tough to open our hearts to a positive mothering experience from Mary. If we have not been close to our physical mothers, it’s more challenging to become close to our spiritual mother. If we have been abused or neglected, we may even be afraid to draw close to Mary. You could say that the way we feel about our physical mothers conditions us to feel the same way about Mary,” I wrote in Forgiving Mother.
The title Mother of God, given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, is the highest title ever given to Mary. Because Jesus’ humanity and divinity cannot be separated, Mary is truly the mother of God. Because Jesus gave her to us from the cross and vice versa, Mary is truly our mother. As such, she wants to draw very close to us and for us to draw close to her. Even if we “don’t get that Mary thing,” we can meditate on this amazing revelation: Mary is Mother of God. She is our mother, too.