A Tale of Two Mothers
A Reflection on the Feast of Mary Mother of the Church - Gen 3:9-15,20, and John 19:25-34
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Charles Dickens opens his book, The Tale of Two Cities with these words:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . .”
In his book Dickens sets two paths as coexisting: best and worse, wisdom and foolishness, belief and disbelief, light and darkness, hope and despair, great optimism and extreme pessimism, and ultimately heaven and hell. Often it seems that I, we, wander between both paths.
In the readings for today’s Memorial, Mary Mother of the Church, we also read of two Mothers and two paths. One who is the biological mother of all humanity and one who is the spiritual mother of all who enter the Church through Baptism. One whose path of disobedience results in death, one whose obedience becomes the cause of salvation, both for herself and the human race. It is a tale of two mothers, Eve and Mary: death through Eve, life through Mary.
Before I begin, we should be careful not to shift all the blame for sin and death onto Eve alone. We know that Adam was given dominion over all creation (Gen 2:15) and although present at the tempting, remains utterly silent. He cowardly watches and then willingly shares in the sin.
Both Adam and Eve caught in their sin immediately begin the cover up. More than by just throwing on the proverbial fig leaf, they also justify their sin through a comedic and all too human playing of the blame game. Adam blames Eve and then insinuates that this is all God’s fault stating, “The woman whom YOU put here with me— she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it” (Gen 3:12 NABRE). Gone is the ecstatic love which Adam had at first meeting with Eve when he exclaims, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gen 2:23 NABRE). Sin, so quickly, destroys even that love.
Eve also blames God, for after all, He created the snake who in her words, “tricked her” (Gen 3:13). Interestingly, neither shows remorse or will confess their guilt and so reap the consequence of their action. How differently the story might have gone for us if they had simply admitted guilt and asked for forgiveness from the Father of Mercy.
In both Adam and Eve, we see the poisonous effect of pride and disobedience, resulting in death not just for them but for all who will turn their back on God. The path of Eve, the mother of all the living, our biological mother, should be for us a cautionary tale. Yet today, so many continue to fall for the temptation of the serpent, to be “like gods, who know good and evil,” (Genesis 3:5 NABRE). When we take it on for ourselves to decide what is good and evil, we ignore the God-given truth we know and our sin ripples to everyone around us.
In St John’s Gospel today, we are given a new Mother, the Mother of God. We hear in the Gospel the giving of the disciple, traditionally John, to Mary with the words; “Woman, behold, your son.” Then Jesus from the cross says to the disciple, “Behold, your mother,” (John 19:26b-27). John is the one disciple that remained faithful to Christ keeping watch with Him all the way to the tomb. John is the image of the faithful Church and so when Mary is given to John, the Church has always read this to mean that the faithful are given to Mary as our Mother and Mary is given to the faithful. We also hear that “from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” That word, “home,” in Greek is “idios” (ἴδιος), meaning, “into his very self”. Jesus is giving His Mother to us that we might take her into our very self. If we do so, here are three implications:
1. To take His Mother into ourselves we must reject the pride of Eve and embrace the humility of Mary who received the Word Incarnate with the declaration “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 NABRE). She places herself, with sacrificial love, at the service of God. Will you choose to follow Eve, whose pride resulted in separation from God, or Mary who in humility placed herself in the service of love resulting in eternal blessing?
2. To take the Lord’s Mother into ourselves, we must reject disobedience to God and accept His Word in obedience. This is an obedience built of trust in her Son, our Savior. Listen to Mary at the wedding at Cana. She states the problem to her Son; “they have no wine” (John 2:3) and trusts that He will do what is best. She offers no solutions but trusts her Son. She tells the servants, she tells us today, “Do whatever he tells you,” (John 2:5 (NABRE). To disobey as Eve did, we lose Eden, heaven itself. To obey our spiritual Mother and do whatever the Lord asks of us, we accept His path of grace.
3. To take the Mother of God as our own is to reject the poison of sin and embrace the healing that comes with redemption. Like any mother she nourishes us, guides us, and protects us on our spiritual journey. She desires the best for us, which is union with her Son. Her intercession is powerful, and she is constantly praying for all of us that we may become holy. We must also join our mission with hers. We must nourish those around us by word and deed. We must guide when necessary and always accompany those in need of Salvation.
I started with a tale of two Mothers. One, Eve, our biological Mother whose pride and disobedience helped usher sin and death into the world. The other Mary, the Mother of the Church, given to us by our Lord on the Cross and whose humility and obedience brings the world, to Love itself, our Lord Jesus. So many walk the path of Eve. We must constantly look for opportunities to show the world another mother, the Mother of the redeemer but also the caring Mother of the redeemed who stands in heaven with her son interceding on our behalf. The world needs Mary, our blessed Mother, the Mother of the Church.
Dickens, C. (1999). A Tale of Two Cities. Dover Publications. Print
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.