Mary has influenced my whole life. She has been both mother and big sister for me, an example, an inspiration. I have prayed to her, believing she hears my prayers as much as I believe my blood relatives in Heaven hear my prayers when I ask them to pray for me.
After her Son had died, risen from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, Mary stayed with His friends as a guiding mother to help them through the difficult days ahead. She was with all of them when they huddled, praying, in the Upper Room, before they received the Gift of the Holy Spirit. We hear no more of her after that. But Tradition from the earliest days of the Christian Church forward tells us that she has mothered all of her Son's followers since then.
"Maria" reminds me of the young girl growing up in an occupied country, one of the "little people," which is why I love Robert Ferruzzi's painting, "Madonna della Strada," "Our Lady of the Streets," which depicts Mary as a simple peasant girl in a gold head scarf and ordinary blue, gray, and stained white clothing, holding a sleeping baby. An ordinary person like you and me.
"Mother of God" reminds me that her life was both extraordinarily difficult and extraordinarily filled with joy. Because her baby was both her human son and God's Son, a Mystery that she must have meditated on and been challenged by her entire life.
Catholics call her "The Immaculate Conception," which means that she was conceived in her mother's womb without original sin to be a fitting mother for the Sinless One. As his first teacher, she must have been humble, clear-eyed and compassionate, a strong woman of Faith who trusted that God's Heart reached to lift up the poor and oppressed. She must have been a powerful woman of prayer. In his Gospel, Luke uses the "Canticle of Mary" as her praise to a God Who takes care of His little ones, Who casts down the mighty from their thrones, lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things. (Luke 1:46 -55.)
Jesus, who constantly reached out with healing love to the poor, sick, grieving, outcast, and stranger, must have heard such wisdom not only from the words of the prophets in the synagogue but also from His mother in His own home.
Who else helped Him develop an attitude towards women that was so radically different from the Jewish culture of His time? After all, she was the brave one who gently prodded Him into performing His first miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana. (John 2: 1-12.)
Yet, being without sin didn't mean that she wasn't confused by life, that she didn't suffer. Imagine her fear and distress when her twelve year old son went missing for three days. Imagine the grief and horror of watching and staying with a totally innocent son who is being tortured, mocked, and crucified as a common criminal. What incredible joy she must have experienced when he returned to her from the dead!
Because of Mary's bitter Good Friday experience, Latin American mothers consider Mary a sister who stands in solidarity with them. Tens of thousands of Latin American mothers from the 1970s to the present, have prayed and wept and silently marched in protest of the dictatorships whose Death Squads have roamed the streets and abducted innocent people who were never seen again. These women, called the Mothers of the Disappeared, honor Mary as "Mother of the Disappeared." Her icon wears the same white scarf and black clothing that these other suffering mothers wear.
All of us, who have lost many dear to us after watching them suffer, can feel Mary's closeness to us in our suffering yet also rejoice with her and be at peace, knowing from Mary's life that we will be reunited with our loved ones after death.
Isn't it interesting that while you can find the tombs of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. James, St. Francis etc. there is no place in Rome or the Holy Land or elsewhere that boasts about being the burial place of the Blessed Mother, the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God? Tradition again tells us that from the earliest days of the Church, people believed that the body of Mary, Jesus' mother and first apostle, has already been taken with her soul to Heaven, the first of the first fruits of Jesus' Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
For how much she loved and how much she suffered, I can think of no more fitting tribute to the woman who is your mother and my mother, your Mary and my Mary.