May 1, 2020

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

Celebrating the promise that Mary, mothers and godmothers make

John Shaughnessy The touching scene captures the tenderness of a mother for her child—a tenderness that is punctuated with emotional power when the mother says two words.

In that scene, a young woman is busy with a few of the hundred details that fill every mother’s day when she notices from the corner of her eye that her small son—about 3 or so—has tripped and fallen. The young mother immediately leaves everything behind, rushes to her son, lifts him to hold him close, and when their eyes meet, she whispers, “I’m here.”

A second scene immediately follows in the movie, a scene of haunting heartbreak between the same mother and son 30 years later.

Her eyes filled with tears and her face etched in utter agony, the Blessed Mother stays in the shadows as her Son carries his heavy cross to Calvary, overwhelmed by the brutality being inflicted on her son. Yet when she sees him fall, with the cross crashing down on him, she rushes through the crowd and dives on the ground, inches from him. As she touches her Son, their eyes meet in a moment of deep love, and she whispers, “I’m here.”

The combination of those two scenes moved me to tears as I watched again The Passion of the Christ during this recent Holy Week. And the scenes are still with me as we begin another May, a month dedicated to Mary, a month when all mothers are honored.

During this month, the Blessed Mother will be put on a pedestal, adorned with a crown of spring flowers, and praised in song for her immaculate nature and her standing as the holy Queen of Heaven. And while I join in that chorus, I’m often more drawn to her everyday, earthly nature and legacy.

It’s a legacy of moving beyond doubt and fear and saying “yes” to God, to life, to love.

It’s a legacy of keeping that faith in God, life and love when the pain, the loss and the heartbreak become unbearable and overwhelming—as it will be for all of us at some point.

It’s a legacy of strength, hope and commitment. And while it can be a legacy for all of us, it’s a legacy that is definitely embraced by mothers. That’s certainly true of the mothers who have blessed my life.

I see the Blessed Mother’s strength, tenderness and true heart in the life of my own mother. Her mother died when she was 2 so she has no memories of the woman who gave her life. Still, she and her older sister had the influence of an aunt who had no children, an aunt who lived on a farm and welcomed them every summer, giving the two sisters a real sense of a mother’s love.

From those roots of loss and love, my mom has blessed her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with the example of how to love unconditionally, how to give generously and how to embrace—and never take for granted—the gifts of life, health and family.

Even in a year when she has suffered the devastating losses of her husband of nearly 67 years and her only sibling, she still gives light, hope and comfort—qualities that also reflect the Blessed Mother.

I also find Mary’s faithfulness in my mother-in-law, a mother of nine whose loving hug is as all-in as her belief that the best day of our lives will be when we die—because then we will see and be with God.

And it’s there in the grace, love and endless support of my wife for our grown children, whose occasional need for their mother’s help and advice still shines through in the phone calls that begin, “Hi, Dad. Is Mom there?”

I also see the legacy of the Blessed Mother in my sisters, my aunts, our daughter and our daughters-in-law—some of them mothers, some of them godmothers, and all of them bound by their faith and their love for a child.

And I have no doubt that you know women who live the legacy of the Blessed Mother every day, in nearly every breath.

They live the belief that love will always triumph.

They live the promise that Mary made to her Son and to all of us, the promise that endures today:

“I’m here.

“I’m here for you always.”

(John Shaughnessy is the assistant editor of The Criterion and the author of Then Something Wondrous Happened: Unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with God.)

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