A Place in Her Heart: A Reflection for the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church

The Blessed Trinity, in choosing Mary as the Mother of Christ, a Man like us, has brought each one of us under the shelter of her maternal cloak. She is the Mother of God and our Mother.
St. Josemaría Escrivá: Friends of God, no. 275.

Finding your place in the world is the project of the young. But enough experience of the world leads the wiser, if not older, to discover that finding a personal niche is not everything. Finding the spot where we belong can become more or less a hunt for a mirage, the “striving after wind” of Ecclesiastes: even if we do find “the place” it is never quite what it appeared to be from afar. However much we feel like we’re in our element, an inner homelessness still gnaws at us.

Faced with the choice, most people would give up almost anything, home and livelihood included, if they could be assured of having a place in the heart of another. This is the stuff of popular love songs and always will be. But however familiar or clichéd the sentiments, they are not cheap. They show that we humans are not one-dimensional beings, satisfied with room and board. We are made to live in a dwelling not built with hands. The many mansions of heaven, where Jesus promises to make a place for us, is our ultimate place of rest. Indeed, we were made to dwell under the protective shade of the Lord, for He will “shelter them with his presence” (Rev 7:15).

Until we are led into our blessed home, as Vatican II says, the Lord has given us another refuge, a home, and a heart in which to find sanctuary.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. [1]

To find our place in the heart of Mary, Mother of the Church, is unique—not so much the sentimental homecoming of popular song, but a place of rebirth in Christ. Her heart is a shelter that doesn’t send you out the way you came, but seeks to form us into images of her Son, very much in the way St Paul likens the formation of disciples to the gestation of children: “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!” (Gal 4:19).

The Gospel for the liturgical memorial instituted by Pope Francis underscores Mary’s unique travail as Mother of the Church: it is Mary, not kneeling at the Annunciation or even bearing the Lord at Bethlehem, but standing beneath the cross, suffering (Jn 19:25-34). That is a poignant image of what it means to be in her heart, as St John Paul II wrote: “The Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother.” [2]

As though by a continuation of that motherhood which by the power of the Holy Spirit had given him life, the dying Christ conferred upon the ever Virgin Mary a new kind of motherhood—spiritual and universal—towards all human beings, so that every individual, during the pilgrimage of faith, might remain, together with her, closely united to him unto the Cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of this Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of God. [3]

Looking into her suffering heart, we find a love wholly unique opening out to us. At the same time her heart is virginal, maternal, and impeccable. A love woven of these three strands—purity, maternity, sinlessness—reveals a heart of the greatest breadth and therefore of unparalleled suffering. Yet the heart of the sorrowful Virgin is not narrowed by suffering, as ours are apt to shrink and withdraw in painful moments. Our Lady’s heart expands in her affliction to embrace in spirit all that Jesus embraces on the cross—not only his sufferings, but also those for whom he suffers.

“In Mary’s case,” St John Paul II says beautifully, “we have a special and exceptional mediation.” [4]

Mary became not only the “nursing mother” of the Son of Man but also the “associate of unique nobility” of the Messiah and Redeemer. …[S]he advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and in this pilgrimage to the foot of the Cross there was simultaneously accomplished her maternal cooperation with the Savior’s whole mission through her actions and sufferings. Along the path of this collaboration with the work of her Son, the Redeemer, Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation, becoming ever more imbued with “burning charity” towards all those to whom Christ’s mission was directed. Through this “burning charity,” which sought to achieve, in union with Christ, the restoration of “supernatural life to souls,” Mary entered, in a way all her own, into the one mediation “between God and men” which is the mediation of the man Christ Jesus. [5]

Our Lord, from the cross, paved the way to Mary as our spiritual mother and refuge by mutually entrusting his mother and St. John to each other (cf. Jn 19:26–27). This is more than a detail revealing filial conscientiousness on the part of Jesus. John notes this entrustment because its scope exceeds a relationship of caretaking between two individuals. It is all disciples of all times who inherit the motherhood of Mary; all those “who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” are counted her children by the Scriptures (Rev 12:17).

A mother is the first refuge we know, and in some way every other refuge we run to in life has something maternal about it, whether we fly for protection from the elements or from enemy fire. You run to it unashamed at your need for shelter, ready to rejoice with others who have also found their way in. You are not at all embarrassed at associating with fellow refugees who may be tattered and worn-out, like the survivors of a deluge. The same desperate need brings all together under the same mantle. It is enough that everyone made it, that they found safety when they could have been lost.

In a few words, that is the Church of God.

No one rescued from a shipwreck is picky about the place he occupies in a lifeboat. Gratitude for the lifesaving expels every thought of self. Our Lady as Mother of the Church is that rescuer, lifesaver, that unique Mediatrix who so loves the souls whom Jesus has redeemed that she spares no effort to get us all aboard the “boat” of the Church, the barque of Peter.

Unlike the followers and fans of the virtual world, this fellowship is a true one, not a pretend communion of persons, and we call it the “communion of saints,” the universal, Catholic Church. It is not an elite club of the already perfect, but the bond in Christ of all who belong to him at all stages of Christian development. Baptized infants, catechumens, those fallen into sin, those consecrated to God’s service, the struggling, the victorious—all have their place in Mary’s heart because all belong to Christ.

The Pentecost image of Mary in the midst of the earliest disciples illustrates the point: She is not only surrounded by the faithful and devout souls who had accompanied the Lord in His public ministry and got as close as they could during the passion to console Him, but she is also encompassed by the very ones who had abandoned her Son in His hour of need. Together, they form the Church of God. Whether innocent or penitent, all are her children because all are redeemed and forgiven by Christ Jesus. The heart of both Son and Mother beat together with the same mercy.

All of this amounts to appreciating mercy as the cement that bonds us in the Church. Everyone enters this world as an outcast. Having been cast out of paradise, out of a banquet, much of what we do—both good and bad—is a form of “gate crashing,” trying to reestablish ourselves in a place of happiness and peace. Like those motley characters virtually dragged in off the streets to the marriage banquet (Mt 22:1–14), we all stand in need of what the host of the banquet offers, but are all disqualified from attending. Unless, that is, the king takes the initiative and offers us a place where we thought we had none.

Until we reach that banquet hall, it is the mission of His mother to call, attract, and even compel us to her Son. She is like the king’s servant, or handmaid, who hastens through the streets and thoroughfares inviting as many as she can find—both good and bad—to the marriage feast (Cf. Mt 22:1-14). She knows the confusion and sorrow of those who’ve been on the outs, since she stood by on Calvary and heard their disturbing commentary on her Son’s death. But to draw in as many as will come to her Son and His Church until world’s end will always be her passion, for the motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly … until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.

1. Lumen Gentium VIII, nos. 60-65.
2. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter on the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering Salvifici doloris (February 11, 1984), no. 26.
3. Salvifici doloris, no. 26.
4. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Pilgrim Church Redemptoris Mater (March 25, 1987), no. 39.
5. Redemptoris Mater, no. 39.

Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem. Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.

Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community's seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms , Home Again: A Prayerful Rediscovery of Your Catholic Faith and Scatter My Darkness: Turning Night to Day with the Gospel. Father's latest book is Coached by Josemaría Escrivá (Scepter Publishers 2023). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.

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