“Am I Not Your Mother?” Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Vocation of Women
“[L]ike Mary, who was a woman, a virgin and a mother, [women should] live with their eyes on God, repeating her words fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum — ‘be it done unto me according to Thy word’ (Lk 1:38). On these words depends the faithfulness to one’s personal vocation.”
ST JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
Conversations, no. 112
Whenever our Lady appears on earth it is to remind us of something that we are neglecting. She never comes to reveal something new, but to express in a new and forceful way what we should already know. She exhorts us to live according to what we believe—about Christ, the Church, and about herself.
At Guadalupe she asked St Juan Diego, “Am I not your Mother? Do you need anything more?” Her message was an emphatic wish to mother us in a most tender way: “Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?”
Our Lady is the Mother of God, exalted above the heavens as Queen of heaven and earth—but she is still our Mother, the sister of our flesh. She is of our kind. It is hard for us to combine in our imagination her great majesty and her concern for the humblest events and struggles that make up our lives—but it is true. That is what mothers do. And that is what our Lady came to Guadalupe to tell us.
Mary’s message of special motherhood, of her desire to be our advocate in all things, particularly touches women. As the perfect feminine expression of God’s love for humanity, Mary is the icon of what women are created to be. There is a closeness that women are called to cultivate with the Blessed Mother—under her mantle, in the crossing of her arms, our Lady imparts to them lessons of motherhood, of prayer, of compassion, of joy. A woman’s soul responds by becoming increasingly maternal in outlook, seeing everyone with the eyes of a virgin-mother: one who is mother to all because her heart belongs to the Lord of all.
It has been said that many women feel a sense of shame at their failure to be women according to their own expectations and those placed on them by others. Some admit to feeling that, at the same time, they are both “too much” and “not enough,” whether that means being thin or heavy, beautiful or plain, emotional or distant, or any number of other pairs of contraries.
I won’t offer any comment on that, whether it is true or not, but only to say that the Mother of God in a special way can help women to see how to sanctify these points of conflict, and the other struggles that are a part of the stages of a woman’s life. Mary understands that these struggles are real. And so she comes to us with a most compassionate human face, full of the love of Jesus, to be our understanding Mother in all of our difficulties.
It might be that many women experience shame at not living up to their ideal because they have chosen—consciously or unconsciously—the wrong ideal. If you swim in the waters of our media culture, the kinds of qualities portrayed as deserving women’s interest and imitation are mostly distortions: self-assertion, getting what you want, shamelessness in fashion—all of which undermine true femininity and lead women farther from the God-given ideal of Mary.
According to Dom Hubert Van Zeller, O.S.B. (1905-1984), women who have developed their maternal instincts through prayer and charity, even if not biological mothers, have more to think about in the joyful mysteries—the mysteries that concern us most during Advent, the season in which Mary appeared at Guadalupe.1 In a sense, more is accessible to women in the mystery of the Incarnation than to men. They know what men cannot know by experience. Indeed, Van Zeller also reminds us that Mary was a woman with a woman’s temperament, and so received her own experiences as a woman would.
A woman’s appreciation of this fact enables her to explore, with confidence in the richness of her femininity, the very mysteries of our redemption alongside the Mother of the Redeemer. She can look appreciatively at both God and herself for the unique gifts, the emotional and spiritual “equipment,” that God has provided her for praying, thinking, loving, contemplating.
If she uses them in company with Mary, they will inevitably be purified of whatever fallen tendencies render her gifts unequal to the task of Christian contemplation and love—the inclination to sentimentality or to a too exaggerated trust in her own impressions, for example. Women who devote themselves to pondering the mysteries of God and the truths of the Faith not only enter into the feelings of the Blessed Virgin, but also share her intuitions, learning to see the things of God through her eyes.
For women of prayer, as for men of prayer, the mysteries of Jesus and Mary must be approached in this way, in union with Mary’s sentiments. They are meant to be “appropriated” by believers, so that the mysteries become the concrete motive and inspiration for right thinking and virtuous action. Van Zeller cautions us against approaching the events and mysteries surrounding the Incarnation like museum exhibits: Look, admire, but don’t come too close. We must come close; we must allow the Spirit of God to draw us in, so that we can “imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise,” as the concluding Rosary prayer asks.
This reinforces the need for all women to see Mary as imitable. If she is to be the Mother and model of all, especially of women, then she must be real, her part in the mysteries of our redemption must be appreciated as real. Mary was a woman with a woman’s temperament. Maybe this is exemplified by how she “rearranged” the roses in the tilma of St Juan Diego. He brought them to her, but she did not leave them in any haphazard arrangement. With a woman’s attentiveness, she put order into them to make them more presentable and beautiful. She understood the need for that.
She sees the world as only a virgin-mother can, and she wants to share her vision with women in particular—so that their proper vocation can be fully realized. So much of this beautiful sharing is unfolded for us in the Visitation, the Gospel for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Lk 1:39-47).2
Considering the exchange between our Lady and St Elizabeth, it is clear that they really understand each other. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant in her womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:41). They share the most important things in common: the same God, the same Spirit, the same Savior, the same joy, the same femininity. Both are with child by the grace and action of God alone. They rejoice together in the Spirit. But it is also clear that both share a joy that only women can fully appreciate: motherhood, and the Divine power that makes every stage of a woman’s life fruitful, from the morning to the evening of life.
1 Hubert van Zeller, Praying while you Work: Devotions for the Use of Martha rather than Mary. London: Burns Oats, 1951. All references in this reflection come from this book.
2 The second of two options, of which the first is Lk 1:26-38.