He said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your heart also.”
The moment you hold your first newborn in your arms is the most wonderful — and the most terrifying — moment you will ever know.
This perfect, beautiful-beyond-words, tiny person with his or her precious yawns, stretches, cries, and endless parade of facial expressions holds every molecule of your heart in it’s soft little palm. You look at that baby, you cradle it and cuddle it close against your body and the realization comes: If I fail to care for this child, it will die.
You are the fort around this child’s life, the protector who stands between this helpless little person and all the savagery and brutality an uncaring world can throw at it. You are Mother.
We give Mary a lot of wonderful names. One of them is Mother of God. I want, for just a moment to put aside the God part of that title and focus on what Mary was to herself and to her baby.
She was Jesus’ mother. She held her precious baby in her arms and looked into his tiny face and her heart slipped out of her body into the absolute vulnerability of Motherhood.
Motherhood has very little to do with the lace-covered, flower-strewn cards you see for sale before Mother’s Day. Motherhood is the elemental force that allows animals with big brains and complex motivations to exist. The love Mary felt for Jesus was encoded into her genes by her Creator. It is the love of the eternal Eve, of Rachel, crying for her children.
When Mary looked at Jesus, she didn’t see her God. She saw her baby. From the moment He was conceived, until she went to be with Him in Heaven, He was her baby. That is the relationship, the foundational relationship, that made it essential for her to be Queen of Heaven and Earth. That is the essential, life-giving, life-preserving relationship without which none of us could exist.
In those first weeks, Mary was almost certainly caught up in the overwhelming experience of first time motherhood, the passionate love, the incredible joy, the numbing exhaustion, the soreness and deep tiredness of physical healing. She was probably not sleeping enough, and she was struggling to learn how to fit a baby and its unending needs into her already full life of work and worry.
But she was also spending hours staring eye to eye with this tiny baby of hers, making faces and watching Him respond, cooing at Him and feeling her heart swell when He cooed back. She held His body against hers and rocked back and forth, comforting Him when He cried, put Him to her breast and looked into His eyes while He took nourishment from her. She bathed Him, stroked Him, fed Him, cuddled Him and sang Him to sleep. She played with Him, laughed at His cuteness and marveled at His tiny fingernails, the soft wrinkles at the back of His neck which invited kisses, the way His eyes widened when she held Him aloft and the tiny perfect bubbles He blew in His sleep.
Mary was a new mother. That fact that her Son was God incarnate didn’t affect or change that for her.
It must have been a joyous day when she and Joseph took their tiny baby boy to the Temple. It was time for Mary to undergo the purification rites required by the Law of Moses and offer the required sacrifice for Jesus’ birth.
I would imagine that Mary was happy when she walked into the Temple, awash in the blissful exhaustion of early motherhood. I doubt she expected what was coming.
She wasn’t as unsophisticated and unknowing as some present-day theologians try to make out. She knew Who Jesus was, and to a great extent, she knew where it was leading. The Magnificat demonstrates her knowing, the fullness of her understanding.
God doesn’t trick us or withhold from us the knowledge we need to give reasoned assent to Him. Mary knew what she said “Yes” to.
But she was a new mother and I would imagine that new motherhood had shoved most of that knowing into the background. I doubt if she felt so much like the Mother of God as she just felt like a mother, every mother, with a newborn.
She was Jesus’ mother. He was her baby. She felt for Him what every mother feels for her babies.
It was a happy day. A glorious, wonderful, special day when she and Joseph took their baby to the Temple.
Then, the old man and woman, Simeon and Anna, approached them. Anna looked at Mary’s baby and immediately identified Him as the redemption of Jerusalem. Simeon went a step further.
The Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. He took baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying that now he could die in peace because he had seen God’s promised salvation Who would bring the light of God to all nations.
Then, his prophecy turned darker.
He will be a sign of contradiction, he said. He will be spoken against.
He turned to Mary. A sword will pierce your heart also.
I can’t imagine how this must have felt to her. Here she was, on this happy, happy day, caught in the bliss of her new motherhood and this Holy man prophesies that her child, her sweet little baby, is the salvation of the world but that He will be opposed, attacked and suffer a terrible death.
A sword will pierce your heart also.
Thirty-three years later, this prophecy would be fulfilled in a literal way. A sword would pierce her baby’s heart and she would feel it as if it sliced into her own flesh.
God doesn’t play tricks on us. He lets us know the price we will pay for following Him. He shows us as He did Mary, by prophecy, or He tells us by revealing it to us directly, or, more commonly, by Scripture. But He always lets us know the price we will pay.
Mary knew. And if she had ever let herself imagine that it might be different, she was confronted directly by Simeon. Part of the price of being the Mother of God was knowing.
I don’t know how she did it. But somehow, through the graces of the Holy Spirit and her own faith, she walked the long way from that day when she told the archangel, Let it be done to me as you have said, to the day when her baby looked down at her from the cross as she stood there with John, and said, Woman, behold your son.
The happiness of that day when she took her baby boy to be dedicated, must have melted like a mirage in the heat of Simeon’s words. She couldn’t even have that one day without knowing.
Mary paid a price for our salvation that is far greater than giving up her own life. Any mother will die for her child. But to know and never be able to not know that the baby she holds in her arms is destined for such a fate … that knowing was a sword that must have pierced her soul repeatedly.
Mary didn’t just know. She assented. She said yes, and her yes was the door opening to our salvation.
When you kneel down to pray and ask God with confidence to forgive your sins, do not forget the price. When you face death, either your own death or the death of someone you love, and the consolation of eternal salvation washes over you and gives you hope where there is no hope, remember the price.
Mary, this young girl from a backwater hamlet in a vassal state of the Roman Empire, this beloved daughter of Joachim and Anne, wife of a humble carpenter, paid a great price for your salvation.
A sword will pierce your heart also.
She assented. She said yes.
To learn how to pray the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, go here.