Treasures from Darkness
‘Everything that affected Jesus affected His mother, yet no intimate understanding existed between them. His life was hers, yet constantly escaped her.’ (Romano Guardini, The Lord)
‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ (LK 2: 19)
No more powerful bond exists than between mother and child; Mary, like all mothers, is significantly defined by her child. Yet the extraordinary nature of this Child set in motion a pattern that reveals the extraordinary nature of His mother.
The birth of Christ brings us near to Mary. She invites us annually to follow her lead in pondering the mystery of God-with-us. We marvel as she did on the glorious and humble attendees of her Son: heaven and earth extol Heaven-on-earth, the babe majestic and magnetic, even in a manger.
Yet the treasures she pondered at His birth seem comparatively bright to the occasions of increasing distance she experienced as He grew. Teen Jesus lovingly failed to assuage Mary’s confusion when she asked Him why He had ditched her for time alone in the temple: ‘Why were you looking for Me? Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ (LK 2:49)
Mary pondered and ‘treasured’ (v.51) this occasion. From the rumblings of her Son’s adult mission, Mary got low. She prayerfully ascertained His deeper purpose. In so doing she transformed offense and fear into faith. You could say she drew from the deep well of her ‘yes.’ That is Mary’s greatness: not merely one ‘yes’ to God but a series of wrenching assents to her Son whom Scripture describes as respectfully remote, resolute only toward Jerusalem. (LK 9: 51)
How else can we understand Jesus’ response to Mary’s request at the wedding in Cana: ‘Dear woman, why do you involve Me? My time has not come’ (JN 2:4)? Similarly, Jesus realigned the focus of those extoling the one who birthed and nursed Him in this way: ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it!’ (LK 11: 27, 28)
And that is precisely the point. Mary is ‘blessed among women’ because she listened for the Word of God and obeyed it. Her gift lay in welcoming the Word: the unfathomable task of embodying that Word. She then remained faithful to every step He took, even though those steps separated them. Distance from children is darkness for mothers. Mary made that gap luminous through faith. ‘Blessed is she who believes that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’ (LK 1: 45)
At Calvary, Jesus lovingly handed Mary off to John the Apostle (JN 19: 25-27). Is that not a fitting end to her call to bring forth the Redeemer? Jesus’ whole adult life was about breaking the power of sin and death. Mary knew this.
But deep knowing neither protects one from nor prepares one for the sword of crucifixion. We can infer that Mary shared Jesus’ suffering, thus fulfilling Simeon’s prophecy of her soul’s piercing (LK 2:35). She had good hard training: her whole life consisted of binding herself in faith to the Son she was losing. In darkness, her treasure shone all the brighter.
Guardini writes: ‘Perseverance in faith, even at Calvary—this was Mary’s inimitable greatness…It is this heroic faith which places her irrevocably at Christ’s side in the work of redemption, not the miracles of Marianic legend. Legends may delight us with deep and gracious images, but we cannot build our lives on imagery. What is demanded of us, as of her, is a constant wrestling in faith with the mystery of God and with the evil resistance of the world. Our obligation is not delightful poetry but granite faith.’