When I sit down and think about Mary, I’m most often overwhelmed.
By her purity.
By her courage.
By her maturity. (As only a teenage girl!)
By her obedience.
I could go on and on, because ultimately, there’s no greater woman in Christian history than the mother of God.
But to really understand Mary and what we can learn from her life, we need to consider that Mary wasn’t only the mother of God – she was (just) a mother. A wife. A daughter. A friend. I would love to ask Jesus, Joseph, Anne and Joachim, and Elizabeth who Mary was to them and what she was like.
While I will never be able to sit down with Mary or her closest confidants, there are a few passages in the New Testament that I love to meditate on and imagine what Mary was like as a person. One of my favorite accounts of Mary’s life is her time as a mother of a young child, since this is the phase of motherhood that I am in myself. So let’s open up to the second chapter of St Luke’s Gospel:
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke 2:19
There are only a few stories detailing the early childhood of Jesus – his birth and nativity, the presentation in the Temple, and later on the finding of Jesus as a 12 year old boy in the temple after Mary and Joseph “lost” him during the Passover festival. All of these stories, from his first day on earth until he was nearly a teenager, occupy only 52 verses that comprise one chapter in Luke’s account. In these 52 verses, a few key things are repeated. The verse above is one of those things. Both during the visit of the shepherds to the manger, and upon finding him as a boy in the temple, Luke comments that Mary “kept all these things… in her heart.”
I laugh a bit when I imagine Mary living today, in modern society, with a social media account. Can you imagine her flooding our feeds with pictures of a newborn Jesus, with captions like, “He’s finally here! Joseph and I welcomed a baby boy into the world today, and his name is Jesus. He’s 8 lbs and 20 inches of pure love!” or “Jesus’ first visit with a shepherd – he loved the animals!” or “Big day for Joseph and I: Jesus was consecrated to the Lord! #blessed”… We can’t possibly know, but I imagine, as Luke suggests, she would have been content to keep even these few details we know from the Gospel between her, Joseph, Jesus, God, and the privileged few who were there to see it all happen. I know that I, at least, could use a little more discretion in how much of our family life I feel compelled to share on Instagram and Facebook.
Three other words strike me in chapter 2:
- Amazed: Luke tells us first that “[The shepherds] made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed…” (2: 17-18). I can certainly imagine how surprised the shepherds would have been upon the news from the angel as well as anyone they shared that news with. But only 15 verses down the page, Joseph and Mary are also described as “amazed at what was said about [Jesus]” as Simeon prophesied the salvation that Jesus would bring to the world. Mary knew that she was to birth and raise the son of God, but she didn’t yet know the rest of the story. I often forget this about her, because I assume that since she knew more of the story than most, she knew it all. But that’s just not true; rather, much of the life of Jesus was unknown to her until it happened. And she didn’t need to know it all, because she was content to trust that God knew, and that mattered more than her own understanding.
- Astonished: After traveling a whole day without realizing Jesus wasn’t with them, and then searching three days for him after that, Mary finds Jesus in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.” (2: 46-47). Luke similarly describes Mary and Joseph’s reaction as “astonished” (2: 48), and Mary even says “I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (49). I can think of a lot of things I would have been feeling in that moment, after being separated from my child for FOUR DAYS in a crowded city. Panic and anger would probably be on the top of the list, and I suspect I would weep. I can’t imagine I would be calm and patient enough to speak as Mary did, giving Jesus a chance to answer for himself.
- Anxiety: Mary herself admits to Jesus that she is anxious (see Luke 2: 49 above). Seeing that human side of Mary as a mother gives me hope that I can not only strive to achieve some of her virtue, but actually succeed in attaining at least some Even if my anxiety bubbles up and I’m tempted to focus on all my failures as a mom, I need to remind myself that Mary was holy even in her humanity.
May we be inspired by Mary’s life of virtue in all phases of our own lives, and may her role in the coming of the Salvation of the World assure us of how much God values us as women.
What most resonates with you in the life of Mary?
Kendra is a wife and mom of two young girls living in the Boston, MA area. She works part time as a physician assistant in a family practice office and specializes in natural fertility treatments. One of her most formative faith experiences was serving as a missionary in Haiti for a year. She loves coffee, anything pumpkin flavored, sewing, and the beach.