A Holy Reunion: Meeting the Virgin Mary
Two decades ago I began a relationship with a mother I’d never met. A mother I didn’t know I had.
On a sultry Florida morning in 1994, I sat in a church pew next to my fidgeting husband, only half-listening the sermon, when suddenly I heard the pastor mention the Virgin Mary, a thing that did not happen often in our faith. I tuned in just in time to hear him say, in a voice of authority, five words that would stick with me: “God doesn’t have a mother.”
I wasn’t particularly interested in Mariology, but that statement gently tilted my world and set it spinning the opposite direction. From the fog of early memory an image almost forgotten reappeared, of a woman and her child locked in a tender embrace, a print of a famous painting that hung on the wall of my family’s home. It struck me, sitting in church that morning, that if the child in that painting was at the same time human and divine, both God and man, as I’d been taught, then the pastor was wrong. God did indeed have a mother: The Virgin Mary. Outwardly, I remained seated in the pew and to anyone watching would have appeared to be listening with attention. Inwardly, I had begun a quest.
My journey wasn’t conscious at first. I only felt a new awkwardness, a sense of not fitting in with the religious family in which I’d been raised. The more my soul stirred, though, the stronger the feeling became until what was only restlessness became pure longing. Suddenly, almost painfully, I was aware of myself as a stranger among people who saw me as one their own. Unable to remain, I set forth to find my kin. And like others who’ve persisted in a genealogical search, I eventually found them—my people, the family of my new birth. That’s when I learned of the mother who had never stopped loving me, though I barely knew she existed.
Finding a birth mother isn’t the hard part, I found out. Most adoptees who’ve done it will tell you that. It’s establishing an intimate relationship with a woman you’ve only known by name that doesn’t come easy. There’s a three month old baby, my goddaughter, staying in our home right now with her parents. For the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of watching this baby and her mother interact during feeding and playtime. Nearly every minute some form of bonding is taking place. The eye contact psychologists now know is crucial to human development happens quite naturally during feeding, diapering, bathing and play. And the effect it has on the baby shows. Catching sight of her mother, Lucia’s eyes light with love and sweet joy. She’s fond of her father, too, of course, smiles and squirms with excitement at his attentions and sometimes lets him soothe her. But the look on her face as she gazes into the eyes of her mother is one of pure adoration. It’s this adoration, this sweet joy, that adult children who, for whatever reason became separated at birth from their mothers, often report they don’t feel when reunion finally takes place.
On a spiritual level, the experience of those adoptees echoes mine. When meeting the Mother of God for the first time, I felt little more than respectful curiosity. Unlike some converts I’ve talked to, I had no problem with her role in the Church and thought I understood the reasons for her veneration. The language used to praise and beseech her didn’t bother me, either. In fact, I appreciated it. Mothers save. It’s what they do. It made perfect sense that Jesus’s mother would be closer to him than any praying woman on earth and far better equipped to rescue a perishing sinner, I simply didn’t feel close to her myself. In my religious upbringing Mary, as we called her, was almost backdrop feature in Christ’s earthly life. Her job, it seemed, was to give birth and exit stage. Almost anyone could have done it. Frankly, I was envious of those members of my new-found family who had grown up knowing and loving her as the most important human being ever born. They could not imagine life without Mary to rely on. I yearned to have their attachment for myself.
My priest advised me to simply pray, to ask The Virgin’s intercessions, whether I had a feeling for such prayer or not. So, that’s what I did. I asked help from a woman I didn’t know but yearned to love. Help came, too. I didn’t become an adoring child overnight, but every time I asked and received, my reliance on her prayers grew. Slowly over time, I began to bond. She became my joy in sorrow, my fearless defender, my consolation and harbor in the storm-tossed sea of life, the protector of those I love, my aid in sickness and infirmity, and if I am blessed to live long, she’ll be the “staff” of my old age. Having been the awestruck witness to miracles worked by her powerful prayers, I’ve finally developed an attachment to this Lady, my Mother, one that with the Lord’s help I intend to keep fostering. And someday when she’s gazing upon her children with love in her eyes, I hope she will see on my face that look my tiny goddaughter has for her mother, that one of pure adoration.