May is Mary’s month, and it is no mistake that in May we also honor our mothers. Consequently, it is worth pondering the mystery of Mary and motherhood in May. It is especially important to look again at this mystery because of the widespread confusion about sexuality in our society.
I use the term “mystery” because “mystery” is closely aligned to “mysticism” and it is only by tapping into our mystical side that we can properly appreciate the mystery of motherhood. When we use the term “mystery” it is not just an intellectual cop-out—an escape route from a problem we would rather not face. Instead a mystery can be defined as “something that can be experienced even if it cannot be explained.” Motherhood, like love itself, is therefore a mystery because a mother’s love is something that can be experienced even if it cannot be explained.
It is easy enough to explain the mechanics of motherhood: “When a man really loves a woman …” but the mechanics of motherhood can never explain the mysterious bond that develops between the woman and her child as the new soul grows and blossoms in the womb. As a man I look on in wonder. What must it be like to have a little person resting within your own body and knowing the intimacy of their heartbeat harmonizing with yours, their nourishment coming through your bloodstream, their mind and heart and emotions being formed for nine months—taking nine months out of your own life?
The continued bond between mother and child is a wonder to ponder. How the mother loves the child with a love that is deeper than words! See how she naturally gives of herself to nurse and nurture the child, and then as her children grow, how naturally and beautifully she is there for them moment by moment—watching, admiring, defending and providing.
In meditating on this mystery we can see not only the mystery of motherhood, but the true meaning of human sexuality. The radical feminists may howl, but this is what a woman was made for. Her biology speaks the truth clearly. Of course women can and should use the full range of their gifts to accomplish great things other than bearing children, but many women affirm that they are most fulfilled in the glorious vocation of being a mother.
Furthermore, motherhood reveals to men their true vocation: it is to be a husband and father. As the mystery of motherhood and fatherhood is experienced, the mystery of our own sexuality is completed and glorified. Contemplation of this mystery also reveals why so many in our society are confused about gender roles, sexual behaviors and what it means to be a man or a woman.
Because the sexual act (through artificial contraception and abortion) has been separated from being a mother and father, men and woman have become confused about what sex is for. They are not only confused about the meaning of the sexual act, but about their sexual identity. Put simply, because we don’t know what sex is for we don’t know what a man or a woman truly is because our identity as men and women is clarified and glorified as we become mothers and fathers.
This is why, during the month of May, both men and women should ponder again the mystery of motherhood and the mystery of Mary. Mary’s humanity and femininity was fulfilled as she became the Mother of God. in this mystery she unlocks the humanity not just of women, but also of men. When her son says from the cross, “Behold your mother” he asks us to ponder this great mystery that new life comes from the woman—that a new eternal soul is conceived in their bodies and brought to life—that through this action they co-operate with God in a way no man can ever do.
It is true that women have often been abused and relegated to a subservient place. It is true that they have been kept “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” It is true that our society has taught us that our worth is dependent on our earning power and business importance, but abuses should never undo right uses.
Mother Mary reminds us that the grace of motherhood dignifies and beautifies both women and men. Through the mystery of motherhood men and women co-create a new life with God, and so share in the the life and love of God himself, for it is only those human beings we have learned to love with whom we will spend eternity.
Fr. Dwight Longeneckeris a former Evangelical, then an Anglican priest and now a Catholic priest. Visit his website atdwightlongenecker.comto browse his books and be in touch.