Sometimes our Immaculate Mother can seem a far-off queen. She's not.
How can we possibly model ourselves on an immaculate creature? Her obedience is beautiful, of course, but how can we who are shot through with concupiscence begin to imitate it? And while she suffered as no other, still there was a certainty to her faith, an assurance that her pain would have an end and her anguish be rewarded. We who struggle through the darkness of this life, seeing God only in glimpses, may find ourselves more inclined to look to models of faith who had the same difficulty.
Those witnesses, too, are beautiful, the saints who experienced doubt and rage and lust and despair as we have. But Mary’s life wasn’t one of absolute confidence. She knew fear and she knew the absence of God, above all during the three days when the Son of God left her and she wondered whether he would ever return. Not after his death; he had promised that he would die and rise again and she (unlike the Apostles) must have understood that he really meant what he said. But 20 years earlier, when the Holy Family had traveled to the holy city to celebrate the Passover.
Our story picks up when the Galileans began their journey home. Trusting that their son, the most obedient and responsible 12-year-old the world had ever seen, would obey their implicit wishes and accompany the caravan back to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph left the City of David, not knowing that the Son of David remained within.
As they traveled, they looked for him, though not (it seems) in earnest. They knew he must be there, so they took their time, certain that he would turn up. As the first day wore on, their search became more determined, then something close to frantic. Jesus wasn’t there.
After a day’s journey, they turned back, making haste along the road they had just traveled. It was unwise to make that trip alone, exposing themselves to the brigands who preyed on travelers, but Mary and Joseph were beside themselves with worry. They had no concern for themselves, only a desperate need to find their son—God’s Son—whom they had lost.
They must have blamed themselves. Had they fallen out of favor with God? Were they being punished? Perhaps he had told them of his plan but they had been distracted. They must have suffered deeply at the silence of God. They called out to the Father but heard nothing. They longed for the presence of the Son, but still they were alone.
This we can sympathize with. We, too, have begged God for answers and heard only silence. We, too, have sought in vain for his presence in our lives, as individuals and collectively, as the Church wrestles with evil in its ranks and a God who sometimes seems distant and silent. In this, as in everything, Mary is near to us.
She found him, of course. Certain that some terrible harm must have befallen him, they went to the Temple to pray. There he was, teaching the elders, caught up in work that had nothing to do with his anxious parents who had sought him everywhere else.
And Mary reacted just as we do, when we’ve felt abandoned by God: “Why have you done this to us?” In her voice there may have been less anger than there is in ours, and certainly nothing approaching despair. Still, her questioning of God was just. As we watch people turn from Christ and his Church, we do well to beg the Lord to purify the Church, to bring healing and the conversion of sinners. But we can also cry out in pain, asking him why he seems to be silent in the face of all this.
His answer then is the same one we hear now: “I must be about my Father’s business.” He was working, then as now. And we who know the Lord can be sure that when he works, it’s for the good of all. Perhaps he was preparing Mary for his absence in death, perhaps teaching her to relinquish control over her child and remember whose Son he was. We don’t know what he was doing, but we know who he is.
It’s the same in our lives. I don’t know why some people pray for decades, begging for faith, and still can’t believe. I don’t know why God seems to be silent in the face of terrible suffering and injustice. But, like Mary, I know who he is. I know that he loves me. So I will search for him, however long it takes. And I will cry out to him. I may cry out in confusion and anxiety, but I will not turn away. With Mary at my side, I will seek him.