All my life I’ve suffered from dyslexia, but it was virtually unknown when I was a boy. If the verdict of my teachers was divided between “that boy is stupid” and “that boy is bone-idle”, what could my poor mother think about her precious son. What a help it would have been to me if my mother had known about my dyslexia! What a help I could have been to her if I’d only known what I was putting her through!
But what son ever knows and understands what his mother suffers, what she goes through watching her own flesh and blood fall, falter and fail as he gropes his way through adolescence and into adult life. I suppose it’s as natural for sons to be absorbed with themselves as it is for mothers to be absorbed in them. There’s usually selfishness on both sides, but with Jesus and Mary it was different. Neither of them were stained by the selfishness, the self-absorption that marks the rest of us. However, don’t be deceived into thinking this made for a life of uninterrupted bliss. There could be and there were painful misunderstandings, separations and bereavements. If their close intimate and unselfish love for each other quadrupled their mutual happiness, then it did the same for their mutual sufferings too.
Anyone who has loved deeply knows that the greater the love, the greater the sensitivity, the higher the awareness and consequently they experience more keenly the heights of joy and the depth of pain – the agony and the ecstasy. If she had experienced the heights at Bethlehem and Nazareth then she experienced the depth at Calvary. The quality of her love meant that this ‘depth’ had never been experienced by any other mother before or since. Nevertheless, the sufferings of the Son were even more. Added to the physical pain was a psychological pain of unimaginable proportions. It was the pain of seeing the most loving of all mothers in agony at the foot of the Cross, unable to do anything to help the most tender, loving and gentlest of sons. There’d been miracles before, there would be miracles again, but not for his own benefit or for his own family, even in their greatest need. Instead, he gave her another son to take his place, the man he’d loved most in his life on earth. “Woman behold your son, son behold your mother.”
It didn’t take away the pain, but the mutual mourning of the new family he’d founded on his ‘deathbed’ gave some measure of human comfort and support. It was the most he could do – the most human thing he could do. John himself understands this deeply moving moment in a profoundly personal way. From that time forward he takes the mother of Jesus to his own home to be his mother too.
Not at the time, but later under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he came to see and understand another symbolic dimension to that fateful event. Mary was to become a mother once more to other children conceived by the power of the same Spirit who’d conceived Jesus in her womb. These children would grow and grow and spread over country after country and down century after century. The motherhood that first embraced Jesus and then John would grow and expand to embrace other brothers and sisters united into a loving family that came to be called the Church.
In Mary we find the most perfect expression on earth of the femininity of God. She perfectly embodies the feminine quality of Perfect Love, the motherliness that we all need in our spiritual as well as our physical lives. When Jesus said to his own Mother, “Woman behold your son”, he was not only giving her to John, but to all of us. Now in the same way as John took her as his own mother we must do the same, because we all need the soft, gentle, warmth of God’s motherly love made flesh and blood for us all in Mary. After all, when it comes to the spiritual life, we are all dyslexics!