Mothering, My Son, and Mary


Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

By Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello

We have been traveling in Europe a lot lately and visiting many cathedrals and churches. In the process my seven-year old son has simultaneously become old hat at choosing the appropriately-priced votive candles to light (“Stick to the 1 and 2 euro candles” we’ve told him) and increasingly interested in discussing the various renditions of Jesus’ crucifixion he sees. We’ve talked a lot this year about what it must have felt like for Jesus (both physically and emotionally) and why it was necessary for such a horrible thing to happen to him. But as we’ve looked and discussed and discussed and looked some more I have become increasingly immersed in thinking about what it must have felt like for Mary to see her son suffer this way. As I hold my own son’s small, soft hand, I can’t help but think that to Mary Jesus must have been, first and foremost, her son…her little boy…

When I was a girl Mary was the alabaster-faced Virgin whose statue filled the Mary alcove of my home parish. Her virginity and her saintliness were all I could see. But when I became pregnant in 2001 my sense of her as a virtuous saint and somewhat sterile good-girl figure began to fade. It was replaced by my interest in seeing her as a mother and seeing Jesus through her mother’s eyes. In December of that year I helped organize and lead a weekend long Advent retreat and I spent three days in profound amazement at how deeply I engaged with the questions of the retreat as a young woman 7 months pregnant. No longer were the challenges of waiting for the Savior’s birth abstract; I could feel my own baby’s restless feet kicking away as I meditated. And no longer was Mary’s story a prequel to the “real story”. She was at the
center for me.

In the seven years since that retreat I have only grown more certain that for me Mary the mother—the real flesh and blood woman who gave birth to a tiny, healthy baby boy—is a powerful image within the Catholic Church. To think of this woman who must have burped, fed, changed, scolded, punished, hugged, helped, and loved the boy who grew up to be Jesus Christ is to see a female role model who is both “real” and “attainable”. If Mary did all of what I think she must have done to raise a son then she struggled along the way.

Raising children is hard work. There is no training for it.

In my mind Mary, the mother, (and all mothers) was thrust into a role not unlike that of her son. She had to adapt to a situation she did not quite understand, she had to muddle through knowing that it would not be easy and that no one else would ever know exactly what her life was like. Each day would bring new joys and new challenges, new possibilities and new doubts. And when the day came that her son was hung on a cross I imagine that her heart was torn in two. If she was like me and the mothers I know she held in her mind’s eye an image of her newborn and in her muscles a memory of holding him near and safe. My little one is only in elementary school where the hurts are minor and easily resolved. When he is 33 I know that his pains will be greater and I know that I will still want to keep him safe. I assume that Mary did as well.

I plan to visit more churches soon and as I do I will continue to look for Mary in the paintings and sculptures I see. What does it mean for us, as Catholic mothers, to see Christ through her eyes?

Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello is professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Salem State College and the mother of 7-year old Luca whose theological questions keep her constantly on her toes. She wouldn’t have it any other way.


One Response

  1. Long ago I learned that no matter the ages of my six children (all young adults now), I would always worry and want to keep them safe. I also learned over the years that this isn’t possible.
    Mary as mother, woman, caregiver has been a presence in my life as a real person who, like me, had a child (ren) who would always live in that place within her that held all the hopes, pain, joy and uncertainty that began once she knew she was pregnant.
    Ms Duclos-Orsello’s son is giving voice to questions that have challenged theologians for centuries. Her thoughts and reflections on Mary are poignant and meaningful in a Church that continues to struggle with the role of women, including Mary.

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