Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:25-26)
Nine-year-old Zoe was crying with her brothers and sisters around their dying mother’s bedside. Their father prayed with them as Madeleine Labouré slipped off to eternity. Zoe sobbed, thinking of how much her mother had loved her. She had taught her about God, and Madeleine’s faith and religious devotion was deeply impressed on the little girl. “Who could ever replace ma mere?” Zoe thought.
A few days after the funeral, Zoe got an idea. She went into her parents’ bedroom, climbed on a chair, and took down an old statue of the Blessed Mother. She hugged the statue a long time, sobbing as she thought of her mother. Finally she said out loud, “Now, dear Blessed Mother, you will be my mother!”
That poignant moment of a child hugging a statue might seem pitiful, but it set Zoe Catherine Labouré on a path for her whole life. She eventually became a Daughter of Charity and received the apparitions of Mary that gave us the miraculous medal. Catherine was a simple French peasant girl, but through her own mother’s deep faith she understood even as a child the words that Jesus said on the cross, speaking to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother!” Those words, once spoken on Calvary’s hill, echoed down the centuries and found a home in Zoe’s heart.
In John’s Gospel, the beloved disciple is never named, perhaps because he was meant to represent each one of us. Jesus did not speak those words just for Mary and John, but for all time. Just as Mary received John as her son, and John took Mary into his own life of faith, we can do that too. Giving us Mary as our spiritual mother was a gift from Jesus, a gift from the cross. To receive Mary into our life of faith is like receiving a very special inheritance from Jesus.
Our relationships with our own earthly mothers can often be complicated. Problems can arise, problems that are difficult to resolve. Some people may feel emotionally abandoned by their mothers, even if she was physically present. Others may suffer when a dearly beloved mother passes away. Whatever the situation, whether good or bad, we all have a spiritual mother: Mary. Jesus gave her to us and wants us to get to know her, to have a relationship with her.
But you may be asking yourself, “Why did Jesus address Mary as ‘woman’ from the cross”? It could be that by doing this, Jesus was showing us that Mary is, in a sense, a cosmic woman. The Book of Revelation speaks of a mysterious woman “clothed with the sun” (12:1), a woman who was a sign of life in giving birth to a child.
The Book of Genesis also speaks of a woman, Eve. The Church has a long tradition of speaking of Mary as the new Eve. Genesis tells us that Adam named the woman Eve, because she was “the mother of all the living” (3:20). In Hebrew “Eve” means “life.” When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek (the Septuagint), Eve’s name appears as Zoe. When Mary appeared to Catherine Labouré in 1830, perhaps it was by some heavenly design that she chose someone who was also called Zoe, or life. As our spiritual mother, Mary leads us to Jesus and forms us in his image. Our spiritual life grows immensely if, like John the beloved disciple, we welcome her into our own life of faith.
This Lent, if you hope to get to know Mary better or ask for her help, you have several options. Meditation on the Rosary is an excellent way, because it puts us into the heart of the mysteries of Jesus. Or try meditating on other Gospel passages that speak of Mary, like the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38) or the Visitation (Lk 1:39-56). Or just talk to her in your own words, pour out your troubles, and listen for her loving, motherly response. Soon after Jesus uttered those last words, “Behold your mother,” he died (Jn 19:27). A soldier came and pierced his heart, and blood and water flowed out. That water first flowed on Mary, and she directs it from Jesus to us. That water cleanses us, for it is “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:1). This Lent, may we find that water and allow it to wash over our hearts and lives.
A Scripture verse for prayer
Imagine yourself at Calvary, and try to imagine how Mary felt watching Jesus die.
“And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zech 12:10).
- For you: Reflect on some way you might draw closer to Mary in your journey of faith
- For others: Is there some way I can reach out to someone who may need a little extra support this Lent? Perhaps someone grieving the loss of a loved one would be happy to get a phone call or note from you.
by Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé , FSP