Madonna Behind the Glass
She stands behind a wall of glass. Her slender body arched to counter the weight of the young child she holds in her arms. The little one usually behaves during Mass, but today he is fidgety and boisterous. Perhaps, the Christmas decorations placed abundantly about the church, or maybe it is the untypically enthusiastic singing from the congregation, but the result is an unruly child. And so, this lovely, young, caring, and devoted mom mimicked countless other mothers in crying rooms or enclosed church entrances throughout the world. In my mind's eye, I imagine her to be the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her arms while standing with the other women behind the ezrat nashim (balcony or barrier) separating them from the men worshipping in the temple.
As celebrant, my position affords me an optimal view of this young mother. What thoughts are crossing her mind and what prayers enter her heart as she watches the Mass through the glass? Is this her baby's first Christmas? Is she thinking of all the Christmases to come? My reverie finally rests on hopes that her devotion to her faith will guide the nurturing of her child. Remaining in the pew with their three-year old, my "Madonna's" husband occasionally glances back to check on his wife. Here is the Church, I thought. I pray that this family's faith will match the force of the opposition of the prevalent cultural trend toward disbelief. I beseech the Blessed Mother to aid this mother in overcoming anything harmful to faith that this child will encounter. The image of the Madonna and Child portrayed in art through the centuries in blissful innocence and peace – like this "other Mary" that I envision – belies the harsh realities of the life ahead. Mary had to trust in the plan of God, in which she played so vital a part, to be fulfilled in vindication of her Son's persistent and heart-wrenching struggles for the benefit of humankind. For this present day mother of faith, the symbol of Mary and that of the Holy Family provides a model for family life and an assurance of God's love. Without this foundation, life is left a complete nullity and utterly pointless.
Dispelling the popular description of the "strong woman" offered by many feminists, the Mother of God does not emit the vulgar brutishness and near paranoia inherent in the current idea of strength in a woman. How this odd notion of strength being illustrative of all that is vile and reprehensible in the human personality came about is a mystery to me. The Madonna possesses the true definition of strength: a persistent quality reflected in a gentle spirit and a steady grace rooted in faith and unassailable by the sins of the world. This paradigm of strength features a rejection of the baseness of human nature and a call for the reclamation of the human soul through the love and forgiveness of her Son. In this profound truth, that mother and child pray and hope with a strength that penetrates the window before them and the challenges that lay ahead of them.
In his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI speaks directly to our young mother and all Christians in stressing the importance of Christian Truth as being the essence of all charitable initiatives whether in society or in the family itself. Thus, instilling Christian values in each member of the family leads not only to a more loving family, but also to a more charitable society. Soon enough, this loving mother's young child will be exposed to instances of injustice and indifference too often present in the outside world; assaults on faith and morality will bombard the child's spiritual senses. Only with a character standing firmly upon the bedrock of Christ's truth, can this child prevail. Nevertheless, his or her interaction with the world cannot be antagonistic, but must be evangelical. This child needs to grow up with a determination, unflappable in nature, to invite others to an encounter with Christ reflected in a life of Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). For now, the child can rest in comfort, having had the immeasurable good fortune of being born into a loving family of faith.
The great prayer bestowed on the Madonna of Salvation History finds a ready application to this modern, worshipful mother. The Hail Mary draws its text first form the message of an angel, secondly, from the utterance of Mary's cousin, thirdly, from Church tradition. The three elements of the Divine, the family, and the world combine in this cherished prayer of Catholicism. Inclusiveness and confidence reside at the very core of the sentiment expressed in this oration of faith. The mother, placing much faith in her quieted infant, departs from behind her glass wall in order to rejoin her husband, older child, and the congregation for the remainder of the Eucharist. I wish her and her family well and pray that the Madonna may watch over them tenderly at this Christmas time.
In whatever circumstance this Christmas finds you, may you be led by the wonder and hope of this season – a wonder and hope that no person and no promise on earth other than that of the One born to us this day can give.