There’s a short but moving scene in Downton Abbey that struck me forcefully after becoming a mother. Matthew Crawley has just returned from war with a spinal injury, and the doctors believe that he will never walk again. His soldier friends stay at his bedside to give their condolences. He puts on a brave front and assures them he’ll be fine. When they all leave, his mother walks in. His eyes well up with tears, and her own face is full of tenderness. They don’t exchange words. They don’t have to. His face cries out to hers as if to say, “Mama, look what’s happened to me!” He needs her comfort desperately. She knows that most vulnerable side of him, and she is the only one in the world who can enter fully into his heart and offer him the compassion he needs in his moment of intense sorrow.
When I saw this scene I realized how powerful and how unique a mother’s love is. Everyone needs that kind of love. What a gift it is that God designed the human being from the first moment of his existence to be utterly enveloped within his mother’s warm and tender body, and from the moment of birth to be cuddled as a nursling in her arms. But God’s plan to give us a mother did not stop in the natural order. He also gave us a mother in the order of grace.
Growing up as a Catholic, I always heard about honoring Mary, crowning Mary, or emulating the virtues of her immaculate heart. We call her our “Blessed Mother,” but I hadn’t really thought of her as my own mother. Becoming a mother myself meant that I wasn’t a child anymore—or so I thought. I had forgotten that even though I am a mother, I am still her child and I will still need her.
During her son’s most excruciating trial and death by crucifixion, Mary remained with her son. They did not exchange words. They didn’t have to. She locked eyes with him and her gaze consoled his heart. From the cross, Jesus saw how perfectly she accepted the will of God even in the midst of unimaginable suffering, and she poured out her heart to him in tenderness. While receiving the loving gaze of his mother, Jesus thought of the Father’s plan for the redemption of his future disciples. He would save them through his grace, but they, too, would share in his cross. There would be suffering for them that might even break their hearts. They would be confused and for a time, would not understand the meaning of his sacrifice. So in his final moments on the cross, he realized anew what he had always known: they would need her. They will need a mother. So he pressed on the nails in his feet to lift his body up one more time to get enough air to say, “‘Woman, behold, your son… Son behold your mother,’ and from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:26-27).
In our moments of intense sorrow, we, too, can receive Mary as our own mother. She knows that most vulnerable side of us, and Christ knew that we would need her love to touch us there. Engulfed in grief we can cry to her, “Mama! Look what’s happened to me!” And with the tender gaze that only a mother can give, she will enter fully into our wounded hearts, she who bore unbearable suffering. But she will also say to us with confidence, as only a spiritual mother can: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5), because underneath these holy words, what she really means is this:
“Be faithful to what he has given you. Do not say, ‘his I will accept from you, but that I will not accept.’ Accept all things from the Father because both joy and trial flow from the Divine Wisdom. Love your husband. Love your children. Your vocation is yours alone. Do not imagine that another one could be better for you or that you could be holier elsewhere. Everything you have is the Father’s gift to you. To receive with a grateful heart is your gift to the Father, and he alone can multiply your gift in grace. When your heart breaks from the weight of your sorrow, when you are tempted to self-pity and discouragement, remember: I am your mother. I know the thoughts and feelings of your heart. Confide in me when you are in need of a mother’s tenderness. In my eyes, you never cease to be my child. You need a spiritual mother who can give you more than what you give to your families. How can you continue to give when you are not first receiving? Let me fill you with my tenderness, joy, and peace.”
Because sometimes a mother also needs a mother.