Antidote to individualism, source of life, hope and true joy: in eight years of his pontificate, Francis drew a true “portrait” of the Virgin Mary, indicating her as a model to be followed by women today.
Isabella Piro – Vatican News
Someone defined them as “balancers”: they are Italian mothers with young children, always divided, trying to balance family and work. According to the latest report from the Save the children, published in May this year, there are in Italy just over 6 million women in this situation. In 2020, the year the Covid-19 pandemic exploded, many of these mothers were penalized by the job market. One of the main reasons was the load of housework and care they had to bear during periods when day care centers and schools were closed. Of the 249,000 women who lost their jobs in 2020, the study notes, 96,000 are mothers with underage children. Among them, 4 out of 5 women have children under the age of 5 years. Furthermore, Italian women become mothers for the first time, always older (32.2 years), compared to the average age in the European Union (29.4 years). Another difficulty faced by mothers around the world, highlights the International Labor Organization (ILO), is that only 45% of mothers with newborns receive a maternity allowance.
Mary Our Mother
The question that remains: what can be done to improve this situation? In addition to the radical changes needed in the labor market, in supporting the family and in promoting the role of women in society, Christians and all people of good will have an additional resource: they can turn to Mary, Mother of God. She represents the model of woman and mother par excellence. Its characteristics were well defined by Pope Francis in eight years of pontificate. When rereading the homilies he delivered between 2014 and 2021, on the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God, which falls on January 1st, a true “portrait” of the Blessed Virgin emerges, from which today’s women can draw inspiration. “Fountain of hope and true joy”, Mary is not only Mother of God, but also “our Mother”. Mary is the One who “proceeds and confirms us continually in faith, vocation and mission – Francis said in 2014 – with her example of humility and availability to the will of God. Help us to translate our faith into a joyful, borderless proclamation of the Gospel. In this way our mission will be fruitful, because it is based on Mary’s motherhood”.
Jesus cannot be understood without his Mother
Furthermore, Mary’s “very close relationship” with Jesus is central, as it is something natural “between the child and its mother”. “The body of Christ – the Pope underlined in 2015 – was woven in the womb of Mary”, effectively creating an “inseparability”. This means that Mary “is united with Jesus because she had the knowledge of his heart, the knowledge of the faith, nourished by her maternal experience and by the intimate bond with her Son. That’s why Jesus cannot be understood without his Mother”, Francis affirmed.
With Mary we learn the meaning of events
The one who “believed the word of the Angel” represents the fulfillment of “an ancient promise” and the fulfillment of “the fullness of time”. In this sense – explained the Pontiff in 2016 – Mary presents herself to us as “a vessel always full of the memory of Jesus, thirst for wisdom, from which we can ‘draw’ in order to have a coherent interpretation of his teaching”. In practice, Francis said, Our Lady allows us “to grasp the meaning of events that affect us personally, our families, our countries and the whole world”, thanks to the “strength of faith that brings the grace of the Gospel of Christ”.
Antidote against individualism and selfishness
But there is one aspect, in particular, thanks to which Mary can be a point of reference for all women today. This is what the Pope recalled in 2017. “To be the strongest antidote to our individualistic and selfish tendencies. Against our closure and apathy”, said Francisco. “A motherless society would not only be a cold society – the Pope said 4 years ago – but a society that has lost its heart, that has lost its ‘family flavor’. A society without mothers would be a society without mercy, which gave in only to calculation and speculation. Because mothers, even in the worst moments, know how to bear witness to tenderness, unconditional dedication, and the strength of hope”.
Protection of “spiritual orphanhood”
Suffering mothers, those whose children are imprisoned, hospitalized or subjugated by drug slavery, those who live in refugee camps or in the midst of war – said the Holy Father in 2017 – have a lot to teach because “they do not surrender and continue to fight to give the best to their children”. Often, the “best” literally means life. “Where there is a mother, there is unity, there is the belonging of the children”, reiterated the Pope. Francis points to Mary who protects us from “the corrosive disease of ‘spiritual orphanhood’, that which finds space in the narcissistic heart of those who only know how to look at themselves and their own interests”.
A world without maternal gaze is myopic
Therefore, devotion to the Mother of God “is not a spiritual etiquette, but a requirement of the Christian life”, Francis added in 2018. In fact, looking at Mary, “we are encouraged to leave behind so many useless weights and to rediscover what matters: […] the mother is the signature of God in humanity”. Her “motherly gaze” – explained the Pontiff in 2019 – “instills confidence, helps to grow in faith” and “remember that tenderness is essential for faith, as it drives away lukewarmness”. “Mother’s look, mother’s look. A world that looks to the future, deprived of a maternal gaze, is short-sighted. It will perhaps increase profits, but it will never be able to see children in men. There will be gains, but it won’t be for everyone. We will live in the same house, but not as brothers. The human family is based on mothers. A world, where maternal tenderness ends up being disqualified from mere sentiment, may be rich in things, but not rich in tomorrow”, the Pope said.
Mother is not an ‘optional’
In addition to looking, Mary’s embrace is also essential, a foundation against “the fragmented life of today, where we risk losing the thread”. Connected, but disunited, in fact – Francisco said, the world needs to surrender to the Mother who is “a remedy for loneliness and disintegration. She is the Mother of Consolation, the Mother who consoles: she is with those who feel alone” and “takes them by the hand, presents them with love for life”. God – the Pontiff underlined – “has not denied the Mother, so much so that we need her”. This means that, “Our Lady is not optional: she must be welcomed in life. She is the Queen of peace, who overcomes evil and guides along the paths of good, restores unity among her children, educates them to compassion”.
Violence against women is a profanation of God
Another characteristic of Mary, recalled by the Pope in 2020, is her ability to “keep things in her heart”, that is, to care to “bring life to the heart”. And this is an attitude “proper for women”, Francisco said, because “a woman shows that the meaning of life is not to produce things in continuation, but to take to heart the things that exist. Only someone who looks with his heart sees well, because he knows how to “see inside”: the person regardless of his mistakes, the brother regardless of his frailties, hope in the face of difficulties; see God in everything”. From this principle, the Pontiff’s appeal for the protection of women: they are “a source of life”, but “they are continually offended, beaten, violated, induced to prostitute themselves and to suppress the life they carry”. “All the violence inflicted on women is a profanation of God, born of a woman – the Pope said last year. Salvation came to humanity, starting from the body of a woman: by the way we treat a woman’s body, we can see our level of humanity”.
Don’t humiliate motherhood
Strong, therefore, is Francis’ warning against the exploitation of the female body “on the profane altars of advertising, profit, pornography.” It must be “freed from consumerism, it must be respected and honored; it is the noblest meat in the world: it conceived and gave birth to the Love that saved us!”. The Pope appealed against the humiliation of motherhood, so common today, and for the fact that “the only growth that matters is economic growth. There are mothers who, in the desperate search to give a better future to the fruit of their breasts, take risks on impractical trips and end up being judged as an excess by people whose stomachs are full, but with things, and whose hearts are empty of love”.
Mary brings God in time
Finally, in January of this year, the Pope highlighted one more feature of Mary, so important for the contemporary age: the ability to “carry God through time”. “Time is the wealth that we all have – Francis stressed – but we are jealous of it because we want to use it just for us”. This is, therefore, the “grace” that Our Lady can help us to ask for the new year: “to find time for God and for the neighbor: for those who are alone, for those who suffer, for those who need listening and attention. If we find time to donate, we will end up amazed and happy, like the shepherds”.
The Pope’s Celebrations
Finally, it is recalled that, on the occasion of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God, the first Marian Feast to appear in the Western Church, the Pontiff will preside over two celebrations in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican. This Friday (31/12), Pope Francis will preside at First Vespers, followed by the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the traditional hymn “Te Deum” for the end of the calendar year and the Eucharistic Blessing. In order to avoid crowding and the consequent risk of contagion from Covid-19, the Pope will not visit the crib set up in St. Peter’s Square, as was customary at the end of the celebration.
This Saturday, January 1, 2022, at 10:00 am local time, Francis will preside at Holy Mass, at which there will be a prayer for parents to have “the joy of raising their children in holiness”, and for the anguished people, that they may experience “the sweet companionship of Jesus”. The celebration will coincide with the 55th World Day of Peace, for which the Pontiff has written a message dedicated to the theme “Dialogue between generations, education and work: tools to build lasting peace”.