A Mother’s Love
War stories attract our curiosity and attention with exciting accounts of courage and cowardice. They also help wring out excessive religious sentimentalism—all-too-common in a comfortable consumer society—by provoking urgent questions about the purpose of life. Some say there are no atheists in the foxhole. But others who have experienced the horrors of war question Divine benevolence.
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Historian William Manchester, commissioned by the Kennedy family to document the assassination of JFK in his The Death of a President, also wrote his memoirs in Goodbye, Darkness. Manchester was a Marine in the South Pacific in WWII. Suffering from PTSD nightmares, in the 1970s, he returns to the post-war islands to confront his memories and come to terms with them.
Manchester describes in detail the great battles, including Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Guam, Peleliu, and Okinawa. As a green Marine but an accomplished marksman, he describes his shot that eliminated a Japanese sniper. After the kill, he vomited and soiled himself. He had killed a man and wondered: “Is this what they mean by ‘conspicuous gallantry?’” He got over it. He recounts another sniper exchange late in the war in which he scored another victory. But this time, he expressed his cold contempt for an enemy that killed his buddies. As he passed the dead Japanese sniper, he gave the head a swift kick.
Wounded during the meat-grinder on Okinawa, Manchester went AWOL from the hospital ship and rejoined his unit for an amphibious assault. Why did he do it? After considerable soul-searching, he explains that love for his buddies motivated his return, rejecting the ticket home he had earned when wounded.
Manchester describes heart-wrenching scenes of men left to die in excruciating agony in the no-man zones separating the combatants. Many wounded cried out for their mothers. His accounts are similar to those of all great battles. Tiny tots instinctively run to mom for help, and brave men usually do the same when traumatized. It’s only natural. Mary’s courageous presence at the foot of the Cross must have provided Jesus with inexpressible consolation amidst His terrible suffering. Would that our culture could rediscover the dignity of motherhood!
In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we read God’s promise: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Is. 49:15-16) What God promises us through Isaiah also finds fulfillment in Mary.
The first mother, Eve—the mother of the human race—was disobedient and brought sin, suffering, and death into the world. Mary is the New Eve, and Mary’s obedience restores the dignity lost by Eve: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to Thy Word. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
In the Divine Office, Saint Athanasius points out that Jesus is born from Mary, not born in her. The child originated within her and from her, but not as an alien being. Mary provides her humanity to the entire Word, and she becomes the Mother of God. In Jesus, through Mary, God and man are reconciled.
But there’s much more.
After the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, sacramental graces fully incorporate Christians into the Mystical Body of Christ. Without losing our identity or freedom, we become instruments of Jesus as we respond to the will of the Father. Through the Sacraments, we become one with Jesus.
Hence, when Mary gazes upon us, she sees her Son in us. We are her children, just as Jesus is her Son. When we suffer, she sees in us her Son on the Cross. As the prophecy of Isaiah applies to the Lord, it also applies to Mary. Even if a mother should forget her child, Mary will not forget it. Mary is our mother, too. Mary carries our image on the palms of her hands and holds us close to her Immaculate Heart.
Our devotion to Mary in response to her love for us helps us understand more clearly the teaching of Saint Paul:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Mary is the sorrowful Mother amidst dying soldiers on every battlefield in the history of the world. Wherever children suffer, Mary is at the foot of those crosses. Mary mourns the suffering and death of the Holy Innocents at the hands of Herod and our hands today. She stands at the foot of the cross of the two thieves and under the crosses of all sinners.
So we pray to her with serenity, confident that Mary’s love will lead us to her Son: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
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