A MOTHER’S REFLECTION ON THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE

This article is part four in a series reflecting on the Joyful Mysteries from a mother’s perspective. You can find part one on the Annunciation here, part two on the Visitation here, and part three on the Nativity here.

In the Presentation in the Temple, Mary and Joseph arrive, two turtle doves in hand. They are ready for their postpartum purification and to present their firstborn Son to God. Of course, after a journey to a too-crowded Bethlehem and a birth in a stable, surely Mary would be treated to at least one totally joyous occasion (because traveling to Jerusalem with a newborn a month postpartum certainly was easy peasy). 

Still, I can imagine the simple joy Mary and Joseph felt as this devout Jewish couple offered their Son to the Lord, both because they were regular parents like you and me but because they knew the child they were holding was special. Then, as Simeon beholds Jesus, he gives them a beautiful prophecy about Jesus as the Savior but, in a brief verse often set apart with either dashes or parentheses, tells Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35). Oh, just a sword in her soul. Great.

There is so much fodder in this Mystery of the Rosary that a mother could reflect on: the idea of presenting our children to God, the ways that each of our children will in their own ways be the cause for the “rise and fall” of many, how sometimes others see our children with clearer, unbiased eyes. But this brief verse of the sword piercing Mary’s soul has remained one of the most memorable moments in the life of Our Lady, a verse even depicted literally in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Our Lady of Sorrows. In hindsight, we know the agony she would face; at that moment, however, Mary had no clue of what awaited her.

All mothers will inevitably suffer as the result of their children. Some suffering will be caused by our children’s sinful choices or those of others; some will be part of God’s permissive will as they experience injury, illness, or loss. We rock fever-ridden children late in the night. We watch as they experience heartache or job loss. We mourn when we see poor decisions impacting their physical or emotional wellbeing. Mothers’ lives are so inextricably woven in their children’s that each new child presents inevitable and exponential challenges and pain—not just for all of the ways our children can hurt us directly but for all of the ways the world can offer our kids challenges.

In this Mystery though, the Lord reminds us that even as a perfect mother, Mary was not spared the pain loving a child—a perfectly obedient one at that—would inevitably bring. On paper, this family’s circumstances were perfect, and she still lost her husband and watched her Son be unfairly accused and murdered. Even removing the hurt that a typical human child’s sin would cause, Jesus brought Mary life-altering, heart-wrenching suffering. In fact, Mary’s deep and profound love for her Son likely compounded the possibility of worry, concern, and the agony she would experience as a result of His life. And all of this was perfectly aligned with God’s will because, as a reminder, Jesus was and is God.

Imperfect as we and our children are, of course we will also suffer the sorrows, stresses, and sufferings of motherhood. Inevitably, our kids will speak to us with unkindness, and they will treat others poorly—not because they are intrinsically bad people or we parented them wrong but because they are human. Suffering will happen to them; because we love them, that suffering becomes ours.

So how does Our Lady respond to Jesus’ suffering? John’s Gospel tells us that at the Crucifixion, “Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby” (John 19:26). We have a choice when our loved ones suffer. We can dissociate and push away, fearing being too close and deepening our own suffering as a result; we can gossip or complain because their problems (self-inflicted or otherwise) have complicated our own lives. But as we know, if we have attempted either of those tactics, their suffering—and thus ours—does not disappear. We grow only more resentful.

Instead, as we witness our children—or parents or in-laws or extended family or friends—suffering (whether because of what we perceive as their own faults or through God’s will), all we can do is “stand nearby” and be a witness to love as Mary did. Just her being there, even standing by helplessly as Jesus suffered unimaginable pain, likely reminded Him just how loved He was, that He was not alone. For families, and even as the Body of Christ, our sufferings are woven together, and we are called to empathize with and witness to those who are struggling—through prayer, through almsgiving, through a listening ear.

This Mystery is a powerful reminder that our family’s suffering (and the world’s) is inevitable. We could be perfect and intentional parents and virtuous Christians, but our lives and those of our children will be inevitably impacted by the sadness and suffering that come from being sinful humans. What remains ours to choose is how we respond.

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At the National Eucharistic Congress, Decided Excellence Catholic Media - with the help of Bishop William Waltersheid - will be presenting "Beautiful Revelation: The Eucharistic Timeline". Throughout human history, God has left repeated proof of His presence in the Eucharist and that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Salvation. God has given us the wisdom. Have you taken the time to understand? Read this spiritual journey through time to examine critical moments that God uses to reveal the truth of the Body of Christ.

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