WORD Becoming, Spiritual Reflections by Fr Roderick Salazar Jr SVD (Philippines)
By this title do I think of you, my dear Mother, under its light speak to you — about the musings of my heart and my concerns for our world. So many centuries separate your lifetime and mine so I do not have an exact picture of you as you walked our earth. I cannot really know, except in my imagination, how you must have looked. But I call you “Mother” – as does the whole world who knows you or acknowledges you, at different times, in different places, in different tongues.
You are called Lady and Mother and Queen in the Litany named after you, and beyond it, by the different places where you have appeared – in Lourdes or Fatima, in Medjugorje or Guadalupe, in garden, grotto or cave, by river, sea, mountain or hill and so many other places known or unknown, publicly or privately.
But I guess that beyond, beneath, and within all the official titles given to you, all of us who call upon you have our own name for you, image of you – personal, intimate, fruit of prayer and need.
As for me, I have many images and pictures of you, my dear Mother, statues made of wood and stone, paper, plastic, and whatever medium an artist may have of you. If imagined by yourself, you are alone, looking up to heaven with hands piously folded, eyes lost in ecstasy, or looking down to a hurting or praying people with love, hands outstretched in compassion and invitation to contemplate.
If pictured with your son Jesus, you have Him cradled in your bosom or held in your arms as you, Queen and Mother, confidently face the world. If considered as a family, standing beside or behind you and Jesus is Joseph seen as assuring both of you that he is ever your guardian and protector.
Today, I think of three pictures of you as I address you as Madre de Familia. Two of these are on my altar. The third is one that I do not have but which I saw when Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass in Tacloban when he came to visit the Philippines after the devastation of typhoon Yolanda or Hayan.
The first has you holding the baby Jesus in a lovingly unique way. Where most statues have you stiff and serious and formal, unsmiling, regal – after all, to the artist, you are a Queen
and you are holding in your arms the King of the Universe –
this one has you, oh, smiling ever so sweetly, ever so proudly, holding Jesus, not in your arms at the level of your heart and cheek, but way above your head, your two hands supporting His baby bottom, and Jesus radiantly smiling, both his baby arms excitedly raised, just like any child, thrilled to be held at that height by His loving mother.
Oh it is such a lovely statue that when I was given it as a gift my heart literally leaped with joy, and as often as I could, I would take it with me when I gave talks to some groups so I could share with them how I felt. Until in one of my trips, the fragile left arm of Jesus broke and I could not find the missing piece to have it glued back in place. So now the figurine stays on my altar – you still proudly holding Jesus, but Jesus now missing His left arm. Surely a loss in one sense, but in another sense a lesson: Jesus now seeming to say to me and whoever sees Him in this condition: “I have no arm but your arm…”
The second image I have of yours I saw on television when it showed the Holy Mass that Pope Francis celebrated at the airport area in Tacloban City. The Pope had come to the Philippines to condole with the thousand victims of Typhoon Yolanda, and though the visit was made some time after the tragedy itself, on the day he arrived in the city, as though as a grim reminder of the reason for his visit, not only did heavy rains pummel the faithful bravely standing in the open air to celebrate the Eucharist with him, but even his return trip to Manila that same day was so put at risk that he had to fly out earlier than scheduled.
It was in that celebration, with the Pope (I suppose for the first time ever in the history of the papacy wearing a raincoat over his papal chasuble) that he admitted that he had no answer to the question why so many people had died, continuing to say that in moments such as those of the typhoon, we could go to you and just say “Mama”, as any child would.
And he pointed to a statue of you, another unique one.
This time it was not of you looking like a Westerner, but a Filipina, in Filipina dress, drenched with rain, and seemingly having just grabbed from drowning in the flood a young child. Oh, what a jarring picture of reality, at once arresting but inspiring. I would later learn that that statue depicted an actual incident when a woman (you?) had scooped some children up from the waters. It has, I am sure, its own title. But to me, dear mother, it would just be “Maria of the Flood” – perhaps not a very pious or catchy name, but it was how you came to me then, and it is how it is engraved in my heart even now.
The third statuette I have is of you and Jesus — and Joseph.
Ah, the three of you together, the Holy Family. But it is not an old, bald, bearded Joseph, standing, staff in hand guarding you and Jesus; nor of you kneeling piously adoring the God-child. No.
And here I must salute the artist for his idea.
His Joseph is a young man, bearded, yes, but virile, not too far in age from yours, and not with tottering limbs. Baby Jesus is in your arms but you are not kneeling or standing but lying down – as any mother would as she cradles her child — and, and, and, you are lying down, sleeping, your head confidently resting on the lap of a sitting Joseph who is looking down at you and Jesus so protectively. Oh what a pose. So loving. So tender. So — Family.
I suppose there will be those “scandalized” by such a picture.
But why? If you were really a family – and you were – would you have been devoid of any touch of human affection? I do not think so. Joseph was really your husband, was he not? (Though the preferred term seems to be “spouse”). Jesus was your child, not the fruit of your union with Joseph, true, but conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. But you were family. And you loved one another. And this statuette shows that humanly tender, tenderly human —LOVE.
These three images of you tell me, dear mother, that you are truly Maria – Madre de Familia.
You are mother of the family that fairy-tale-wise “lives happily ever after…” — mother and father complete, devoted, loving and true, children supportive, successful, alive.
But you are mother as well of the broken family, mother and father dying or dead, or living but separated, with children hurting, quarreling, lonely and lost.
You are mother of mothers proud of their children, happily, successfully rearing them. You are mother of the sick and the afflicted, mother of husbands and wives once loving and promising eternal love on their wedding day, but splintered now in body, heart, and soul.
You are mother of pope and bishop, cardinal, priest and nun, of single people, couples about to be married, the widowed, the orphaned, the vagabond, the homeless, the happy and the sad. You are mother of our human race in the worst of our times, at the best of our lives.
Would to God that we your children come to you aware,
believing, convinced that you are REAL, human, woman —
NOT a make-believe-mother
made of paper, plaster or plastic,
wood, cement or stone
but a flesh-and-blood-mother
in this, our flesh-and-blood world.
You understand our heartaches,
our longings and our sighs, our wishes and our dreams
as much as our frustrations, our disappointments, our deaths.
Make us confident that we are not alone in our pains.
Comfort those mothers who have lost their babies
reluctantly or deliberately.
Guide the erring husband or father or son,
wife, mother, daughter back to the heart of family.
Be the companion of every child – young or old —
in our journey through life.
With Joseph by your side, and Jesus in your arms,
please hear our hearts singing,
“Mother of Christ, Mother of Christ,
I toss on a stormy sea;
when the voyage is o’er,
oh stand on the shore,
and show Him at last to me.”
Mother of mine, mother of us all:
Maria, Madre de Familia. Amen.