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The Way of BeautyMothers of the Bible

Mother’s Day has been celebrated throughout the world since the time of Ancient Greece.  Most countries designate the second Sunday in May to recognize mothers in a special way.   The Bible records the names of strong, courageous women—wives and mothers—who contributed mightily to the plan of salvation, and we call attention to those women in this essay.

Mothers of the Old Testament

Eve is the name we give to the mother of humankind.  She is followed by the saintly Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, the wives of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob respectively.  As they approached old age, they remained childless, generally viewed as an embarrassment if not a punishment from God. But through their persevering trust, God’s plan turned their barrenness into fecundity with the birth of sons to lead their people.

Rahab

The Canaanite woman Rahab plays an important role in the genealogy of the Matthean Gospel.  Though she was a prostitute, her courage in protecting the Israelite spies made the conquest of Jericho possible (Joshua 2). Boaz, Obed, Jesse, and King David were Rahab’s son, grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson, respectively.  Her most famous descendent was Jesus of Nazareth.  In Rahab, we see that, with God’s grace, a person can change, for she became a worthy mother and God’s effective instrument for future generations.

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Ruth

Ruth was a woman from the Moabite tribe.  She was married to Naomi’s son, and when he died, Ruth was left childless.  In time, when she was about to marry her new husband Boaz, son of Rahab, she asked Naomi to join the family.  Ruth gave birth to a son, Obed whom Naomi adopted as her grandson.  The Book of Ruth describes the loving relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.  

An Italian institute of consecrated women in Caserta, Southern Italy has opened up the shelter Casa Ruth to care for women who are sold into prostitution, forced slavery or trafficking.  This institute is one of 100 safe havens throughout Europe with 250 nuns participating in them from 28 congregations.  Many have missionary experience.  The umbrella organization for Casa Ruth is Talitha Kum, the International Network of Consecrated Life against Trafficking in Persons.  Talitha Kum is a phrase spoken by Jesus which means “Little girl, arise” (Mk 5:41).   Under the loving care of the nuns, the women and their children retrieve their human dignity and worth.  The women learn a useful trade, and their children receive a fine education.

Hannah

Hannah prayed to the Lord in anguish and bitterness, for she too was childless. She prayed ceaselessly and promised that if God blessed her with a son, she would dedicate him to the temple.  When her prayer was answered, the child Samuel was brought to Eli for training as a priest.  He became the last of Israel’s judges and a counselor to Saul and David.  Hannah and her husband Elkanah were blessed with three more sons and a daughter (1 & 2 Samuel).  In this story, perseverance in prayer and generosity are richly rewarded.

Mothers of the New Testament

More in The Way of Beauty

Elizabeth

The narrative of Elizabeth runs parallel to that of Mary’s Annunciation.  Advanced in age, Elizabeth was childless.  But the angel appeared to tell her that she would conceive and bear a son, John the Baptist.  Zachary, her husband, doubted the messenger, and for his disbelief, he was struck mute.  She welcomed her cousin Mary of Nazareth, and together they rejoiced at their approaching motherhood, miraculous in every way.

Rachel 

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking stories of the Christian Scriptures is that of the Holy Innocents whose feast day the Church celebrates on December 28th. To make certain that the Child born in Bethlehem would not challenge his power, King Herod decreed that all infants under the age of two were to be killed.  St. Matthew’s Gospel quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they are no more” (Ch 2). A similar scene continues to be played out in Africa, the Mideast, and in other parts of the world, where mothers and their newborn infants are put to death for the Christian faith.

Mrs. Zebedee

Zebedee and his wife had two sons, James and John.  She asked Jesus for a personal favor:  “Grant that one of these sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at you left in your kingdom” (Mt 20:21).  Though she probably didn’t realize the weight of her request, who can blame her for seeking preferential treatment of her two sons? 

Mary of Nazareth:  the Loveliest Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys (Song of Songs 2:1)

Traditionally, May is Mary’s month. In Washington’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, one Mary Chapel after another represents various countries in their depictions of this loveliest of women holding her Child, each garbed in ethnic clothing.   Whether it’s in literature, architecture, iconography, painting, statuary, or in music, the burst of creativity continues among artists in singing Mary’s praises.  In fact, since the Middle Ages, about 15,000 hymns are directed or addressed to her.   

In the Christian East, Mary plays an integral role in liturgical celebrations where she is mentioned several times. Her presence in the liturgy is based on the centrality of her role in the economy of redemption.  Most often addressed as Theotokos, the God-bearer, or the Mother of Life, Mary is hardly ever depicted without her son, for she is intertwined with the mystery of Jesus.  She holds the God-Man and shows him to the world.

The Christian East praises Mary as the Virgin of Motherhood as expressed by St. John in the verse:  “Woman, here is your son” (Jn 19:26).  A woman, full of grace and strength, Mary is not simply a type of ideal womanhood.  She is a prototype of the Church and a model for Christians. 

Mary in Islam

Not only revered in the universal Catholic Church, Mary is also greatly honored in the Islamic tradition.  She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.  Maryam is mentioned thirty-four times as contrasted with nineteen in the Gospels.  She is never referred to as the Virgin Mary, but the account of the Annunciation and Nativity is extensive.  The Quran reverently approaches the narrative on Jesus’ birth from Mary.  He was a prophet who respected his mother and whose mission was to offer an example through a life of prayer and good deeds. Our church leaders should take note that Maryam is a bridge between Islam and Christianity.  
Mary and the Spiritual Exercises

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In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola presents a lovely tableau not found in the Gospels, the Appearance of the Risen Lord to his Mother.  Ignatius reasons that it would have been impossible for the Son not to appear to his Mother before appearing to his disciples. 

The simple chant, “Mary the Dawn,” is lovely to pray on Mother’s Day:

Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!
Mary the Root, Christ, the Mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!

May the Wheat-Sheaf, Christ the Living Bread
Mary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose-Blood-red.
Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!

Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored.
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.

“Credentials,” a poem by Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., describes the essence of a rose and the loveliest rose God ever made:
. . .  So the rose is its own credential, a certain
unattainable form: wearing its heart visibly,               
it gives us heart too: bud, fulness and fall.

Happy Mother’s Day, Valiant Women All.

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