As a Redemptorist priest, devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an important part of my spirituality. One of the ways that I came to know and understand Mary during my formation was through the beloved icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help an image which shows Mary cradling the Christ child in her arms and keeping him safe from harm.
This image of Mary as a protector is an important one as we consider the Gospel passage for today. We are told that the family of Jesus, his Mother and his brothers came to the house where Jesus was. They were going to take him away by force, if necessary, in order to protect Jesus from himself. They were hoping to take him away and keep him safe.
It is a difficult passage because we think of Mary as being a part of God’s plan. We believe that she must have some kind of insider’s understanding of what Jesus was going to do. And why wouldn’t she understand? She was there from the beginning at the Annunciation when the angel said that she would conceive and bear a son. She was there at the Visitation when her cousin Elizabeth called her blessed because of the child she carried in her womb. She was there at the Presentation of Jesus when Simeon met her in the temple and told her that her heart would be pierced because of the sacrifice of her son.
It is hard to think of Mary interfering in what Jesus was doing. It’s hard to believe that maybe she had doubts about the path that lie ahead. But perhaps it is harder still to think of a mother who would not protect her own child. Mary’s reaction to the path that Jesus has chosen shows her humanity. She is no superwoman, impervious to heartache. When it came down to it she could not help but try to protect her child.
This incident also affirms Jesus’ humanity. As a human being and as a mother’s child, he has to go through that traumatic stage of breaking away from his family and becoming his own person. As much as he loves his mother Jesus could not let her love for him contain his love for the world.
The gift of parental love is necessary for children to grow up healthy but it is by its very nature exclusive. Our family bonds are strong and they give us a sense of safety by limiting our exposure to others. But Jesus knows that his Father’s love cannot be bounded in the same way. It is love which must be shared with all. “Who are my mother and father, who are my brothers and sisters?” he asks, “Everyone who listens and does the will of God.”
So many stories of the saints reveal this difficult breaking away from family ties and the disappointment that ensues. St. Francis de Sales who we celebrate today is just one example who gave up the dreams that his father had for him of becoming a successful lawyer so that he could pursue the priesthood. Where ever there are saints you will find heartache in the families they left behind. But more importantly you will also find joy because with time the path becomes clearer. With faith the will of God gradually reveals itself until finally the love of family is merged with the love of God and the joy that comes from understanding and following the will of God.