The pope raised some eyebrows a month or so ago when he saw a little baby crying in its mother’s arms as he was going through the crowds in St. Peter’s Square in his pope mobile. “Give the baby something to eat, Madam,” he was reported to have said to the baby’s mother. Breast feeding in St. Peter’s Square! It seems he did the same thing last week on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus in the Sistine Chapel when he baptized 35 infants. “If your baby is hungry, don’t be afraid to feed it,” he said to the mothers there according to reports.
In one of the magazines, an art historian wrote asking why should we be surprised at the pope’s words. Catholic artists have pictured nursing Madonnas for centuries. That’s what Mary did.
I spoke about Mary to priests on retreat from the Austin diocese this morning. We easily forget Mary’s fundamental role in the life of Jesus.
“Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” “Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”
Her role meant more than giving him birth. The apocryphal gospels often picture Jesus as showing signs of divine powers growing up, but the church condemned them because they negate the role of Mary and Joseph and the whole extended family that raised him in Nazareth.
Mary especially raised him as his mother. She did all those things a mother does for an infant, a young child and an adolescent. She fed him and took care of his basic needs. Her motherly care embodied a spirituality that’s still fundamental for the advance of human life.
The church makes her motherly spirituality its own.
If you extrapolate Mary’s spirituality to a wider arena, as I think Pope Francis does, you have to be concerned with the children of God in our world who hunger. We have to feed them. We can’t let poverty weigh them down with worries and cares. We have to relieve global poverty.
In Mary’s image, the church is a mother.