Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Perfect Mother*

I met Supermom once.
It was when my eldest was in preschool. I was already feeling pretty inadequate as a traditional mom. All the other moms would bring something nutritious or homemade for snack. When it was my turn, all I could usually manage was chips.
(Once I did manage to prepare something—peanut butter and crackers. Okay, I didn’t bake anything, but I did take the time to spread peanut butter on each cracker. Then I went upstairs for a few minutes. When I came back, my preschooler was licking one of them. “Oh honey,” I said, “those are for snack at school today.” “Don’t worry, Mommy, she replied. “I just licked a little bit from each one.” I could have cried. I probably did. Then I went and bought some chips.)
At Halloween, the moms and siblings were invited to the preschool party. I was still applying my daughter’s make-up in the hall just before we went in. My younger daughter and I were just wearing regular clothes. During the party, I discovered I was sitting next to Supermom. I admired her son’s alien costume, only to discover she had made it herself. Then it gradually came out that she had also made the Little Bo Peep costume her toddler was wearing and the full-length, matching costume she herself was wearing.
I was in awe. I realized that though we were sitting in the same room, we were from different planets. I could not imagine having the time to make three costumes from scratch. Granted, our family was going through a particularly challenging time—we had just moved; my husband was injured; as a result, I’d just taken a part-time job teaching my first college course; and we had recently found out I was pregnant.
But even in the best of times I couldn’t do what she had done, since all I can sew are buttons and crooked hems.
If I had had any doubts about her true identity as Supermom (which I didn’t), they would have been obliterated by the postcard I received from her in early December. On the front was an invitation to a “Christmas Cookie Exchange Party”. On the back was an intro talking about how this fun idea would save us time during the hectic days leading up to Christmas. Then there was a list of steps involved. I never read past Step One, which said, “Simply bake nine dozen cookies….”
Although this wasn't likely to make me feel any more adequate as a mom, it was too incredible to incite tears; I just laughed. For days, in fact. I would say to myself, “Step one: Simply bake nine dozen cookies…” It was so simple! And even with four more steps after that, this would somehow make my Advent easier.
(I think this must have struck even the other moms as not such a great time-saver, as the party never actually happened, due to lack of participants.)

Today we celebrate not only New Year’s Day, but also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. We celebrate and thank her for saying Yes to God and being the vessel through which the Savior was brought into our world.
Sometimes, though, Mary can seem as, or even more, formidable than Supermom. After all, one of her titles is “Mother Most Perfect”. And the Church teaches that she was sinless: that Gabriel’s greeting to her, “Hail, full of grace,” indicates that unlike the rest of us, who could not inherit the gift of divine grace lost by Adam and Eve, God gave Mary that gift in advance, foreseeing the salvation that Jesus would win for her and us.
The idea of a perfect mother can be off-putting. Why would we go to her for help? Wouldn't she look down on us? How could she understand us or our lives?
Being sinless, however, is not the same as never being tempted. Nor is it the same as being incapable of sinning. (If that were the case, she wouldn't have free will.) After all, Adam and Eve started out being full of grace, and sinless. And when you think about it, they had it easier than Mary. Everyone they knew (God and each other) until they met the serpent was also sinless, whereas everyone Mary knew, until Jesus came along, was a sinner.
C.S. Lewis maintained that though Jesus was sinless, He knew more about temptation than we do. We are tempted, and often struggle with temptation, but we have all fallen. Only someone who never gave in to temptation would really know what it’s like to struggle and keep on struggling and never give in.
Besides, if Mary were haughty and cold and disdained us fallen creatures, she wouldn’t be perfect. Such pride would itself be a sin. No, a good mother is understanding and patient and comforts her children. A perfect mother would be all that and would advise, encourage, and help her children better than we can imagine.
In the Gospel of John, the author never refers to himself by name, but always as “the beloved disciple.” Theologians say this is not only to indicate his special relationship with Christ, but to give us an opportunity to put ourselves in the story. Every disciple was and is loved by Christ. Each of us is the beloved disciple. So when Jesus from the cross said to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother”, He was also talking to you and to me. And like the beloved disciple, we should welcome her into our home, into our hearts. What a tremendous gift He’s given us—His own Mother, a perfect mother, who understands us, loves us, prays for us.
Today is a day to reflect on this great gift, and to thank Mary for all she’s done for mankind and for each of us. It’s also a day for us moms to think about how we can better imitate her. And for all of us to be thankful to those who have mothered us in this life.
I think I’ll go call my mom now.

*This is a re-posting of my blog from Jan. 1, 2012, under the title "Mother Most Perfect."