There’s a running joke in my family, mostly between myself and my two sisters, that whenever we’re out and we see someone behaving poorly - maybe they’re driving badly, or maybe they’re being really rude to someone - one of the three of us will say something like “Wow, that person must have had a bad mom.” Now, the joke isn’t that people who do have “bad moms” can’t be good people and the joke isn’t about “bad moms” either. The joke originated with my own mother. My sisters and I sometimes consider making decisions that aren’t exactly the best. When we talk to each other about those moments where we considered doing something not-so-great we all usually reach a point in our decision making process where we think to ourselves “Kathy Rogers would not approve.” That thought, that input from our mom who isn’t even there in the moment, it directs and moves the kinds of decisions we make. So the joke about bad moms is more about how if my sisters and I were ever being rude or driving poorly or just generally behaving badly, we would have the voice of our mom in our heads telling us “Maybe this isn’t the best thing to be doing right now” - and maybe whoever we’re making the joke about could use a similar voice in their head too.
I don’t just hear Kathy Rogers in moments of poor decisions or poor behavior, though. When I feel like I’m losing my mind from stress and I can’t breathe I hear her saying “Just take a deep breathe, you can get all of this done, it’s going to be okay.” When I’m walking at night and I feel worried about whether I’ll get home safely I hear her saying “I’ll always come for you, no matter what.” When something funny happens and I make a joke to myself I can hear her laughing and telling me “You’re so funny!” When I do well on an assignment or get a lot done in a day I can hear her saying “Good job girl, way to go!” In my interactions with the people around me I can pinpoint when the way I’m engaging with them is something I learned from my mom. I lean towards impatience and I lean towards boldness, but my mom has taught me the power of trying a little gentleness and softness. There have been so many times that I’ve been overcome with anxiety and worry and my mom will come over to me and ask “What’s wrong? What can I do to help? What do you need right now?” I find myself practicing my mom’s gentleness and asking the same questions of others when they need it.
Kathy Rogers taught me a lot more than either gentleness or softness. My mother has more strength in her little finger than most people have in their whole bodies and she has lent me that strength more times than I can count, and she has taught me how to lend strength to others as well. My mom taught me the value of holding your ground, of thinking for yourself, and of being a person who can stand on their own and help others do the same. She has always fiercely believed in and invested in who I am and wished for me to be my own person and find a life that is good and makes me happy. She raised me to firmly believe that I could do anything in the sense that she never let me yield to insecurities that I wasn’t good enough to try something new or pursue something I cared about. The older I become and the more of an adult I become, the more I see my mom in me, in how I think of others and treat them, in how much I’m willing to fight for others and love them and believe in them like my mom did for me.
And all of this makes me wonder something about my Catholic faith: how much of Jesus’ words and Jesus’ actions were from Mary, His mother? One story in Scripture that is often looked to is the Wedding at Cana, where Christ answers Mary’s request to help a newly married couple who has run out of wine by turning the contents of several water jars into wine. This story is the last time we hear Mary speak in Scripture, and her final words are “Do whatever He tells you.” There’s a different piece of Scripture I’d like to look at, though, and it’s the Magnificat, Mary’s canticle during the Visitation:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
In the Magnificat Mary praises God and positions herself as His servant. She talks about His generosity, mercy, strength, humility, power, justice, care, concern, and finally His promise and His remembrance of His promise. Even while she’s proclaiming the Magnificat, the God she’s praising is literally incarnate within her womb - hence why during the Visitation, John the Baptist leaps within Elizabeth’s womb the moment Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice. Mary carried Christ and she knew Him, knew who He was, and she loved Him and trusted Him and believed in Him. I think it’s fair to say that, in turn, Christ carried His mother Mary with Him in all things. When Christ is confronted with the woman caught in adultery and He delivers the well-known and well-quoted “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” I wonder if He remembered His mother’s voice teaching Him about the importance of mercy. When He carried the cross and fell three times under its weight, I wonder if He borrowed His mother’s strength relied upon that to keep going. And when it was the Resurrection day and Christ emerged from the tomb, I wonder if He felt His mother’s joy knowing that He lived and heaven had won.
I think this is why the Catholic (and Orthodox) veneration and love for Mary matters so much. Mary isn’t reducible to having a supporting role in the story of salvation, she is one of the main characters; the Savior we worship would not have been who He was without His mother. We love Mary not just because Christ loves her, not just because He gives her to us to be our mother too, but because she is worthy of our love in her own right. Our holiness and goodness grow when we let the Mother of God speak to us and teach us and move us, just as she did with her Son.