Mary serves as a model of strength

In my first parish, part of my job was to help couples plan their wedding liturgies. Sometimes a bride would ask about going to pray at the Blessed Mother’s statue. If I sensed that this might be simply a matter of custom (or worse, an opportunity to get some good shots of the back of the bride’s dress), I would talk about Mary, a good Jewish mother who brought her baby boy to be circumcised (Lk 2:16-21) much as these couples might someday bring their children for baptism. Then I would ask them to think about what Mary experienced as Jesus’ mother.

“Imagine,” I would say, “that it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving. You and your husband have taken your 12-year-old boy shopping at a large mall some distance from your home. The crowds are huge and you are parked what seems like miles away from the entrance. At some point you get separated. You assume your son is with your husband; he thinks that he is with you. You had arranged to meet back at the car but when you get there you realize with horror that your little boy isn’t with either one of you. That is kind of what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph when Jesus was lost in the temple. Surely a child would have been in as much danger among the crowds in Jerusalem as at a shopping mall on the busiest day of the year. Imagine.”

Then we would talk about the possible consequences of Mary’s decision to accept God’s invitation to become an unwed mother. At best Joseph could have left her; at worst he could have had her stoned. And we talked about what it might feel like to stand on the other side of the glass and watch your son die as the pellets were dropped in the gas chamber and then to have his body laid in your arms.

I wanted the young brides — and their grooms as well — to realize what a strong woman Mary was and to take seriously this opportunity to ask for her help. Perhaps, today, we might wish to do the same.

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.