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Reflection on the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Posted on January 1, 2022, by Eileen Custy SL

Mary, the holy mother of God, or in Greek, “Theotokos.” That title goes back to the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. Nestorius held that the divine and human natures of Jesus were completely separate and thought the title of “Theotokos” would take away from the human nature of Christ. He proposed the title “Christotokos” or “Christ-Bearer.” The members of the Council held that the two natures were fully united and thought “Christotokos” would take away from the divine nature. The rest is history – Nestorius became anathema.

All of this carrying on makes me wonder what Mary was really like in her everyday life. This is what I think: She was a simple, brown-skinned, dark-eyed, Jewish peasant woman, very much like the Arabic women we sometimes see on TV today. Not pale white in fancy robes with a halo around her head – just a woman like the other women in her village living in a place that was not very highly thought of in the general scheme of things – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Archeologists tell us that the small villages in those days often had a circle of small homes around an open courtyard where most of the activity took place, similar to drawings of our beginning compound. Women attended to cooking, laundry and child-care there. Residents gathered for socializing, praying, singing and dancing. Outside the compound would be a shared garden that the women tended. I can see Mary there pulling weeds, harvesting vegetables and keeping an eye on the child Jesus just as any mother would, maybe teaching him the difference between weeds and plants. I can visualize her walking to the village well with the other women talking and laughing about their families and the goings-on in the village.

I see her pregnant and preparing for the birth of her child. I see her giving birth, other women gathered around to assist. I see her exhausted but joyful, seeing and holding the infant Jesus for the first time. She nurses him, changes him, bathes him. She enjoys his first smiles and attempts to speak. She watches carefully as he takes his first steps and toddles around. She shares each new development with Joseph in the evenings.

I see Mary preparing for Passover, setting out the special dishes, pots and pans specified for this Jewish celebration. I see her with Joseph and Jesus and perhaps other children gathered around to celebrate Passover. I see her coaching Jesus, as the youngest member of the family to ask the questions prescribed for this event: “On all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread. Why, on this night, do we eat only unleavened bread?” I see her lighting the candles and reciting the blessing over them.

As Jesus grows, Mary watches him when playing with other children, or the way he observes others, his quiet, thoughtful moments. Like any mother, she wonders what he will be like as an adult. The bond between them grows.

All too soon, he is an adult. This young man is different from the others, not just because he is her son but because he is thoughtful, prayerful, earnestly seeking his mission in life. Mary knows about John the Baptist and sees the interest Jesus shows in him. When Jesus went to John for baptism, perhaps she was baptized, too; we don’t know. Did Mary and Jesus talk to each other about God or about John’s activities and followers?

At some point, Jesus is ready to take on his mission. Did he talk to her about it? Mary watches carefully. She trusts him, asking him to spare a young couple the embarrassment of running out of wine at their wedding. She hears about the beheading of John the Baptist and fear sinks into her soul. What will happen to her beloved son? She hears of the wonderful things he is doing and teaching, of the crowds of people following him, but also of his enemies wanting to get rid of him. She worries and prays.

And then it happens, that dreaded moment when he is arrested, tried, condemned and hung on a cross. She is there, grieving in the same way we have seen so many mothers grieve at the loss of a child. We have all experienced grief – Mary was no different than we are in her humanness.

No matter how she is pictured by artists, or whether she is “Theotokos” or “Christotokos,” this is the real Mary, a loving, kind mother raising an extraordinary child in very ordinary circumstances. She accepted life as it played out, but with trust and love. May we learn from her how to live our own ordinary lives within trust and love.


Eileen Custy SL

Eileen Custy was born and raised on a dairy outside of Denver and attended a one-room schoolhouse for her first eight years. After a year of college at Loretto Heights, she joined the Sisters of Loretto. In spite of the fact that she thought at that time she never wanted to be a teacher, she loved the work and taught for 46 years. Most of those years were spent in El Paso, Texas.. Eileen “retired” in 2004 and moved to Kentucky where she has been an administrative assistant to the Motherhouse Coordinator ever since.