Among many other reasons why I love the Christmas season is this one: The holly and the ivy, the creche and the evergreen remind me that I need not look to the celebrities and renowned authors of our day to find a suitable role model of a mother. Mary is there.
In the book A Classic Christmas, a compilation of beautiful reflections and Christmas Scripture verses, I read these words from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton:
"When a room is heated by an open fire, surely there is nothing strange in the fact that those who stand closest to the fireplace are the ones who are warmest. And when God comes into the world through the instrumentality of one of his servants, then there is nothing surprising about the fact that his chosen instrument should have the greatest and most intimate share in the divine gift."
In other words, Mary did the job of motherhood about as well as could anyone and she has much to teach us.
Now I studied theology, but I still have a hard time comprehending the miracle of the Incarnation … the miracle of Christmas. However, Mary helps me to understand it better. She humanizes the manger scene. With her uncomfortable labor in a bed of hay, she helps fill in the picture so that we see much more than a choir of angels singing "Hallelujah."
I imagine Mary holding Jesus as I did my babies and bouncing him on her hip to keep him quiet as she’s having a conversation. I picture her shoving mashed up potatoes into his mouth — minus the helicopter maneuver — and changing his cloth diapers. I imagine her doing everything I do with my kids — everything except for plugging her ears with her iPod to drown out the noise.
I visualize her as the mom next door. Because in so many ways, that’s what she was.
Merton writes in his meditation:
"Mary, who was empty of all egotism, free from all sin, was as pure as the glass of a very clean window that has no other function than to admit the light of the sun. If we rejoice in that light, we implicitly praise the cleanness of the window."
I suspect therein is the hardest part of motherhood: to stay pure, to not get caught up in ego and self, so that we can hear the true desires of our children but also those of God. So to the list of great moms like Erma Bombeck, Marian Wright Edelman and Jacqueline Onassis, I add another: Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Therese Borchard is a columnist for Catholic News Service.