I’ve used this icon of Our Lady of Vladimir in several posts already, but she’s worth seeing again. And if you look into her eyes, you will see that she thinks you are worth seeing too, for those eyes full of love and compassion.
The Mother of God is one of the most beloved figures of all time, even though many have tried (and still try) to denigrate or ignore her, unknowingly depriving themselves of a fruitful relationship with their own spiritual Mother. They ought to be honored, as was St Elizabeth, that the Mother of our Lord should come to them. But they have made her out to be an enemy, as it were, a supplanter, a stealer of the glory due to God. They are afraid to turn to her, and when they speak about her it is only to warn everyone not to speak to her! But look at her. Is she pushing Christ aside, robbing Him of his light? Is she not rather receiving his love, and showing unto us the blessed Fruit of her womb? How can anyone disdainfully look the other way in the presence of the one who gave flesh to the Son of God and Savior of the world?
A friend of mine who used to be a Protestant (a Wheaton graduate, no less!), and who is now a devout Catholic, told me recently of the way the above icon opened her heart to Our Lady. “You see that little hand around her neck? That’s what drew me to love the Mother of God. If Jesus could love her so tenderly and intimately, then I wanted to do the same.” This style of iconographic representation of the Mother and Child is called the “tenderness icon.” Jesus is cheek-to-cheek with her and is embracing her lovingly. Mary looks at us, showing us the Savior, holding Him up for our adoration, calling us to repentance and holiness. Their love is not a closed circle. When she experiences the love of her Son, she invites us to share in it.
Why is it, though, that so many who call themselves Christians reject this feminine, maternal dimension of the Faith? In many non-Catholic (and non-Orthodox) churches, there’s something sterile about their approach to God. It is either hyper-spiritualized and cerebral (i.e., disincarnate, the word without flesh, so to speak, devoid of sacraments and sacramentals), or it is characterized by unbalanced emotion. One of the reasons for this is the exclusion of the Mother, that gentle, profound, sweet, nurturing, guiding, protecting, praying presence offered to the Church by Christ, who experienced it in his own life. To exclude the Mother is to break up the family. To exclude the Mother is to produce a spirituality that is “masculine,” individualistic, suspicious of mysticism and of the deeper dimensions of spiritual life as well as those that are most profoundly human.
So the modern response to the absence of the feminine, maternal dimension in their forms of Christianity is to cast women in the roles of men, make them more prominent, put Roman collars on them and send them to officiate at altar or pulpit. This is like wresting a woman from hearth and home and telling her to get out there and act like a man, for she needs to be better represented in a man’s world, a patriarchal church. But trying to make women fathers does nothing to restore the gift of femininity in the Church. Rather, it obscures it. And the Mother remains excluded.
It is men that need to be told to act like men, for many have been cowed and emasculated by the arrogant brutality of modern radical feminism, and so they in turn act like women and finally end up wanting to marry other men. Men want to be women and women want to be men, but the Mother of God still looks at us with those sad eyes, full of sorrow over our missing the whole point of our calling, our creation.
Mothers, sisters, brides, the Church needs your courage, your grace, your tenacious fidelity, your creativity, femininity, and love! We need to you be icons of the Mother, whose beauty and inner strength is all too often obscured by the noise and smokescreens thrown up by the witches, barracudas, baby-killers, and gender-benders of our bizarre and pathetic culture. We need you to be the contemplative heart of the Church. Mary didn’t complain that she wasn’t chosen to be one of the Twelve, who would be priests of the New Covenant. She didn’t demand it as a right. She was the Handmaiden of the Lord, and therefore his will alone was her sanctification. (And what about that twelve? One betrayed Christ, one publicly denied Him, and they all deserted Him in his hour of need in Gethsemane. And they were in fearful hiding when the women, who alone dared to brave the enemies of Christ, brought them the news of the Resurrection. The women didn’t need to be priests to be heroines of the Faith.)
The Mother of God was not a “liberated” woman in the modern sense, yet the Truth set her free. She was not self-sufficient or independent of her religious tradition, but she rejoiced in God her Savior. She lived the unsung life of a simple disciple, yet all ages have called her blessed. She gave herself to humble service, and now she is the Woman clothed with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head. She is the Child-bearer, the God-bearer, the new Eve—Mother of all the living. Her whole life teaches us that whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Her eminent place in the life of the Church is well-justified and is a source of consolation, peace, and strength for all those who rely on her prayer and protection, who know the blessing of the holy Mother’s love, who deeply appreciate and welcome her presence in their lives—her quiet, gentle, yet uncompromising encouragement to do whatever Jesus tells us.
So love your Mother. Go to her. It’s OK. Wrap your arms around her neck, just like Jesus did. You’ll see the divine compassion shining through her eyes. Just open your heart. You need a mother. The whole Church does. Jesus knows that. He loves you and so He shares with you that which is precious to Him, as he shared it with his beloved disciple at the moment of the consummation of his sacrifice: “Behold your Mother.”