Review: Behold Your Mother

behold your mother Review: Behold Your MotherFor a while now I’ve been a fan of Heidi Hess Saxton’s eloquent writing about adoption and motherhood over at her blog Mommy Monsters, so I was delighted when she offered to send me a review copy of her new book, Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Covert.

I could relate to many of Heidi’s experiences that she shares in this little 70-page collection of reflections, including the strong, clear way that God guided her to cultivate a new respect for and appreciation of his mother. “Why go to Jesus’ mother when I could go directly to the Source of answered prayer?” she writes. “My relationship with God had always been a high priority. I wasn’t afraid of Him, and knew that He heard me…the very idea of talking to Jesus’ mother held no appeal.” She then tells the story of how some kind words from a friend, an unexpected gift, and an incredible series of answered prayers that changed her outlook entirely.

The rest of the book is filled with one-page chapters, each with one of Mary’s traditional names as its title (e.g. David’s Daughter, Mother of the Lamb, Our Lady of Sorrows, Lady of Courage, etc.) In each one Heidi begins with a Bible verse, then offers a poetic personal reflection on the verse, and concludes with a prayer.

I enjoyed using each of the verses at the beginnings of each chapter for my own meditations, and Heidi’s imaginings often offered intriguing starting points for visualizing Christ’s life. For example, she pictures Joseph telling Mary about creating a cedar chest for a publican over a steaming bowl of stew. And in one of the most haunting reflections in the book, she muses on John 19:25:

Together they pushed aside the gawking crowds,
Holding one another down the twisting
way of sorrow, to Golgotha Hill
Tenderly she pulled Mary close, shielding her eyes
as the nails were driven home.
She could do nothing about the sounds.

She could do nothing about the sounds. That line has really stayed with me. Too often when I meditate on the horror of the crucifixion I focus almost exclusively on the visual. In general, when I picture any part of Jesus’ life, in my head it’s more like a silent movie than a real event with not only sights but smells, textures, tastes, and sounds — sometimes terrible, terrible sounds.

Picturing Jesus’ life as seen through the eyes of his beloved mother — as well as asking for her prayers that I might better understand the One whom she was blessed to know so intimately — has deepened my connection to Christ’s life and actions by breaking it out of the silent movie and bringing alive the colors, sensations, smells and sounds that were a part of it. I found Behold Your Mother to be a great resource for these types of meditations, and plan to keep it handy to flip through when I need some inspiration.

You can read of Heidi’s writing on this topic at her book blog, Behold Your Mother.

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11 Responses to “Review: Behold Your Mother”
  1. Melissa says:

    “asking for her prayers”…you lost me on that part. Mary was a remarkable woman whom I greatly admire. I just don’t think that it would do us any good to pray to her since Jesus is the one who intercedes for us before our Father. What stops us from asking for Moses’ or Abraham’s prayers?

    I don’t mean to offend people, but I just didn’t get this when I was Catholic and I don’t agree with it after having a better understanding of the Bible as an adult. I definitely don’t claim to know it all, but I’m just being honest here. Is there a scripture I’m missing that addresses this?

  2. Jennifer F. says:

    Melissa -

    I guess it just comes down to whether or not you believe in the Communion of Saints. If you believe that the folks in heaven are aware of what’s going on down here, then why not ask them (especially Jesus’ mom) to pray for you just like you’d ask your friend or your pastor to pray for you?

    I might not be a good person to take that question, though. Though I haven’t always had what you’d call a “devotion” to Mary, the idea of someone being devoted to her and asking for her prayers has always made so much sense to me that I’m not really sure how to explain it.

    If you have any interest, I thought this series of posts over at Caritas Dei, (by a girl who is not currently Catholic) had some great meditations on the subject — especially Part 4.

    Hopefully someone else can do a better job answering your question. :)

  3. Phillip says:

    Melissa- If this is of any help, one thing I’ve always come to consider was this:

    A lot of people have grandparents or family members or friends who have passed on. I often hear those people say things like “she’s watching out for me” or “he’s looking down upon me”, etc.

    As Jennifer said, that goes hand in hand with our idea of the communion of saints. We believe that we are all connected as a part of one body – the Body of Christ. If our deceased grandparents can look down upon us, and presumably pray on our behalf, isn’t it cool to think that anybody in heaven can do the same?

    For many Catholics, they find a special connection with our Blessed Mother – Jesus himself gave Mary to all as a mother.

    Hope this helps and didn’t seem too rambly!

    -p

  4. Melissa says:

    While I appreciate the very respectful dialogs taking place – here is where I disagree again. In 1 Timothy it says “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”…there is no mention of Mary or my grandfather being able to intercede for me in Heaven. And, while I do believe (to a degree) that departed loved ones have “windows” to see us, I don’t see anything in scripture that points to the deity of anyone but the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus exhorts us to pray and fast here on earth, not in heaven. I read the series you suggested and I just don’t see any scripture to back it up. Mary, although she was a virgin, was not perfect. Extraordinary and courageous, yes. Does Jesus, who is GOD, love Mary more than me or you. I don’t think it is possible…that is just our human way of approaching it. And, I can see how comforting the thought would be of Mary tousling her son’s hair and comforting Him in His times of trouble….if we’re talking about Jesus while He walked the earth in His human body. But, He is seated at the right hand of His Father….no mention of His mother. He is ruling and reining in ways that would blow our minds….it just seems demeaning to me to portray Him as “needy” in any way (I’m not referring to your post, but the series over at Caritas Dei). I really enjoy reading your thoughts….I would say I agree with you on about 75% of your pursuit. Your posts give me something to chew on for the day!

  5. Phillip Platz says:

    Here’s a passage from “The Catholic Catechism” (version by John A. Hardon, S.J.) that might help. [This book has been mentioned previously on this blog.] It’s a little bit of a read, but – again – it might help, at least to clear up the “mediator” topic.

    Page 165, a little ways into Christ the One Mediator—and Mary:

    “[...]Technically a mediator (mesites in St. Paul) is a person who holds a favorable position between parties at variance, and can therefore interpose between them as the equal friend of each. The history of religion is filled with attempts to bridge the gap between the Deity and man, and in Christianity, the heretical systems of Gnosticism and Arianism were essentially misguided efforts to find this mediator in someone less than Christ. Thus in Gnosticism the aeons or “intermediate beings” were supposed to span the chasm between the Godhead and the material world, which was believed intrinsically evil. in Arianism, the Logos, as the most exalted of creatures and creator of the rest, served the same purpose.

    “From this standpoint, the main thrust of all the early councils—Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon—was to settle once and for all that no one but the second person of the Trinity become man, is man’s mediator with the Almighty. His mediatorship was declared to be both in the order of being (natural or objective) and in the order of action (functional or moral). In the order of being, Christ is our mediator by the fact of his hypostatic union, joining in one person the two natures that need to be mediated: divine, which He has in common with the Father; and human, which he shares with us. In the order of action, Christ alone is our mediator by the fact that his death atoned for man’s sins, and his humanity is the channel of grace from God to the human race.

    “Another way of looking at the two mediations is to say that the Incarnation corresponds to mediation in the other of being, and the Redemption (remission of sin and conferral of grace) is mediation morally.

    “This kind of mediation is incommunicable. No one but the Savior unites in himself the divinity, which demands reconciliation, and the humanity, which needs to be reconciled.

    “Nevertheless, lesser and subordinate mediators are not excluded. The question is what purpose they serve and in what sense do the mediate. They can help the cause of mediation in the only way that human beings (or creatures) can contribute to the work of salvation, namely, by their willing response to grace: either better disposing themselves or others for divine grace, or interceding with God to give his grace, or freely co-operating with grace when conferred.

    “Everyone who is saved has, in some sense, been such a mediator between himself and God, which the Church assumes by its claim that man’s freedom was not extinguished by the fall; that he can (and must) collaborate with God’s grace to reach the God for whom he was made.

    “Moreover, vicarious mediation is also part of the plan of salvation, since we are bidden to concern ourselves about others, and the solidarity of mankind in Christ lays the foundation for helping others save their souls, too.

    “It is in this context that the Blessed Virgin enters as mediatrix par excellence. We presume that she co-operated fully with the graces she received, to save her own soul. But she mediated for others, as well, by her vicarious assistance to the rest of mankind. She deserves the title mediatrix because she co-operated in a unique way with Christ in his redemptive labors on earth, and because in heaven she continues interceding for those who are still working out their salvation as pilgrims in the Church Militant or souls suffering in purgatory. [...]“

    ===

    I don’t know if this is official teaching, but from what I’ve been able to understand of it, Jesus is the only way to the Father. Three parts to the Trinity: father + son + spirit. Jesus = son, God = father, holy spirit = spirit. I think you know this. So, if the son is the only intercession to the father, what keeps there from being intercessors to the son?

    I’ve always looked at it as less of a Mary going to God thing and more of a Mary going to Jesus or Son thing. But whenever you pull in the Trinity and explaining what part does what and how they’re all the same yet different, that’s when things start getting confusing. This may be one of those cases? Anyway, that’s how I’ve looked at her intercession and prayers.

    But more importantly, the passage in 1st Timothy seems to be speaking about mediation in terms of salvation. Only Jesus was able to save us. So you are correct, we cannot pray that Mary will have died on the cross after living a sinless life to save our sins – or that in any other way she will be able to save a person the way Christ mediated for us – that would not work. On this topic, you are correct.

    But when you say “Jesus exhorts us to pray and fast here on earth, not in heaven”, first I must ask what you mean by prayer. If, by prayer, you mean “addressing a solemn request or expressing thanks to a diety or other object of worship” (in this case any member of the trinity), I don’t see why people in heaven are unable to pray – or come into dialogue or communication – with God, Jesus, Spirit, what have you.

    Thus, I must conclude that it would be possible for those in heaven to pray – and to pray for us.

    So, while you may have been specifically targeting mediation in terms of salvation, which we do not believe Mary can intercede in such a way to gain us our salvation the way Christ did, what I said in my Mary 28th wasn’t so much concerning that, but was concerning the intercession we do ask from her.

    The intercession/mediation, then, that you described is also something that Catholics do not agree with. It seems that there are two types of intercession. As far as I am aware, it is a different type that we go to Mary for. The differences between the two may seem small, but are enough to put one in an incorrect light, as you explained, and the other in an okay light, as hopefully I was able to convey.

    Most importantly, though, I don’t think that anybody has to look to Mary for her intercession at all. It’s just one avenue on the road to God that many may take, but it is by no means a requirement for getting there.

    Hope this helps!

    -p

  6. Heidi Hess Saxton says:

    Melissa: Part of your difficulty in understanding of the role of Mary in the Church may lie in your understanding of the person and nature of Christ. Yes, He is God. He is also man — that is, He has both human AND divine natures, now as then, in his one divine person. Therefore, He honors both His Father and mother, as the commandments demand. (This would be a good verse to start with: “Honor thy father and mother”.)

    One of the most important reasons the Church has always honored Mary, long before she was declared “Theotokos: the Mother of God” at the Council of Ephesus in the early 5th century, stems from the development of these Christological and Trinitarian dogmas of that time period. It is for this reason that we speak of the Trinity, even though it is not contained in any Scripture.

    Christ predicted that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. He did not leave behind a book, but a group of men to guide the Church. Scripture does not say, “I will build my Church to guide you until such time that you can read the Bible for yourselves.”

    If “there is one mediator between God and man, HIMSELF MAN, Christ Jesus…” meant what you claim it means, each of us would be sinning every time we asked anyone to pray for us, on earth or in heaven. (There’s another verse to contemplate, the great prayer of Christ, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”)

    Instead, Jesus told us in John 15, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

    “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

    “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

    Nowhere does it say, “if you remain in me as long as you are on earth,” or “you shall bear fruit as long as you are on earth.” So long as we remain in Christ and in the Church He founded to guide us to heaven, we remain connected to all our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters in faith.

    One final thought: If Christians for more than two millenia have interpreted the Scriptures one way (including the “Reformation Fathers” themselves, all of whom honored Mary as the Mother of God), and Christians for the last two hundred years have taken it upon themselves to interpret the Scriptures differently … whose interpretation do you think it is likely to be closest to what the Lord intended?

    God bless you … and please remember, you are always welcome to return home! Our Lady does not need us to acknowledge her motherhood to act upon it … no doubt she is praying for you even now, that God would reveal the truth to you.

    Like many Catholic converts, it took years for Him to complete this work on me. He will show you the truth, if and when you are willing to receive it.

  7. Anne Marie says:

    I had an unusual experience one time while praying the fifth sorrowful mystery. It was like I was transported to the scene. I could look around the room I was in and see that I was still there, but it was like I was at Golgotha at the same time.

    The experience gave me a whole different view of the crucifixion. I had always imagined the women as frightened and cowering from the authorities, but in this “vision” they were not. They were sorrowful, but not frightened.

    Among the things I noticed was the smell, it was not good. That and the air, it was dry and hot like and windy being in a desert. And I had always pictured great crowds at the crucifixion, but in my “vision” there weren’t many people there.

    It gave me an insight to Jesus’ death. It was similar to his birth. Lots of crowds around, but very few souls aware of or concerned about the arrival or departure of God from this earth.

  8. Anne Marie says:

    Melissa:

    I’ve heard The Communion of Saints explained like this.

    Imagine you were to meet your favorite author or artist. He or she is at a showing of his greatest works or a book signing. He would like to show you his works personally, give you his insights on what he was thinking as he was writing, what the light was like as he was painting, what his influences were at the time of his creation of the works, but your not interested in his works, or meeting any of his friends or family members who are all at the showing, you only want to talk to him and ignore the rest. So it is with the family of God, his Kingdom, or as the Church calls it The Communion of Saints.

    If we were to ignore an artists family and friends, and really didn’t want to look at his best work or his most learned or ardent followers it would be quite rude. Jesus, God made man, came into a family, and he is building an even bigger family. Healthy families interact with and get to know one another, support each other, help each other. So it is with The Communion of Saints.

    There is a lot more to be said about Mary as Queen of Heaven and her Immaculate Conception, but it deserves full consideration that exceeds the size of a com box. Scott Hahn has a lot of good material on the topic.

    Simply ask Jesus’ guidance as you consider these issues. He never lets us down when we ask for his wisdom and direction.

  9. Donald says:

    Melissa,

    Has a friend ever asked you to pray for their physical and spiritual needs? Would you tell them, “No, there is only one mediator, and that is Jesus!” Of course not. St. Paul in his letters often asked his readers for their prayers and offered his own prayers for them. James 5:16 says The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Who is more righteous then those who have successfully run the race and earned the crown of eternal life?

    Interesting thought about asking Moses or Abraham to pray for us — I have always focused on the New Testament saints, but since you brought it up, there is nothing wrong with asking the holy men and women of the Old Testament to pray for us.

    You asked if there is a scripture you were missing. Try Rev. 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp and with golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. This is about as clear as it comes — the saints in heaven offer to God the prayers of the saints on earth. That is what the Communion of Saints is all about.

  10. Dat says:

    In my reflection, one day all of a sudden I realized that humanity was at God’s side at his darkest hour (on the cross) in the person of Mary. Oh what courage, what love, what faith and what hope (when there was no reason to hope) that she had.

  11. Cheryl says:

    This is a beautiful book. As a mother, I feel the need to be close to Mary and seek her guidance from time to time.

    Thanks for the wonderful review!

    Cheryl