The Unique Role of the Mother

By Dér Stépanos Dingilian, Ph.D. © 1996

 

The discussion about our mother always evokes strong emotions in us. And it should! After all, we lived in her womb for nine months even before we experienced the light of this world. When we try to appreciate her by telling others what she means to us or what a mother should be like or do, each of us has a different understanding and expression. In this article we will try to address some basic and general ways of understanding the unique role of the mother as relates to her children in the mother-child relationship.

As we emphasize the role of the mother, this is not to say that the father is not important or is less important. What the mother can give to her child and the extent to which she can give, very much depends on that which she can receive from her relationship with her spouse. If she receives support, joy, and peace from that relationship - that is what she will pass on. If she only finds false expectations, empty promises, and frustrations - then that is what she will pass on. Thus, as we emphasize the mother’s role, this in no way isolates or separates the mother from the father, nor does it place a greater emphasis on the mother’s role as opposed to the father’s one. Instead, it points to the mother’s unique role within the family.

 

Definition

‘Mother’ is defined as the person in whom life receives a form suitable for living in this world. What does ‘living in this world’ mean? It means that a person is alive and functioning physically and spiritually. It means that a person hungers for physical food - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It also means that a person hungers for the spiritual nourishment - loving others and being loved by them, establishing intimate, committed and growing relationships, appreciating culture and nature, and most of all – loving and worshipping the Creator. All these begin to take shape and grow in the person of the mother.

From this understanding of ‘mother’ we receive such concepts as ‘mother earth’ or ‘Mother Church.’ ‘Mother earth’ because it is in the earth in which plants grow and give physical sustenance to the rest of God’s creatures. ‘Mother Church’ because it is in the Church that a person is born again by the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments and receives nourishment for a spiritually meaningful and fulfilling life.

 

The Mother with the ‘Good’ Qualities

An important question that has preoccupied earlier generations and will continue occupying many future ones is the following: "What makes a ‘good’ mother-child relationship? Is it the mother’s ‘nature’ (her inborn instincts) or is it her ‘nurture’ (the effect of the environment in which she is brought up)?" Of course, every culture and generation defines "good" in a different way, yet nature versus nurture discussion tends to be common to all.

For Christians, St. Mary in the Gospels best exemplifies the role of a ‘good’ mother. She shows that one has to naturally receive a blessing and then continue building upon that blessing. On the one hand, St. Mary is shown to be of a certain family and Jesus of the lineage of King David. [cf. Luke 1:27] Elizabeth, her cousin, calls her ‘blessed among women.’ [Luke 1:42-45] Certainly, St. Mary did not choose her parents or the blessings she received. However, along with the lineage and the blessings, the ‘nature’ aspect, she gives Christ all the ‘nurture’ that a mother can possibly give her child. St. Mary is next to him every step of the way - be it for joy or for suffering. She is the only human who is with Jesus from the time he is conceived into this world, to the time he is crucified, and even when the Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost. In the earthly portion of the ministry of Christ, St. Mary represents the only thread of continuity in human relationships. She demonstrates both the need for nature as well as nurture in the role of a ‘good’ mother in relation to her child.

 

The Mother of God

A controversy arose in the early centuries of Christianity as to the title of St. Mary. Is she the ‘Mother or God’ or the ‘Mother of Jesus’? At an Ecumenical Council in 431 in Ephesus, it was decided that she is the Mother of God. Here is why. Jesus is the Son of God, where ‘son’ means the ‘example of.’ Therefore, Jesus is the ‘Perfect Example of God.’ It is the Perfect Example of God who was incarnate, and received flesh and blood in the womb of St. Mary. Thus she became the person in whom God received form for this world. Therefore, St. Mary is the ‘Mother of God.’ Since it is not the mother who creates the child, this title of hers in no way assumes or implies that she created God. Rather, she became the ‘living vessel’ through whom the Son of God came into this world.

 

Implication for Us

Understanding ‘motherhood’ and the title of Mother of God is crucial for the understanding our purpose and calling in life. By conferring upon her the title of ‘Mother of God,’ the Church affirmed that God works through and with the spiritual cooperation of human beings. Thus, St. Mary was not just a ‘tube’ or an ‘instrument’ like that which a human being uses. Sometimes, when the saints have said they are ‘instruments of God,’ as in the famous prayer which begins with "Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace, . . ." the ‘instrument’ of God is not to be confused with that of the human being’s. God’s instrument has spirit, free will, rationality and the potential to live eternally. On the other hand, the instrument made by a human is only passing, rusts, breaks down and is discarded forever. Just as there is no comparison between God and the human being, so also there is no comparison between the ‘instrument’ that each creates. In His infinite love, mercy, and power, God creates an instrument who can have life eternally

Further, just as the human produces an ‘instrument’ for a purpose, so does God. The use of the human instrument is obvious. Not so with the ‘instrument’ of God. It took St. Mary thirty years to comprehend her purpose for living. And now, over 1,900 years later, she still inspires many. All of us have a calling and a purpose in life. In order to discover that calling, we need to be dedicated to God and be patient as St. Mary was. And, one of the best ways to begin our dedication to God is by appreciating our mother’s unique role in our life!

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