Though Goldilocks might beg to differ, mama bears are excellent mothers. It is clear that every mama bear loves her cubs very dearly (insofar as animals are capable of affections). More so than most animals, the mother bear cares for and watches over the cubs. She teaches them how to be bears both by her example and by disciplining them when they do wrong. She pulls them out of danger and stands between them and any possible threat to their life. Have you ever met a mother bear with cubs? If you can say yes and you are still in one piece, you are very fortunate. Even though bears can be relatively docile and curious creatures in general, the slightest hint of a threat to her cubs will turn the mama bear into a raging ball of fur.
And yet, mama bear is not a helicopter mom. She will go off and leave her cubs alone for a time. By not hanging over their heads all the time, she teaches the cubs to fend for themselves and to live the life of a roaming bear. Even then, mama is never far off. Every cub knows that, even if he can’t see his mother, all he has to do is cry out and climb a tree and Mama will come running to defend her cubs.
Amazingly enough, the mother bear is protective not only towards her own cubs. There have been cases reported in which a mama bear adopts not just abandoned cubs, but even pups or kittens. The maternal drive is terribly strong and wonderfully directed.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is a mama bear. Today, the octave day of Christ’s birth, when the Church celebrates liturgically the maternity of Mary under the title “Mother of God,” is a good day to consider the strength of the maternity of the Virgin Mother. From the story of the finding in the Temple, we get just a glimpse of how fiercely protective Mary was for Christ. For three days and nights she searched for him, even though she knew that He was the Son of God and obviously well taken care of by His Abba. Gentle as she surely was, she was no pushover. We can assume that Mary got a lot of flak for being pregnant before she was supposed to be living with Joseph. But Mary bore all this patiently for love of her Son.
I can’t say that I liked every part of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or the movie Nazareth, but each has an interesting depiction of Mary’s maternity. In the first film, Mary flashes back to an instant when the toddler Christ trips and she runs to His aid. He cried out, and she came running. The second film depicts her briefly bearing her Son’s Cross, lifting it from the ground after he falls the second time and placing it back on His shoulders. Though it’s unlikely to have happened, the scene portrays a deep truth, namely, that the Blessed Mother had a unique share in her Son’s sufferings. Fulton J. Sheen wrote that the spear that pierced the heart of Christ was not meant for Him but for His Mother. He was already dead, beyond any further pain. The spear piercing His heart in the flesh truly pierced hers in the spirit. That is the type of Mom Mary was. Staying with her Son to the end, happy to stand between Him and the enemy in his childhood, happy to sit as His feet as He revealed the Truth of the Father in His public ministry, and ultimately happy to suffer beside Him in the moments of His Passion. She truly desired His fulfillment, no matter how painful it would be for her. Venerable Sheen again writes that the instance of the Wedding at Cana was Mary’s second fiat. In telling Him to work this public miracle, she is once again addressed as “woman,” this time by her Son, as if to say, “You permitted me to be born of your virgin womb, now will you once more assent to the Father’s will and let me fulfill my purpose, no matter what pain it will surely cause you?” Cana leads directly to the Cross. Yet, like a good mother, she lets Him go, lets Him be the Man He was born to be, that she raised Him to be.
When the Blessed Virgin saw us suffering and saw the love that her Son had for us, she herself was moved to pity for us. On Calvary, even though all of mankind had put her Son to death, she still wept for us. It was then that Christ gave her to us as our Mother as well. Now she reigns as Queen of Heaven, but she still looks after us. If we listen to her, she will teach us how to follow her Son, to be good Christians despite the difficulties of the looming world. She will guide us and discipline us, she will instruct us in what is right. And even if she seems far off, all we need to do is climb the tree of the Cross and cry out to her with the words of the Angel: “Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee,” and she will fly to our aid on the wings of the Spirit.
Image: Brown bear with cubs