In the end, these are intellectual exercises. My understanding of Mary is more instinctive and visceral, coming through the experience of motherhood. My first brush with it came the Christmas after my first son was born. He was premature, and at four months old, still tiny. As the choir sang “Hush, do not wake the infant king. Soon will come sorrow with the morning, soon will come bitter grief and weeping: sing lullaby”, I found myself crying. Tears splashed on his head as I realised that for all the ferocity of maternal love, I could not protect him from bitter grief and weeping. Later, as he and then his younger brother were growing up, I could no longer bear the Passion narratives, and showed my sons up on the Good Friday March of Witness, weeping when the Gospel accounts, dulled by childhood familiarity, sprang hideously to life. Mary, at the foot of the Cross. How could she stand there? How could she stand anywhere else?
This autumn my older son will leave home for university. I found myself talking at last to Mary. “You know what it’s like. Even if my son will never die on a cross, you understand that motherhood is always a sword through the heart. Pray for me.”