By SARAH OTTO, M.Div. | Published May 26, 2021
As Mother’s Day approached this year, St. Ignatius of Loyola was strangely on my mind. Ignatius lost his own mother at a very young age. This loss, I imagine, played a significant role in Mary’s prominent place in his spirituality.
Some believe the special commemoration of Mary during the month of May is linked to 18th Century Italian Jesuits, which does not surprise me knowing how fond their founder was of Our Lady. We find Ignatius’ own devotion to the Blessed Mother sprinkled throughout his life story and “The Spiritual Exercises” that he penned.
His initial conversion was sparked by meditating on an image of Mary. In his zeal to defend her honor, he seriously considered killing a man who questioned her virginity. He made a dramatic renunciation of his former sinful way of life before a statue of the Black Madonna at the monastery in Montserrat, Spain leaving his sword at her feet. Throughout his “Spiritual Exercises,” Ignatius frequently encourages a triple colloquy, or conversation, first with Mary, then with Jesus, then with God the Father.
Ignatius, however, was not the first to introduce me to a colloquy with Mary. Long before I had been introduced to Ignatian spirituality, I was blessed to live with a grandmother who also had a deep devotion to Mary.
Mother’s Day, I imagine, was a painful day for her. She was a mother to six, and had lost three of her five sons–one in the Vietnam War, one in a car accident, and one to cancer. She found tremendous solidarity in Mary’s grief, and also knew the power of a mother’s intercession, having raised five boys.
“If you need anything from Jesus, you go to his mother,” she used to tell me. “A son always listens to his mother.”
Although my experience is limited, I haven’t found that to be true yet with my feisty toddler boy! Yet I still find myself continually drawn to conversation with Mary in my prayer, and have found more importantly, that Mary listens to me. In this particular season of parenting, Mary and I share a good sense of humor, and even the occasional eye rolls as one of my children has a meltdown on the floor.
I’m increasingly convinced that if Jesus was truly human, he had to have gone through the important developmental milestones that bring along tantrums and meltdowns, testing limits, and acting clingy. Jesus had to learn how to navigate the emotional reality of being human–and that is no easy task no matter how divine you are.
I am keenly aware that Mother’s Day can be painful for many and bring with it a wide range of emotions: grief for those who have lost their mother or a child, sadness or anger from fractured relationships, longing in those struggling with infertility, loneliness for those who feel unsupported in their parenting, among many. Whatever your own experience may have held on this Mother’s Day, perhaps there is an invitation in this broader month to find comfort in Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the mother of us all.
From nursing him in his hunger, standing by him in his suffering, to celebrating with him in his joy, Mary was there throughout Jesus’ life.
Ignatius certainly found her throughout his faith journey. And she’s there for each one of us.
St. Ignatius encouraged retreatants to ask for a particular grace at the beginning of each prayer period. Consider what grace you most need right now: healing, forgiveness, hope, companionship. May Mary, full of grace, show you the way.
Sarah Otto, M.Div., spiritual director, leads retreats and programs, including the Ignatian Spirituality Project, at Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center, Atlanta.