“I will put enmity between you and the woman.” We rightly festoon Our Lady with terms like gentle, loving, merciful, and sorrowful. Dom Augustine Delatte writes of Mary’s “heroic docility”. And these are all beautiful signs of her perfect love for us. But how do we reconcile such titles with a word like enmity? The word suggests a blood feud—even hatred.
I teach at a boys’ school in St. Louis Missouri, and when I read this passage to my students, they latched right onto it. Mary is no wimp. Her immaculate Conception guarantees that she will hate evil—and hate it with a perfect hate. She stares down Satan himself. In ancient Greece, the early Christians use to depict Mary with the same iconography as Athena Parthenos, the warrior goddess of wisdom, bearing the storm shield and shaking her spear at evil. Mary goes to war for us. And Satan is terrified!
A few summers ago, when I went home to visit my family, we watched a really awful movie starring Macaulay Culkin called “The Good Son.” Surprisingly, it turned out to be a movie about a really bad son. In fact, this particular son was a homicidal maniac; and at the end of the movie, his mother ends up holding him by his hand off the edge of a cliff. In her other hand is someone else’s son who is not a homicidal maniac and is in fact quite a nice kid. She can’t hold on to them both. So she has to make a decision.
After the movie, I turned to my mother and asked her, “If it was Dad and I hanging off that cliff, which would you choose?” Without hesitation, she said. Oh, YOU!” What really surprised me was that she didn’t have to think about the answer. “I would choose my children,” she said, “over anything and anyone in the world.”
So I’ve done a sort of informal survey over the past few years, and you know what? I have never met a mom who would answer otherwise. I’ve never met a mom who even hesitated with her answer. That is a terrible—a, terrifying—kind of love.
There’s a painting in my home in an out-of-the-way spot in back of the house, that my mother did when I was a child. My mother is a professional artist. It was Halloween, and my sister and I went trick-or-treating, and some of the bullies on our block stole our candy. I was thirty-five years old—no just joking, I was eight, my sister was six. Anyhow, my mother is an artist, and a few days later, she went into the studio and painted this picture of us. It’s a dark painting of my sister and me in our Halloween costumes walking through a forest. In back of us, hanging from the trees are all those bullies. Dead. Suspended by their necks.
That is a terrifying kind of love. And while it may surprise my students to hear that a mother could have such deep and violent emotions, I’ll bet it doesn’t surprise their moms at all. A mother understands this formidable bond between mothers and sons. This is why the most powerful prayer in the world is that of a mother for her child. All we sons can do is be grateful and try to respect it. Try to respect them.
The love of a mother for her son, after all, is an icon of God’s love for us. It’s not a perfect icon—and that’s why we pray to God as Father. His is a more detached sort of love. And that’s a theological/exegetical issue I would have to explain in another sermon. Suffice to say that this love—this formidable love, this fearsome love…a love so powerful that Satan himself trembles in its presence—this love of a mother for her son… Mary has this love for us: her adopted sons and daughters! And precisely because she is The Immaculate Conception, she loves us with a purity and intensity that even our own earthly mothers cannot hope to rival. Mother Mary, Conceived without sin, pray for us.