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Erin McCole Cupp ponders Mary's motherly sorrows, along with her joys, this Christmas season.

It seems a little early to be thinking of the Triduum, doesn’t it? In this season when we gather around the creche and celebrate Christ’s infancy and childhood, it seems so strange that a Catholic Mom would be writing about Mary walking away from Her Son’s body as it was closed behind the rock that sealed His tomb.

Then again, perhaps it’s not so strange after all.

I’m in a season of motherhood when Christmastide is no longer so much about toys and cookies (okay, it’s still at least a little bit about the cookies) and more about doubt, change, and feeling our way into new types of relationships with our children—relationships where more than ever they are free to reject us. By the time this posts, I will be the parent of two legal adults. Where I used to be able to guess pretty correctly that, yes, the Little People farmyard playset (or in later years the Doctor Who Legos) would be the perfect Christmas gift, nowadays the guesses are far harder to make.

Enough of that is because I fell short of creating an environment where my kids felt safe telling me anything and everything (thanks, intergenerational trauma), but I can’t own it all. Some of it is just because becoming an adult is difficult work, and they’re making their own guesses. We all fall short on some of our guesses, even about ourselves.

I feel a great welling up in my throat when I think back to Christmases past and how I’ll never get them back. They are sealed shut now, with both their hits and misses. I am grateful for what we were able to have with those children when they were small and medium-sized, and my heart still aches for what I failed to give them, far less in terms of the material as in terms of the spiritual: that deeply, securely felt experience of love that somehow manages to give our children strong wings but also a joy in the idea of freely revisiting the nest they emptied.

When they do, indeed, fly, which will be relatively soon, I don’t know if they will come back to visit. I was so wounded by my own mother that it is unsafe for me to do so. I can only do what work I can for that not to be my own daughters’ story. The choice to return or not is theirs.

In the days of Christmastide, I think of the Joyful Mysteries. It’s easy to imagine why: this is the season in which those memories that Mary cherished in her heart were first written in her mind and body. Every Holy Saturday, then, I am struck by the idea of praying those same Joyful Mysteries. The Church holds that Saturday, even the Holy one, is the day we pray over Christ’s early years, and I can’t help but think of Mary on that first Holy Saturday, thinking back to when that grown-and-flown-and-wounded body was small, needy, and able to be protected by His mother’s arms. Of course with Him gone she would think back to those days. What loving mother wouldn’t?


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Joy and grief walk so closely in a mother’s heart as her children grow. #catholicmom

Joy and grief walk so closely in a mother’s heart as her children grow. This is why the Mary of that first Holy Saturday is such a source of strength to me in these days of my own motherhood. She, the perfect mother, lost her own son to this fallen world, but that loss was not forever. His days were sealed in that tomb, but His future, our future, came back, and it was for far more than a visit. It was for far more than just the right present or the perfect variety of cookies.

Christ’s return was for life and for the hope that our failures, even our failures as parents, need not be the end of the story. He returned to His mother. He returns for us all.

Come, Lord Jesus. In our grief, in our joy, in our failures and our flying, find us ready.


Mary & St. John at the foot of the cross

Copyright 2021 Erin McCole Cupp
Image: Albrecht Altdorfer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons